US Airways Award Routing Rules?

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?

US-Airways-World-Map

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).

time-zones

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.). 😉

British-Airways

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.

Bottom line

The general advice I shared for ticketing US Airways awards back in 2012 still applies.

  • 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?

Comments

  1. My experience in booking intra-SE Asia awards has been that despite CX being the only main carrier serving my cities – they claim that they cannot route via HKG. There is NO OTHER WAY to do that trip yet they refuse to agree… till I get an agent who is the “good” one :).

    Like you stated, the reasons given are MPM, backtracking and what not! All you need is a “good” agent – and usually I have been successful after multiple tries…

    My next effort is going to be US-Aus via EU / Asia… will see how that goes 😉

  2. Sadly I’ll have to cancel an itin for next week that I booked back in March. All for 80k in F and C, including SQ suites, TG F and OZ F.

    PVG-TPE-DPS-SIN-DEL-BKK-KTM-BKK-HKG-ICN-PVG

  3. Yes, I agree. A month ago I had a similar routing USA to NZ via Asia and I must have at least spoken to 6 agents and all of them gave the excuse of MPM. The 7th call made wonders and I immediately asked the agent to ticket it versus putting the itinerary on hold since I knew there’s a chance I might not get a good agent next time I call.

  4. I miss being able to search Dividend Miles awards on United.com. Using BA.co.uk to find OneWorld awards is frustrating to say the least. I’m trying to route ATL to KTM with one week LHR stopover later this year and gave up trying to find awards online, will just have to work up some patience to call UsAirways.

  5. Lucky,
    I know us airway doesn’t allow “stopovers” per say on an award ticket after the original ticket is already issued. Lets just say I have an award that arrives on a 10 am tuesday. As long as I find another flight before 10 am tuesday is that even possible to include it on my award since it is not technically a “stopover?”

  6. I had difficulty with a recent itnerary to the mideast and South Africa. I initially reserved MIA-DOH (Stopover)-JNB-DOH-MIA, in business, and was told 110k (price for South Africa). I put it on hold cause I wanted to think about it. Yes, I know that was a mistake – but …

    Then I supposed I got a bit too clever, since I really wanted to go to DXB for the stopover. So I called back and tried to get MIA-DOH-DXB (Stopover)- DOH-JNB-DOH-MIA. That caused great difficulty at the rate desk. First they said it couldn’t be done. Then that I would have to do it as two separate awards pricing at about 180K. Since I know the flights between DOH-DXB are cheap, I said nevermind, go back to the original routing. But then I was told that would be 120,000 (price to mid-east). I thanked them politely and said I’d need to think about it. I let the hold expire, and will go back and try again later — but will most likely stick with the simpler routing. (Or maybe I’ll try to come back via HKG 😉

    Thanks for the heads up about them getting more savvy on the pricing of these awards.

  7. I booked JFK-CDG-KUL-SYD, SYD-LHR-EWR about a month ago… no problems at all, first agent put it on hold, second one changed the outbound date, third one ticketed… all without a beep.
    I think the problem is people who act all patronizing and entitled with the agents. if you are polite and just feed them the flight numbers they don’t have a reason to question you. my agent was even excited to learn there “is” a non-stop from Sydney to London… hahaha. I didn’t correct him.
    😉

  8. @ Damien — As long as it’s less than 24 hours and the routing is otherwise legal, you can absolutely do that.

  9. Hi Lucky- booked an award flight to N. Asia in F. Originally had 2 on the same locator but split it to redeem on separate accounts. For the first ticket, the US Air agent charged 120K, but for the second, only 60K. Both itineraries are correct and has been ticketed. Should I be worried or count my blessings? I’m not due to depart for another 6 mo. Thanks!

  10. @ CalAggie21 — There’s a chance they’ll go back and pull the correct number of miles, though they certainly won’t cancel the ticket or anything. I’d count your blessings.

  11. “It’s all a function of how patient you are, I guess.”

    And how little you value other people’s time, so you feel no qualms about tying up agents for hours while you try to bamboozle them into breaking the rules for you.

  12. I had an award for 2 people US-North Asia just before it went from 90K to 110k and was only charged 90K instead of 180K on the same locator. As they say it is all manual and I did not have a charge back!

  13. Just wondering if this is even remotely possible…..
    DEL-CMB-BKK-HKG-PHL-EDI-DOH-DEL for 120k in business..

  14. @ Ali — Well there’s no nonstop flight from Vancouver to Philadelphia, so for starters you’d be exceeding the segment limit on the outbound.

  15. @ Voice of reason — Since you’re seemingly in the know, please do share US Airways’ routing rules with us, so we don’t waste agents’ time going forward.

  16. I’ve found the routing rules and MPM have tightened considerably since the move to One World. In Star I used to be able to cherry-pick my itinerary and swan around the world whichever way I liked. Now you need direct flights which given the reduced availability, if you’re not booking 11 months out is extremely difficult.

    I wish they’d never left *A.

  17. I agree with the others that the routing rules and MPM have tightened considerably. On an August 4th booking I was told by the agent that the rates desk said that my routing wasn’t valid and it exceeded MPM. The routing to Australia was put together by two agents and was on hold. So indeed it is more difficult to obtain approval from the rates desk.

