US Airways Oneworld Award Routings: What’s Allowed?

At most airlines award ticket pricing is automatic, meaning the computer prices award tickets and decides whether a routing is legal or not. This isn’t the case at US Airways, where the agents manually price awards and validate routings, which can really work in your favor sometimes.

Now that US Airways has joined oneworld, there are several “fun” opportunities for award redemptions that didn’t exist previously. Several oneworld carriers, such as British Airways and Cathay Pacific, have distance-based award charts, which really limits the potential for creative routings.

Similarly, the American AAdvantage program has been the best option for long-haul award redemptions, but their routing rules are much more restrictive than those of US Airways.

American has among the strictest award routing rules of any airline

The single biggest benefit of US Airways joining oneworld isn’t that they have lower award costs in many markets, but rather that their routing rules are much more liberal.

I’ve written in the past about how American simultaneously has extremely stingy and extremely generous routing rules. On one hand they let you exceed the maximum permitted mileage for a city pair by up to 25%, which is far beyond what most other carriers allow. Well, at least they let you exceed it by up to 25% as long as that’s not your intention.

On the other hand, American has archaic routing rules for AAdvantage award travel:

  • The transoceanic airline has to publish a fare for the city pair you’re flying.
    For example, say you want to redeem AAdvantage miles to fly from Tampa to the Maldives, using Etihad Airways for the overwater segments. You can’t, because, Etihad doesn’t publish a fare between Tampa and the Maldives.
  • With few exceptions, you can’t transit a third region.
    With very few exceptions, American won’t let you transit a third region when traveling between two regions on an award ticket. This means you can’t route from the US to Asia via Europe, or from the US to Australia via Asia, for example. Heck, it means you can’t even route from the US to Southern South America via Lima, even though that’s the most direct routing.

The “actual” rules for redeeming US Airways miles

There only seem to be three “major” rules that are published:

Routings that should be possible with US Airways miles

Now that US Airways has been in oneworld for over a month, I figured I’d share my experiences as to which routings should be feasible using US Airways miles.

The big thing to keep in mind is that US Airways’ lack of routing rules are a blessing and a curse, and you may get an agent that doesn’t think a routing should be valid, in which case you’ll just want to hang up and call again.

The fact that they don’t really publish rules means we can’t really “put up a fight” when we think a routing should be possible.

So here are the routings that I’ve had no problem booking, which would not be possible through American AAdvantage on a single award:

US to North/South Asia via Europe or the Middle East

The greatest part of this is that US Airways isn’t presently imposing fuel surcharges for travel on British Airways.

So if you want to fly from the US to Asia on Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines, you might as well route via London and get two extra British Airways first or business class segments in there.

Heck, if you really want to push it you can route from Vancouver > New York on Cathay Pacific, New York > London on British Airways, London > Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, etc.

Alternatively, you can route from the US to Asia via Doha on Qatar Airways.

US-Airways-Routing-7

US to Africa via the Middle East or Asia

Rather ridiculously, American will only let you route from the US to Africa via Europe.

That means you have to fly British Airways if you want to go to South Africa, which involves huge fuel surcharges if redeeming through American. Iberia also has some flights to the Northern part of the content, which you can book using American miles.

Conversely, you should have no trouble redeeming US Airways miles for travel from the US to Africa via Doha on Qatar Airways or via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific.

US-Airways-Routing-2

US to Middle East/India via Asia

You also should have no trouble redeeming miles for travel on Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong to the Middle East or India. While Qatar Airways offers more direct service, it might be more fun to go via Hong Kong with a stopover there.

US-Airways-Routing-3

US to Southern South America via Lima

Perhaps the single most ridiculous routing restriction American has is that they don’t let you route from North America to Southern South America via Lima, even though that’s the most direct routing — it requires two awards.

Meanwhile, redeeming US Airways miles you should have no problem routing via Lima.

US-Airways-Routing-4

US to Australia via Asia

You’d think American miles would be incredibly valuable for travel to Australia given that they partner with Qantas, though the issue is that Qantas releases very little premium cabin award space between the US and Australia.

US Airways, however, will let you route from the US to Australia via Asia. So you can fly a combination of Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Qantas, if you’d like.

US-Airways-Routing-5

MAYBE: US to Australia via Europe/Middle East

While it’s really pushing it, it’s not impossible to find an agent willing to book an award from the US to Australia via Europe and/or the Middle East.

