Yesterday I shared the details of the last US Airways 90K business class award that I booked to North Asia. Now that I think about it, maybe I should do one more to try ANA’s 787 business class, Asiana’s new business class, EgyptAir, TAP, and SAS, but that’s neither here nor there.
As I shared yesterday, the return routing on this award was taking us through Addis Ababa, as I quite want to try Ethiopian’s “Cloud Nine” business class product. That’s probably not a “clearly” permissible connection between the US and North Asia, and there are certainly some agents that wouldn’t allow it, while others would price it as an Africa award instead.
As I’ve written about in the past, US Airways has extremely generous routing rules, or perhaps a lack of clear routing rules. There only seem to be three “major” rules that are published:
- You’re allowed no more than five segments (four transfers) in each direction of travel
- You’re allowed a single stopover OR open jaw on an award ticket between regions
- If you have a stopover, it has to be at a Star Alliance hub or US Airways transatlantic gateway city
Everything else is entirely dependent on the agent you get (and even the above are agent dependent at times).
Just about everything else is open to interpretation.
As a general rule of thumb I find that the fewer segments you have, the less of a red flag it will raise. For example, to many agents Washington > Addis Ababa > Frankfurt sounds like a more direct routing than Washington > Boston > Toronto> London > Brussels > Frankfurt.
To some US Airways agents, it seems that all segments are created equal.
So since there are no strict published routing rules, how do you maximize your chances of getting the best routing?
Establish tribal allegiance
Last October I shared a video on the blog of a guy giving “tips” on how to score an upgrade:
Now the guy strikes me as a total douche, and I don’t think he could convince me of anything. He comes across as the entitled guy that thinks he’s smooth.
But there’s some merit to what he says.
Now unlike the guy in the video, I don’t think I can be a “chameleon” and join any “tribe” at will, but there are certain agents I connect with better than others. So let me explain in the form of the ticket I booked earlier this week.
Agent #1: Valerie
I knew right away I should have hung up and called again.
But I was just placing the ticket on hold, so there was limited downside. She sounded older and more experienced, and not only that, but was convinced she knew everything about everything.
But sometimes it’s fun just to play along. I started the call as I usually do by saying “I think I found some flights that should be available, would it maybe be easiest if I gave you those and you can check if they’re available?”
“No, we can’t do that. There’s no way to search the space online so I don’t know where you got that information.”
And oh boy, did she question me every step of the way.
“No, you can’t stop there, that’s more than 24 hours.”
“But I get in at 1PM and leave at 9AM, I don’t think that’s 24 hours.”
“Yes it is.”
But after 45 minutes of her trying to find every possible excuse for why it couldn’t work, she finally held the award.
Agent #2: Ebony
So calling back to ticket is always the moment of truth with a US Airways award. It doesn’t really matter what the agent that held a ticket said, because it’s how the agent prices it at the time of ticketing that matters.
I called a few times and hung up almost immediately on my first three calls, since the agents didn’t “sound” like they’d be helpful. Maybe that seems ridiculous, but I’ve literally made thousands of calls to airlines, many of those to US Airways, and I’d like to think I can tell with 90% accuracy whether they’re the type of agent I’m looking for just by their greeting.
So what am I looking for when I call to book an award ticket with US Airways?
- Someone that sounds friendly (obviously)
- Someone that sounds young (and I’m not being ageist – at least at US Airways it seems the younger agents are generally either trained differently, or aren’t as set in their ways as the older agents)
- Someone that answers the phone in a polite and open manner (for example, I’m looking for someone that answers the phone with “Thank you for calling US Airways, I see you’re trying to use your miles, how can I help you?” as opposed to “I see you’re trying to use your miles, what’s your origin and destination, and what are your dates?”)
So it might sound silly, but when I have an agent that sounds good I do what I can to get on their side (and thus have them on my side) as quickly as possible.
“Thanks for your patience, our computers are really slow today” (I hear that every day).
“No problem, I can only imagine how complicated those computers must be… and you have to learn a whole new system soon, right?”
She responds “oh yeah, well I’m excited for the merger, though, they fly so many places.”
So I continued with “hopefully you can use your travel benefits to more places, you guys deserve it with what I’m sure you have to put up with over the phone.”
I threw in nice comments throughout the call and also did what I could to sound as clueless as possible, which I find helps.
She read back the flights, and then before she went to price it asked me if I was advised how much the award would cost. Without missing a beat I said “well the agent said it was 90,000 miles plus $130.80 in taxes plus a $50 processing fee, which sounded right to me for an award between the US and North Asia.”
She said “sounds good to me,” and priced it as such.
So it might sound silly, but the key to booking the US Airways award you want is fourfold:
- Find an agent that sounds like someone you’d want to work with
- Be as polite/complementary/positive towards them as you can be
- Throw in hints to lead them in the right direction (“I’m trying to book an award between the US and North Asia,” or “the agent informed it would be priced at 90,000 miles, because apparently that’s the cost between the US and North Asia,” etc.)
- Don’t sound overly knowledgeable — remember that whatever knowledge you have came from a previous agent and not your own research 😉
What are your strategies for working with airline reservation agents?