    There are no clear guidelines so the only option is to keep calling and trying various routes. Mr. Voice of Reason must only fly from JFK to LAX.

  18. I just booked 2 biz class tickets from South Asia – US and every segment except the last one is in biz. Now I checked and found biz class availability on that last segment. Can I ask them to change it to biz without charging me 150$ change fee? I am already paying for the mileage for biz class and the last segment was coach because there was no biz class availability on that segment.

  19. I always start the call by saying “I have an international multi-segment, multi-partner itinerary, do you have experience with this type of booking” from there I can get a sense of the agent. For all past USAirways awards, I’ve lucked out and the first agent/call that I did I was able to make my booking – I always tell a story to make the trip/booking personal so that they feel they are invested in my trip too, it helps when we are waiting a while for validation! Maybe that’s a bit silly but has worked for me in the past with US. I usually have two/three alternatives if there is a hard stop along the way so I can easily feed them the input and get it all done on one call – no callbacks, no holds.

    I haven’t done a new booking yet so will see if my method continues to work or not. My last US Star J 110k ticket to Australia was PHL-ORD-ICN-SIN-MEL-BKK-CDG-FRA-PHL (1/2 hour call) with a strike at the end causing me to call US from Paris to change CDG-FRA-PHL to CDG-PHL – I had to be home for dinner with my Mom (true) and my agent was happy to help.

  20. Was successful booking RT with these routings for May 2015. Outbound LGA-YYZ-LHR-DXB-MEL and inbound MEL-PER-DOH(stop over)-LHR-EWR all on first class including QF10, QR3 (schedule with A380) and BA except PER-DOH on QR business.
    The only glitch, it was initially priced at 180K but after politely explaining and asked to speak to manager/rate desk, it was later priced as North America to South Pacific for 140K

  21. I had an agent tonight tell me the computer had rejected an award and then she started reading me a bunch of rules, eventually citing something like you can’t pass through IATA area to go from Area 1 to Area 2, or something like that. but the gist of what she and her supervisor decreed was that the computer was rejecting my award because I was crossing both oceans. FWIW, the award is BKK-AMM-TLV (stopover) -LHR-ORD-LAS on outbound and LAS-LAX-NRT-BKK on return. I will keep trying with another agent.

  22. Hi,
    Just trying to get a bit of advice after reading your blog.
    I’m trying to book a business class ticket using us airways miles from budapest to bangkok (stopover), BKK- hong kong final destination, hong kong -budapest return.Do you think they will allow this route paying 80000 miles(Europe -North Asia business award cost) although BKK is not a oneworld hub?
    Thank you,
    Ana

  23. @Lucky, I just called US Airways to book award travel, my itinerary is going to be SFO-JFK-TXL-FRA (stopover)-HKG(destination)-SFO, but I was just informed by the agent that it is invalid routing since I’m going from region 1 to region 3and then region 2 and back to region 1. Is this a situation where I should just call back to see if a different agent would allow it?

    Anyone else have experience with U.S. airways routing lately?

  24. Just a quick clarification, I called back and ended up speaking to the same agent again LOL (can’t hide!!) I also noticed on the reservation line, the computerized system actually recognized me as it said “Welcome back Raymond!”, may be this is the reason why it switched me back to the same agent again? not sure.

    Anyway, the agent basically said that America = region 1, Europe is region 2 and Asia is region 3. I can only either go up or go down in region in my routing. LIke America -> Europe -> Asia. However, because I wanted to fly first class I needed 125K miles instead of 120 miles as Europe has to be treated as my destination and Asia as my stopover. The problem is that when I want to return from Asia to America, this messed up the region order as it is going from region 3 back to 1. Basically my takeaway from this call is that it could be a valid routing as long as I have 125K miles (for first class) and then find a routing on the return segment via Europe back to America.

    Is this something new? Please advise.

  25. @ Raymond — Yes, you’ll want to hang up and call again. It’s valid in theory, so you may just have to try calling a few times.

  26. @Lucky, finally got the ticket issued. But they insisted that I needed to pay 125K miles instead of 120K for having a stopover in Europe (They’re treating Frankfurt as my destination and Hong Kong as a stopover). Wish I had known would have bought more miles back in October when they were running promotion. Ended up buying 5,000 miles to top off my account to get the ticket issued. Still can’t beat it since I saved so much by traveling on Air Berlin instead of British Airways flying in and out of Heathrow. The taxes and fees or the entire itinerary was only $110 ($60 taxes plus $50 US airways processing fee).

  27. @ Raymond — All depends on the agent you get. Some charge you the miles based on your final destination, while others charge you the miles based on the most expensive region you transit. Still sounds like a great deal!

  28. Been trying to call the US airways line but its always busy so I wonder if you could help. Do you know if mixing US airways, AA and other Oneworld carriers together in one international itinerary is allowed with DM? I see that the US Oneworld award chart only lists all the Oneworld partners but not itself. Basically, I’d like to use, US, AA and Air Berlin and I’d like to confirm if the USDM Oneworld chart applies or if this is not valid at all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *