US Airways’ “Starnet blocking” is getting bad…

As Gary blogged about last week, US Airways seems to have started the infamous practice of “Starnet blocking” recently. United pioneered Starnet blocking, the idea of which is simple. There’s a common inventory of Star Alliance award seats (known as Starnet), so what’s an airline to do when they don’t want to pay partner airlines for their award seats? Just block the space, of course! United seems to have stopped this practice in recent months, which is beyond awesome after years of pulling my hair out due to the practice, though it appears that US Airways has taken United’s place.

Based on my experience in the past week or so, a majority of Lufthansa first class award seats have been blocked using US Airways miles. The agents simply can’t “see” the first class inventory. Sadly, the issue isn’t even contained to Lufthansa, though. In the past couple of days I’ve seen US Airways blocking award seats on other airlines, including Turkish and United. Heck, they’re even blocking United domestic coach awards! Fortunately most agents can still be convinced to do a “manual sell,” which will confirm the space.

The fact that US Airways is blocking award space is just so ironic to me, since they’re almost always selling miles for around 1.4 cents each. If they can’t afford to pay their partner airlines at the rate they’re selling miles, maybe they shouldn’t sell so many at such a low cost! Then again, on a per cent basis US Airways is probably getting a lot more for selling miles directly to consumers than most other airlines are with their huge credit card deals, though I assume that the consumers directly buying miles are much, much savvier.

Filed Under: Awards, US Airways
  1. I’ve had enormous difficulty finding anything on LX or LH out of San Francisco or from Los Angeles these past few weeks — it’s depressing! Is there any workaround other than trying to convince the agents to do a “manual sell”?

  2. AFAIK, United has not been engaing in the type of Star blocking that it did previously. US thinks it is going to save money by limiting awards, but it is only going to upset their customers.

  3. Simply put: Star Alliance is TOO BIG! I think this practice will most likely continue. Star Alliance has a very large and impressive network, but I think this is an example of what can happen when an alliance becomes too large. When you have so many partners, blocking like this almost seems inevitable.

  4. I’d love to see a blog post walking us readers through the mechanics of how airlines compensate each other for frequent flier awards. Both the micro (transaction mechanics) and macro (financial impact on airlines).

  5. @Matthew I mean using US Airways miles for those sectors (SFO-FRA, SFO-ZRH, LAX-ZRH, LAX-FRA) — I mean I just scored a ticket requesting a manual sell on SFO-FRA but it’s not really what I wanted (would prefer SFO-ZRH).

    @Dan I’ll think about that next time but i prefer to avoid domestic connections if at all possible. Though when arriving back to the US, I don’t think there is a worse experience than going through immigration and terminal changes at LAX….

  6. @abcx Yeah, I’ve never seen any F availability at all on the SFO-ZRH route. LAX-ZRH has decent C availability but that’s not what I was looking for; moreover the A343 operated on SFO-ZRH has the upgraded C while I don’t think the one on LAX-ZRH does…

    Yeah I check using both ANA and expertflyer. But I’ve been in the situation where ANA doesn’t show F seats on LX and expertflyer and US do (though this was back in August).

  7. In regard to manual sells. If you check availability with Ana and it’s there and us air does not see it you can request a manual sell and they have to give it to you? Do u need tomescalate in order to get a manual sell
    I have found us air very easy to work with but then again I give them my routing step by step and they don’t need to search for anything

  8. Come on, you can’t be surprised. All the jokes about US Airways being the consolidator of the Star Alliance and their too good to be true deals last year and you are surprised? I’m surprised they didn’t do this sooner.

  9. Simply put, just ask the agent, nicely, I might add, if they can request the seat manually. If they can’t do it, thank them, hang up, and call back until you get an agent who can. I tried 3 times (thrid times the charm I guess) and although reluctant, the agent said he could try. He was so surprised and excited when the flights I requested came back confirmed after a minute or so. ANA had availability showing and so did Aeroplan for one of the flights. This is LH F LAX-FRA-LAX. Curiously, Aeroplan didn’t show the FRA-LAX but ANA did so I figured I’d try and it worked

  10. @MileHigh9 I have to agree with you. Too little F class flights and airlines out there (and especially with new products rolling out), too many ways to get at those F awards too easily!

    The USA based programs really surprise me in ways how even mere non-status people can easily get F awards. In fact, people are literally buying them – no need for MRs or banking up a small reserve of points. It’s almost obscene, and combine this with close to unlimited upgrades or easy confirmed upgrades, it’s no surprise why a decent contingent of airlines aren’t happy. (I really wonder how much money the carriers are making in F class, i.e. selling cash tickets rather than just handing out awards!)

    I think blocking might just get worse as we go along. Certainly if the currency-carrying carrier isn’t doing the blocking (e.g. US, UA etc.), then the inventory-carrying carrier is going to do so (e.g. SQ, NH, LH). Premium inventory should go absolutely first to a carrier’s own most loyal flyers, not another carrier’s elites and why should they really go to someone who has no status at all…

    And the whole situation is going to be further exacerbated as the Alliance expands…

  11. FWIW, business class inventory seems to be available. I had no problem booking a couple of ATL-TXL tix on Lufthansa last week for travel in late March. Alas, ANA showed no 1st availability, so I can’t offer any data on that.

  12. @eric I have always been interested in knowing those mechanics… how much does LH receive for a F seat used by US Dividend Miles,…

    I have never seen a post on FT that mentioned that…

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