I just redeemed miles for travel from New York to Melbourne via London and Dubai. The key is mainly to keep the number of segments down.

Similarly, you can potentially redeem miles for a one-stop routing between the US and Australia by flying Qatar Airways through Doha.

This routing may take more patience and not every agent will allow it, but with a bit of effort it’s not impossible.

US-Airways-Routing-6

Basic concepts to understand when redeeming US Airways miles

Never argue with agents — not having published routing rules is a double edged sword. There’s absolutely nothing you’ll gain by arguing with an agent over a routing. If you think a routing should be allowed and they’re not giving it to you, hang up and call again.

The fewer segments, the better. In US Airways Geography Land, a lot of agents seem to think that few segments means a direct routing.

So if you’re looking to go the really long way (like from the US to Australia via the Middle East or Europe), try to keep the number of flights to two to three per direction. That will maximize your chances of the routing being allowed.

Many US Airways agents would allow something like New York to Doha to Sydney because it “sounds” direct, while they wouldn’t allow Los Angeles to New York to London to Paris, because that “sounds” like a lot of flying.

The rates desk is having to manually calculate the taxes on many awards. Don’t get too excited if an agent is willing to “price” an award ticket.

Since US Airways has transitioned to oneworld, the taxes on many tickets aren’t automatically calculating, so often they have to go to the rates desk to get a fare quote put in. Keep in mind that rates desk will review the itinerary as well. Now, they’re only mildly savvier than the front line agents, so don’t worry too much. But also don’t be surprised if they reject your “indirect” routing.

Make the agent your friend. I can’t stress this enough. US Airways agents were just getting used to the Star Alliance, and a month ago they had to learn a whole different set of airlines. They’re still learning this, and if you’re nice to them and politely make suggestions to them, they’re thrilled. Absolutely thrilled.

Last week I spoon fed a rather roundabout itinerary to an agent, and she told me:

“This is too easy, I wish all my customers were like this”
“Let me see who you are so I can remember you forever”

It might sound ridiculous, but these agents are answering calls about mileage tickets all day, and 90% of the time they’re having to tell people nothing is available.

They’re almost as excited as we are when they can book a first or business class ticket to somewhere exciting. So be chipper, be friendly, and ask if you can suggest a routing to them that you think should be available.

If you don’t think they’re in a good mood or cooperative, just hang up and call again.

Bottom line

There are so many amazing routing opportunities available thanks to US Airways’ transition to oneworld, and chances are they won’t stick around once American and US Airways adopt a single mileage currency.

The new carrier will be using American’s current reservations system, so I wouldn’t be surprised if their award routing rules prevail.

Comments

  1. Hi Lucky,

    Have you had any problems w/ a RTW routing to N. Asia? Do some agents think it’s against the rules simply because it’s a RTW routing? Any luck w/ a RTW routing to Australia?

  2. @ Bill — One way via the Atlantic and one way via the Pacific? That shouldn’t be an issue. I would also bet you could do something like JFK-LHR-SYD-HKG-JFK.

  3. I have tons of USAirways miles. What is the best website to find premium cabin availability for OneWorld partners?

  4. I’m working on a route to Australia on US for the least amount of miles possible in Feb 15. Hopefully they’re as flexible for me as they were for you. Love your route through LHR and Dubai.

  5. @ Lucky – As UsAirways charges 150k from South America to Middle East, North or South Asia, do you think that a RTW route (Tatl via LHR and Transpac via JFK) with just one stop in Asia would be allowed?

  6. Hey Ben, would it be possible to route from Bangkok to Hong Kong via Doha for example?

  7. @ Alonso A. — It’s highly unlikely you’d find an agent willing to book that, though I suppose anything is possible in theory.

  8. @ Carlos — If you can keep the number of segments down that might be possible, but between those regions that might be tough.

  9. How long do you think we have until AA/US will combine into one (and thus prevent routings such as these from being possible.) By end of this year?

  10. @ Joey — My guess is that they’ll combine early next year, though I could be wrong. It’s always possible that US Airways tightens up their routing rules before then, though.

  11. You’re incorrect in stating you have to fly British Airways to get to Africa when redeeming AA miles. Iberia also flies to a number of African destinations including Nigeria, Morocco, Algeria, Ghana, Mauritania, Senegal, and Angola. Air Berlin also has a flight or two to North Africa. That said, British Airways does have the largest oneworld presence in Africa.

