Using US Airways Dividend Miles to Book Star Alliance Awards

Discussion in 'US Airways | Dividend Miles' started by gleff, Feb 5, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    You can use your US Airways Dividend Miles for travel on Star Alliance carriers. This is usually the best way to make use of your miles (although consider US Airways’ new business class product, especially during ‘low season’ when the awards are discounted).

    The US Airways website doesn't help, you have to call to make your booking. But prepare for your call, agents have limited tools at their disposal and aren’t always well-versed in the rules. If you have difficulty, best advice is 'hang up, call back' and you can probably get what you need.

    It's always best to plan out your award in advance, and I'll be writing more about how to go about doing this in the near future. There are several online tools such as the All Nippon, Aeoplan, and Continental websites and paid tools like Expert Flyer, KVS Tool, and Award Nexus that can be very helpful in making this happen for you.

    Plot out all the segments you want, then call US Airways, I usually say that I found the available flights on an earlier call and that hopefully they can find those specific flights for me if they're still available. And I give them the flights, segment-by-segment. Occasionally an agent will resist this approach, saying they can only enter the origin and destination cities and see what the system comes back with. That's generally not going to be a helpful agent.

    So what are the rules or guidelines for booking US Airways awards on Star Alliance partners?

    Most of the rules and practices can be found in the Membership Guide: http://www.usairways.com/en-US/dividendmiles/programdetails/memberguide.html

    But some of the rules aren't enforced in practice, and I'll review each because there are also unwritten rules.

    Stopovers/open jaw: You are permitted ONE stopover OR open jaw. Stopovers are not permitted when travel is only within a single region (eg no stopover in Bangkok flying Singapore to Phuket and back)

    Stopover restrictions: Rarely enforced, but any stopover is supposed to be at a Star Alliance hub city. This is so that you aren't routing yourself 'out of the way' of the most direct routing. You can also have your stopover in a US Airways gateway city (Charlotte, Philadelphia, Phoenix) or a US Airways international destination city (the rules don't say this, but it may require flying into that destination on US Airways).

    Routing restrictions: US Airways awards used to have virtually no routing restrictions. There were reports of flying Europe to Asia via the U.S. and the US to Europe via Asia. US Airways has begun to pay attention to their routing rules, and even added language to their member guide to say that you cannot exceed the published 'maximum permitted mileage' for your city pairs, though I haven't experienced any US Airways agent checking routings against the 'MPM' for a route. Some of the crazier routings HAVE become harder, such as US to Australia via Europe AND Asia. On the other hand, I've never had a problem booking awards from the US to Asia via the Atlantic, and never had a problem transiting one ocean in each direction. Some folks believe this constitutes a 'round the world' award and should be priced more expensively but that's not correct -- as long as you conform to stopover rules of a regular award, and don't stop in extra destinations, it's just a regular award.

    Segments: I have most often heard members being told that they can have a maximum of 8 segments. I have ticketed more than this, so it is POSSIBLE. But work on the general assumption of no more than 8 segments.

    Fees: US Airways waives the telephone booking fee for Star Alliance awards, since partner airlines cannot currently be booked on its website. They do charge a $50 per ticket 'processing fee' for international awards. No fuel surcharges. Occasionally an agent's computer will mis-price taxes. If taxes seem especially high to you (e.g. over $300 and the award doesn't include departing from rather than connecting in London in a premium class of service) it's worth asking the agent to check with the rate desk.

    Holds: US Airways will allow you to hold most awards for 3 days. Although the member guide says that your miles for the award must be in your account in order to do this, I have never seen or heard of this restriction being enforced. That makes it very convenient if you are going to buy miles to top off your account. You don't need to buy miles and then hope to get the seats. Put a reservation on hold and THEN buy miles. Purchase miles transactions USUALLY post instantly to your account. Some airlines do not allow their award seats to be put on hold, like Air China - instant ticketing only.

    To be continued...
     
  2. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    Part two:

    Change/cancel fees: US Airways charges $150 per person to change (or cancel and redeposit) an award. You can usually avoid the fee if there are changes to your flight schedule initiated by the airline, especially if the changes are significant. If you book an award in a class of service like business but one or more segments are only available in coach and the higher cabin opens up later, you may get mixed answers about whether a change fee applies. I've been told yes and I've been told no. Hang up, call back, and keep doing that until you find an agent who will upgrade the class of service without charging a fee. Some agents don't even think doing this is POSSIBLE, they think they'd have to cancel the award and start over. That’s WRONG and you don't want them to do this (some seats may no longer be available). Change fees are waived for Chairman's Preferred members.

    No changes are permitted after travel commences. Once the first flight has flown, the rest of the award cannot be changed (as with all things, there HAVE been reported exceptions, but do not EVER count on this). Your return is set in stone. No matter what happens, your award will only take you home on the flights originally planned.

    How many miles will my award cost? The US Airways Star Alliance award chart is here: http://tinyurl.com/usairways-star-award-chart Technically mileage should be charged based on the most expensive region. If you fly from the US to Hong Kong across the Atlantic and stop in Europe in business class, you SHOULD be charged the more expensive Europe price (100,000 miles per person rather than 90,000). As always, your miles may vary!

