What are US Airways’ routing rules?

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!

Filed Under: Advice, Awards
  1. Typo.. “travel between the US and North Asia, which costs 120,000 miles in first class or 120,000 miles in business class.” should be 90k in business.

    Not only aren’t mileage costs and taxes stored when you put an award on hold, INF fares aren’t either. And every single time I call I get quoted a different infant fare. Which is great — keep calling back while the award is on hold until you get an infant fare you like.

    The number of permissable segments even varies by agent, some will allow 8 and some will allow 10.

    Changes to an award are another matter entirely, some want $150 for all changes including just class of service (you have a first class award, only business was available at ticketing, but prior to departure first class opens up). Others won’t charge for that. Still others think that any change requires cancelling an award and starting over.

    Just because an award is available with United or Aeroplan miles doesn’t mean it’s available to US Airways — US Airways has a real problem ever seeing Lufthansa first class transatlantic space, even close to departure when United can book it. And they usually show one fewer Swiss first class seat than actually exists. Though this is mostly a non-issue because those award seats between the US and Switzerland rarely exist. They also have problems with some other sets of flights like ANA operated by Air Japan.

  2. With my latest episode booking an award ticket with US Airways, I was informed that I could only have four segments each way for the ticket.

  3. Also, this isn’t a huge issue but from experience if you have a lot of segments their computer times out super fast so you need to start by saying “hey, I have a ton of segments..do you wanna write this down so that your computer doesn’t time out?”

    It helps because you could be in the middle of a lax-fra-bkk-dac-bkk-fco-iad-lax itinerary and it could time out and force you to wait even longer!

    They also have a huge issue with looking up the reservation for you if you dont happen to have points in the US Air account. Just tell them you wanna check availability before you transfer from another account.

  4. Hello there,

    I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been able to make bookings that include one stopover AND and open jaw. Last week, I booked:

    PHL-FRA-IST-ALA; ASB-IST-FRA (two week stopover); FRA-PHL

    All for 90K miles in business (odd, since FRA-PHL-FRA is 100K)

  5. @ Gene — Technically, no. In practice, if you limit the number of segments, I’d say yes.

    @ Tahsir — Good point, the computer times out after 15 minutes.

    @ Scott — Right, their computers have no way of validating routings or rules, so you can get away with just about anything with the “right” agent.

  6. Is there any way to solve the problem of two-cabin domestic first on US Airways pricing as O first class? I have a 90k business class trip to North Asia that is pricing at 120k because one of the domestic legs on US Air is showing up as first class. There are no seats available on two-cabin UA flights that would get me home, and there is no coach saver availability on the US flight. Is there some abracadabra to get the agent to have two cabin domestic first price as 90k?

  7. @ bluto — Yep, an agent should be able to adjust the price accordingly, or get a supervisor to do so. They’re supposed to do that automatically, though if you ask they’ll have someone do it.

  8. @Ben — Had any luck booking US-Europe-South America with FRA, MUC, ZRH, etc. as a “connection”? Or, US-Europe-US? Frankfurt is in Kentucky, right?

  9. @ bspn — If in an infant is traveling along on an international award ticket they have to pay 10% of the revenue cost of a ticket.

  10. Hope none of you ever find the need to change a US award after departure like I did only to discover your ticket is worthless!

  11. @BFrankley Haha. Not exactly my reaction, but I do get a good chuckle every time I read something like this. After all, US was my “first love” in the award-booking game, and as a result they’ll forever hold a special place in my heart 🙂

  12. A better way is to give them the first segment only as a oneway and get a PNR and then hold it.
    If the agent is nice then give the rest of the details, if not just hang up and call.
    After booking hundreds of awards, this method guarantees least frustration.
    Otherwise by the time you finish all the names and dates of birth the system times out.
    The booking system was due for update in 2001 and then the UA merger failed. Then they were acquired. and then they changed their booking engine. so it is a patchwork.
    Lastly, when you pay (3rd call for me – get PNR, Book and Pay once you cant improve it in 72 hrs) get the PNR for the other airlines and verify at once that the trip exists in their system.

    Also read the master thread on FT several times first

  13. Would it be possible to fly to North Asia via Addis Abba (stopover) and pay 90,000 miles vs 110,000 in business class?