  12. @ CTravlr — You’re right, didn’t phrase that well. Meant to say South Africa, so updated post to reflect that. Appreciate the correction.

  13. @ Carlos – I recently ticketed a US Airways award from JFK to SYD traveling around the world (TransPac on the way out, TATL on the way back.) Took 3 tries to do it, but it’s def possible.

    @ Aussie – As Ben writes, the trick is in minimizing the flights, so try to find availability on QF1/2 or QF9/10. That way, the agent just sees “MEL-LHR” or “SYD-LHR” and the Dubai stop doesn’t show up.

    @ Ben – How does Qatar First compare to QF & BA? I don’t recall seeing a recent trip report but wouldn’t mind trying it.

  14. Is US Air allowing one way awards and can we book different cabin class on round trips with partner airlines yet?

  15. @ Jay — One-way awards cost the same number of miles as a roundtrip with US Airways. You pay the roundtrip cost for the highest class of service you’re flying on the itinerary.

  16. Lucky,
    Do you know if dividend miles has access to the AAnytime awards at double rates?

    Thanks

  17. @Lucky,
    So if I were to travel say, from PHL to IST with a stopover in TLV, that would count as a US-Europe trip, rather than US-Mideast?

  18. @ BOS_Traveler — Depends entirely on the agent you get, and if you can convince them IST is the destination and not TLV.

  19. Lucky, Based on US Airways chart, I see central asia is for 120K RT. Will the same apply for the following: BOS-AUH-BOM-AUH-BOS (I am considering the fact they BOS-AUH is not a direct segment)? If so, do you know how much Qatar’s taxes are?

  20. Given that I couldn’t convince US agent to change my delayed domestic award flight from US metal to AA metal while keeping me in first/business (per CSR, they supposedly can only rebook in coach on AA), I don’t think I’m charming enough, lol. So if I decide to follow your lead and do Australia via London, I’ll enlist your award booking service 🙂

  21. Two of my friends and I are considering Australia, but the challenges is finding 3 (or more) premium seats on the same flight and with the least amount of connections. Since we live near SF, the most direct route would be SFO to HK to Australia but I can’t find more than 2 biz seats on Cathay from HK to any of its destination in Australia? Would have to stop in KUL or SIN. Do you have any other suggestions? Thanks.

  22. @ Sharon — Trying to score three seats in a premium cabin definitely does make it tougher. Best I can recommend is to try and get to Hong Kong on the same flight, and from there book two separate flights. Then if additional space opens up one of the routings you’ll be able to switch. Otherwise Qantas sometimes releases more than two seats on their flights from Asia to Australia.

  23. I have a route in mind, is this valid? lax to hkg and transit to nrt and to gum. Return to nrt and back to lax. Can I treat it as rt between lax and nrt, with stop over in gum? Or it has to rt between lax and gum and stopover in nrt? Thank you.

  24. @ Jerry c — It would be hard to argue that GUM is the stopover, since you’re transiting NRT in both directions, which pretty clearly makes that the stopover/connecting point.

  25. Lucky, I booked a trip a N. Asia first trip a few weeks ago and it priced at 80k. Everything appears to be normal and ticketed, do you think there’s a chance that they will take the other 40k miles out of my account?

  26. Is this a legal routing using US Air north Asia First class award for 120K miles:
    Outbound: DFW-IAD-LHR-DEL stopover DEL-NRT(Destination)
    Return NRT-ORD-DFW
    or something similar in the reverse direction flying transpacific first to NRT and then returning via the Atlantic with a stopover in India. Also, maybe a diff connecting point in USA. Keep in mind the halt in NRT should be minimal (1-2 days) and stopover in India should be large (2-3 weeks).

  27. Do you think we will ever be able to move aa miles over to us and visa versa with United and Continental did during the integration?

  28. Can anyone list remaining *A carriers and cut off dates for booking? TK, BR etc are still good for weeks or months.
    Personally I find OW very very limited on routings from Asia to EU and NA to EU limited.
    So many other options with *A. OW very very limited.

  29. Another silly thing with AA – it doesn’t allow Asia 2-South America 2 routings via Australia. I could fly SIN-SYD-SCL on QF, but NO, the award chart says “2 awards have to be claimed as the only service is available to/from North America”. What nonsense!

    Heck, if I were to do Asia 2 – North America and North America to South America 2, I’d have to cough up 55 + 50 = 105k in J oneway. But if I did do Asia 2 – South Pacific and South Pacific – South America 2, it’d only be 35 + 50 = 85k in J oneway. Their system is funny indeed.

