US Airways Dividend Miles has long been known not just for their attractive award redemption rates, but even more so for their generous routing rules.
At most airlines, the computers auto-price award tickets. This means that when an agent enters the flights into a record, the computer will validate the routing and come up with the price.
That has never been the case at US Airways, where it has very much been a manual process. In many cases this has worked in our advantage, as US Airways’ agents understanding of geography occasionally leaves a bit to be desired.
Historically, not only do US Airways agents decide the validity of a routing, but they’ve also had to manually input in which region an airport is. Some agents certainly thought that Singapore was a city in China, which is in North Asia (while Singapore is really in South Asia). And doesn’t Buenos Aires sound like it could be in Spain?
Anyway, I’ve received quite a few emails lately along the lines of “WTF Lucky, I just tried to book a ticket from New York to London via Mars, and the agent told me the routing wasn’t valid. What’s going on?!”
I’ll share my thoughts on the situation below, though let me preface them by saying that this is all based on anecdotal experience, so “your mileage may vary,” as we say.
US Airways has transitioned to oneworld
As of April, US Airways has transitioned from the Star Alliance to oneworld. Obviously there’s a huge learning curve involved for agents here.
They struggled enough with booking Star Alliance awards after doing so for years, so switching alliances overnight was quite an adjustment for them. At the time I shared my initial thoughts on their routing rules after transitioning to oneworld, though it goes without saying that some things have changed over the past several months.
Taxes aren’t always automatically pricing on award tickets.
One of the challenges since the transition to oneworld is that many awards — even straightforward ones — aren’t having taxes automatically price. This means that the award ticket has to be sent to the rates desk, so they can manually calculate them.
Awards are getting an extra set of eyes
As you might guess based on the above, this often means that award tickets are getting an extra set of eyes. The rates desk is also looking at award routings, and in many cases is rejecting them.
Previously you’d only need one incompetent agent to get away with a crazy routing, but now you need two. And that’s kind of challenging, given that the agents at the rates desk are generally more competent (front line agents struggle with calculating time zones, let alone calculating taxes).
I suspect there are some additional guidelines
Keep in mind that for the rates desk, the actual process of calculating the cost of an award is more complicated.
Back in Star Alliance, the circumstances were more or less the same for all carriers, while nowadays the rates desk is having to manually calculate fuel surcharges for travel on British Airways and Iberia. So I suspect along with that there are probably some other guidelines given to agents at the rates desk (like, you can’t route from the US to Hawaii via Antarctica, etc.). 😉
There are no consistent MPM guidelines
For those of you not familiar, MPM stands for “maximum permitted mileage,” which in theory is the most number of miles you’re allowed to fly between two city pairs on a single ticket.
Different airlines have different policies when it comes to MPMs on award tickets. Some airlines only let you fly up to the MPM. Some (like Aeroplan) will let you exceed the MPM by up to 5%. Some (like American) will let you exceed the MPM by up to 25%.
There’s not a single MPM US Airways is consistently applying to award tickets. People are occasionally being told that routings exceed the maximum permitted mileage, though that’s just an excuse that’s used.
So my point is simply that if you exceed the MPM guidelines with Aeroplan or American, there’s no way your ticket is getting issued. With US Airways, some agents might enforce the MPM, some might let you exceed it by a certain amount, and some might not even know what MPM stands for. So there’s no consistent enforcement there.
Tricky routings are still possible… but they require more patience
A reader recently emailed me regarding a routing he was trying to book from Australia to the US via Asia and Europe. He called several times and was told each time it wasn’t legal, and asked me whether there was any hope.
My answer was that with US Airways (much like with dating) there’s always hope with enough persistence. The question is whether it’s worth the time. I figured 95% of agents would reject the routing, so told him it probably wasn’t worth the effort.
There’s still no system in place in US Airways’ computers which make any routing absolutely impossible, but it certainly takes a lot more phone calls now than in the past to get away with a creative routing.
To my surprise he called a couple more times and was able to book the routing. The fact he was able to book it after only a handful of calls surprised even me.
It’s all a function of how patient you are, I guess.
- Be nice
- Limit the number of segments you fly
- Take control of the call.
I don’t think anything has absolutely changed, but rather it just takes more persistence than in the past.
What has been your experience ticketing complicated US Airways routings since they joined oneworld?