  14. How often does the 50% bonus from hotel transfer parters come along? Was the one you linked to the first in recent memory, or does it seem to occur every spring?

  15. US Airways also does not allow redemption on many United Express flights operated operated by ‘Trans-States’. I’ve seen this happen many times and pulled many hairs and had many arguments with USAir supervisors about this.

  16. @lucky Big one I discovered recently. Even if you get yourself something awesome (say it has 2 stopovers for instance :P) and the agent attempts to ticket it, it MAY NOT ticket and you should always check back.

    This happened to a friend of mine, he was flying from the east coast to Europe, and figured he’d just try adding 2 stopovers for the heck of it. The agent had no problem doing it and even sent it to ticketing after taking CC info.

    A few hours later, no ticket. Had to call back to be informed the ticketing computer checks for a couple of things:
    (1) Number of stopovers + open jaws is computer-limited to 1.
    (2) Number of segments is computer-limited to 10.

    Other than that it’s open season XD

  17. @Eric F-D That’s not actually US Airways. That’s United blocking the space. Those flights can’t be booked with any other airline’s program (I’ve tried Aeroplan) and they don’t show up on the ANA tool. People claim this problem doesn’t exist but it does, I’ve hit it a number of times unfortunately.

  18. @ Chris S. — They’ve had a similar bonus two years in a row, so I’d say it’s more or less an annual thing.

    @ Eric F-D — Both Aeroplan and United can’t see certain United Express flights, and US Airways also can’t see certain intra-Asia ANA flights out of Narita. Seems to be more of a glitch than intentional blocking.

    @ arcticbull — Interesting. I never get off the phone till the ticket is issued (and you can tell that’s the case because there’s a ticket number on the reservation), at which point you should be good to go. I’d recommend not hanging up till you can confirm that.

  19. This is perfect timing and hopefully you’re the guy to ask since you’ve booked a lot of “unique” trips, but perhaps you have or have not tried this; either way, great post!

    Any experience or info on booking:
    US-SYD(stopover)-North Asia(destination)-US
    on one ticket for 90k business class? If so, how can I help the agent do this without booking it at 110k? I would appreciate any insight into your approach when I mention “SYD” as a stopover. Thanks for keeping this game interesting!

  20. @ Kevin F — They should charge 110,000 miles, though that’s not to say some agents wouldn’t price it at 90,000 miles. If you want to go for 90,000 miles just remind them the destination is the North Asian city and the stopover is the Australian city.

  21. Hey luck how can you verify there is a “ticket number on the reservation”. Would you suggest classic.checkmytrip.com (or even the regular version)? And thanks as always for the great post.

  22. @ TG — You can just view the itinerary online, scroll down to the bottom, and look for the ticket number to appear right next to the Dividend Miles number.

  23. I often see the US-Europe-Asia bargain mentioned.

    Does US also allow US to Europe via Asia at the 100k level?

  24. Any idea in whether Asia-north America – Europe is doable in F for 100000 miles ?


  25. Thanks for the quick reply.

    Then is it safe to assume that Asia-Europe-north America is allowed? Since the reverse you’ve done plenty of times. Or is it strictly a us-Europe-Asia that’s allowed ?

    Thanks again

  26. @lucky, I just tried to book phx-iah-pek-hkg hkg-tpe-CDG stopover CDG-fra-lax-phx. North Asia biz award on us air. The agent was friendly and was not at all the typical duuh agent. But it priced at 100k. What could be the problem? He claims the tpe-CDG is what’s causing it. All legs are in biz. No mixed cabins.

  27. @ Natalie Lim — You’ll just want to hang up and call again. The computers aren’t pricing awards, but rather the agents are. Make sure they’re entering TPE as the destination and not CDG.

  28. I noticed you commented earlier that a US-Europe itinerary and returning via a North Asia connection (Tokyo) at 100k isn’t allowed. Is that definitely blocked by the rate desk or does it just depend on the agent? Is there a chance one of their agents might allow it?

  29. @ Rick — Well it’s not a published routing and would exceed the MPM. With US Airways it’s always a case of “your mileage may vary,” though that’s definitely the correct rule.

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