  30. Lucky, do you know how US determines MPM for a given route?
    For example, when I check Expertflyer for the MPM for JFK-TYO, MPM under US airways comes at 8084 miles (10105 mi 25M) over the Pacific while if I check under JL, it comes at either 8084 mi (PA, 10105 mi 25M) or 12511 mi (AT, 15638 mi. 25M).
    Which MPM is the one US uses in this case?

  31. Lucky, can I use US Airways miles for an award on Etihad? Or is Etihad’s partnership with AA exclusively for AA miles?

  32. Was trying to book SEA-LHR and then DUB-LHR-SFO and was told it was a double open jaw by agent after agent… that was new to me! I think they may have annotated my record they kept repeating that. So I had to add SFO-PHX-SEA dummy segments at the end that we won’t be taking! Silly, silly.

  33. Does CX have a first class product for HKG-JNB? It looks like the planes they use are 2-cabins (business/economy) only.

  34. I just booked SFO-LHR-MAD-PMI-FRA-HKG-NRT-LAX-SFO for 125k miles, $151 in taxes, plus the $50 booking fee. I’m excited to get to check out first class in BA, CX, and JL.

    They treated PMI as my destination rather than a layover and NRT as my layover, which is why it was priced as a European award rather than North Asia. I assume this may have been due to NRT being a true gateway. Given the fact that I didn’t want to risk delaying and being charged BA fuel surcharges, and that I felt like I was already pressing my luck with an 8 segment trip that goes around the globe on 6 different airlines, I wasn’t going to try to argue.

  35. @ John Smith — Theoretically it’s possible, though as time passes I’m thinking it’s less likely that miles will be transferable between programs before both programs become one. Could go either way, though.

  36. @ Jay — In practice US Airways doesn’t really use MPM unless your routing “looks” illegal, in which case they arbitrarily enforce it. So MPM is a bit of a moot point, in my years of booking awards with them, only a handful of times have they quoted the MPM.

  37. @ Gary — You can’t. Etihad partners with American, but not US Airways. Hopefully you can when they combine programs, but not before.

  38. @ Joey — They used to, but now that they’re retiring the 747 it seems like going forward the route will frequently not feature a first class cabin.

  39. @ Jonathan — Yeah, you did well. Ultimately shouldn’t have been allowed, so totally worth an extra 5,000 miles to lock that in, in my opinion.

  40. @unclesam
    It is possible to have the itinerary that you propose, depending on the kind of agent you get. I had booked US-HKG-DEL-FRA-US in business for 90K with DEL as stopover (6 weeks) and HLG as destination (2 days). (It helps that India passport holders do not need visa upto 2 weeks in HKG)
    @stvr
    Your itinerary did have 2 open jaws if you do not get back to SEA or you do no go LHR-DUB on outbound also.

  41. Anyone have experience with Europe>North Asia via the US? Should theoretically be possible under the rules, but???

  42. @ joshUK — It SHOULDN’T be allowed, but in practice it might work with the right agent if you can keep the number of segments down.

  43. 2 quick questions.
    Can you do one ways? Is it possible to do North America to Europe via Middle East to have the trans-Atlantic on Qatar?

  44. @ tp — With US Airways, one ways cost the same number of miles as roundtrips. As far as going via the Middle East, technically that shouldn’t be allowed, but in practice some agents may allow it.

  45. I tried to book Sydney/Johannesburg/Cape Town and reverse the other night and was told that they are still negotiating South Pacific routes. The agent was very helpful and checked. BA flights (Comair) Johannesburg/Cape Town flights were not coming up on her system. I asked if I could book via Hong Kong with Cathay and she said none of the routes to South Africa had been sorted out yet. Any suggestions.

  46. Just a quick question – would LHR – HKG – SIN – HKG – LHR be allowed under the current rounding rules?

  47. Hi folks – regarding flights to South Africa: South African Airways is still a partner with US Airways despite being a Star Alliance airline. This means you can use them to fly to South Africa and it will only cost you 75K from Europe in Business Class. I was switched to SAA from Lufthansa due to a strike for my return journey from JNB to FRA, and I found the service/seats just as good as LH (although LH is still running old business class on this route). I think the SAA/US Airways partnership is a bit of a hidden gem, especially if you want to explore more of Africa as SAA has a decent route (I used them up to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe)

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