I frequently receive questions and emails asking whether a particular award routing is “legal.”
While United’s award routing rules aren’t entirely clear (they used to allow you to exceed maximum permitted mileage by 15%, though there’s now some added mystery element), their computers automatically price award tickets, so I can with 99%+ accuracy say whether something will price or not. That means you’re not at the mercy of the quality of the agent you’re connected to. There are some errors the computer makes. For example, sometimes it doesn’t want to price award tickets that involve mixed cabins on longhaul flights, though that’s a case where an agent (or a supervisor) can manually store the “fare.”
American requires a fare to be published for the city pair you’re flying between, and lets you exceed the maximum permitted mileage for a city pair by 25%, so it’s easy to determine how many miles are permissible for a given city pair. They somewhat contradict that extremely generous policy by also saying that passengers have to take “the most direct routing,” so in a way agents have the discretion. Though in practice you’re almost always able to get away with exceeding the maximum permitted mileage by up to 25%.
And then there’s poor US Airways, who I’m fairly certain price award tickets using an abacus.
Here’s what’s interesting about US Airways. Not only do their computers not price award tickets, but their computers don’t prevent any sort of routings from going through.
I’ve booked literally hundreds of award tickets through US Airways, but truthfully I don’t know what their award routing rules are, and I don’t think US Airways does either. But that doesn’t matter, because I’ve never had an issue ticketing an award that I considered to be reasonable.
First of all, understand that a lot of US Airways’ phone agents are from America West, which was a small, domestic airline. From one day to the next they had to learn not only about US Airways’ “world class” international route network, but also the Star Alliance’s. I don’t think those agents ever went through a “real” geography training course during the transition, so sometimes it’s reasonable to assume that cities are where they sound like they might be.
For example, Barcelona and Madrid sound Spanish. That means they could be in South America or Europe. Addis Ababa? That sounds pretty exotic – might just be in the Caribbean!
With that in mind, I figured I’d share some tips for booking US Airways award tickets:
Follow the rules we do know
While I don’t know the first thing about US Airways’ routing rules, I do know that they allow one stopover OR one open jaw per award reservation. And on an international itinerary any stop of over 24 hours is considered a stopover. Furthermore, stopovers are only allowed at either US Airways gateway cities or Star Alliance hubs. I’ve found they’re not terribly strict about “defining” hubs. In other words, while Lufthansa’s hubs are Frankfurt and Munich, Dusseldorf is a big “focus” city for them, so in practice you should be able to get a stopover there.
Be confident (and nice!)
The key to getting the routing you want with US Airways is to be confident but nice. Find award space on your own (using the United website or ANA website) and then spoon-feed the agent the routing you want. I usually start the call with “an agent earlier gave me a routing that was available, so I was hoping I could give you the dates and flight numbers I had, and hopefully it’s still available?”
Then I walk them through the routing, and am as patient and friendly as I can be. But I also clarify each segment. For example, if I’m stopping in Frankfurt for 20 hours (which isn’t a stopover) I’ll clarify “and then I’d continue from Frankfurt the following day after stopping less than 24 hours.” It seems to put the agent at ease and makes them realize you understand their rules.
Limit the number of segments
When it comes to what raises red flags with agents, I find that they’re more concerned with the number of segment than where you’re connecting. A lot of agents seem to think that if there are a lot of segments then the routing isn’t valid.
For example, typically if you try to book something like Los Angeles to Frankfurt to Bangkok to Sydney, the agent won’t bad an eyelash, since it’s “only” three segments, even though the routing wouldn’t be legal with most other airlines.
Meanwhile if you book New York to Boston to Chicago to San Francisco to Tokyo to Seoul to Hong Kong the agent may assume it’s not a “valid” routing due to how complicated it is, even though it’s well within the MPM. So if you want to maximize your travel with US Airways, try to do so in terms of miles flown vs. segments flown.
Take control of your region
One of US Airways’ best award values is for travel between the US and North Asia, which costs 120,000 miles in first class or 90,000 miles in business class. North Asia includes China, Japan, South Korea, etc.
It’s kind of funny because if you fly from the US to North Asia via Europe (with a stopover there) in business class it’s only 90,000 miles, while if you from the US to Europe it’s 100,000 miles. So you basically get a 10,000 mile discount for flying more.
Some agents will try to charge the rate for the most expensive region transited, though that can usually easily be avoided. For example, say you’re flying from Los Angeles to Hong Kong via Bangkok in business class. It would be 90,000 miles in business class to North Asia (Hong Kong) or 120,000 miles in business class to South Asia (Bangkok). When the agent prices the itinerary and is fumbling around with zones, I’ll usually jump in and say “well the destination is in Hong Kong, so that’s North Asia, right?”
Just because it’s on hold doesn’t mean it will ticket
This is a common misconception people have. They place an award ticket on hold for 72 hours that’s either not valid or they’re quoted an incorrect price. Then they call back and the agent quotes them a different price or informs them the routing isn’t legal.
The fact is that the price isn’t usually “stored” when you place a ticket on hold, so when you call back to ticket the agent is supposed to both check the routing and store the fare again. So if you find a routing you consider to be especially awesome and aren’t sure whether it’s allowed or not, I suggest ticketing right away. Worst case scenario you pay $150 to cancel, which in my opinion is still better than potentially not getting the routing at all
Hopefully that clears up the mystery which is US Airways routing rules a bit… or not at all. Check out this post for more information on redeeming Dividend Miles. And let me know if you have any questions!