    Award blocking and IT glitches: Sometimes an agent won't be able to see award seats that are clearly being offered by Star Alliance airlines to their partners. There is much speculation about what's going on here. Often it'll be simple agent error. I've had agents who don't even KNOW ABOUT first class and they're looking at availability for business class. On the other hand there have long been problems with Swiss, especially Swiss first class, and no one has figured out why. (Swiss first class transatlantic availability almost never exists except on the Montreal - Zurich route anyway). More recently there have been real problems redeeming for Lufthansa First Class between North America and Europe. There's speculation that this represents conscious blocking of award space by US Airways, and counter speculation that it's an IT synching issue that is incredibly complex to correct. Some members have had success convincing agents to 'long sell' the space (request the "O" bucket - Star Alliance first class award - seats and then see if they come back confirmed).

    How long will my call take? US Airways awards always seem to take longer to book than similar bookings on United or Continental. More often than not, taxes won't automatically price on complicated itineraries and the agent has to go to the rate desk for help, and the agent will often have to wait on hold for help. On average I'd say that my bookings take about 30 minutes on the phone, even though I'm calling with the exact flights I want that I already know are available. A similar call to Continental will usually take about 8 minutes.

    Questions about your proposed itinerary? Need help? Looking for suggestions? Just want to brag about how well you've done with your miles for a Star Alliance award itinerary? Ask!
     
  3. jar070

    jar070 Active Member

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    Sometimes the creativity muscle in your agents mind needs to be stimulated to get their best assistance. Most travelers are interested in the fastest non-stop routing, and so many agents understandably won't default to looking for more complex and creative options. When asking for a more complicated routing, it's helpful to give your agent friendly cues that what you are asking for is something you will actually book, and not be upset with them for suggesting: "My main goal is to get there, it's okay if I need to go a longer way" and "Oh, I wouldn't mind trying the (any local food) in (some random hub city) on the way to (final destination)".
     
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  4. LN-FHU
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    LN-FHU Silver Member

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    What I've learned from about 15-20 calls to US Airways ( albeit the call-centre in Europe as I live in Norway) is that patience,good humour and being polite, get's you further than ranting and being rude when things don't work out for you [​IMG]
     
  5. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    Always true!!
     
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  6. Pegasus
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    Right and this is true for any call center. If it doesn't work out on the 1st, 2nd or 3rd call, hang up and call back. The last thing we want is for the agent to put in any negative remarks on our record.
     
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  7. Peachy3
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    Re: hanging up and calling back - I've noticed something quite interesting recently, and I"m not sure if anyone else has the same experience. Now, whenever I call, I will immediately hang up if a woman answers the phone. If a male answers the phone, I'll do my booking. I've had around 10 phone calls with this method and have had all of my bookings/changes etc. cleared with no hassles. The guys seem much more flexible/lenient in the rules!

    Also, Happy to provide help to people with routings/problems etc.
     
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  8. ariyo15
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    As for the politeness, I totally agree. Being cordial and - most importantly - having a good sense of humor (and patience doesn't hurt either) is always the best thing!

    On a side note... I have heard of a max. mileage/award ticket rule. Does such a thing exist? I've now ticketed two RTWs (though they were booked as NA-S.Asia) and have not once heard of this. I did hear the eight-segment rule, though my most recent one has nine.

    Any thoughts?
     
  9. gleff
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    As with all things US Airways, 'your mileage may vary.' Some folks have ticketed more than 8 segments, it's possible, though I often hear the 8 segment rule.

    US Airways now says that they enforce maximum permitted mileage (each origin and destination has a published standard amount of distance that one is allowed to travel for fares that utilize this concept). At least their member guide says awards are subjec to maximum permitted mileage. But I have yet to have an agent check the allowable mileage for a given city pair. It's possible that when we've gone to the rate desk that they have and haven't told me about it. But I haven't had anyone tell me a routing has exceeded allowable mileage.

    MPM isn't easy to look up without access to paid tools. But round the world routing North America to Asia is fine, at least US AIrways has never told me otherwise. And the allowable mileage for South Asia across the Atlantic is different and larger than for a Pacific routing.
     
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  10. A tip based on my experience: start building small and from there get more and more complex. For example: I wanted to fly MUC YHZ but I also wanted to make a stop (not a stop over) in New York. So I first reserved an itinerary with a flight MUC - NYC. I then called back two days later adding the flight to Montreal and then again two days later the flight to Halifax. This way no agent realized that my trip was a little bit out of the way and I had no problems with the ticketing.
     
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  11. calvinoeh
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    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

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    I recently tried to book a North Asia to North Asia redemption from HKG to ALA and tried to route HKG-BKK-ZRH-FRA-ALA-FRA-CDG-BKK-HKG to try the 77W F in Thai but was told this exceeded the MPM for a single zone redemption. Settled for HKG-ICN-FRA-ALA, ALA-FRA-BKK-HKG with F on OZ, TG and LH.
     
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  12. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    Did they actually check the MPM for the route, and tell you what it is? Or were they assuming/asserting?

    Because published maximum permitted mileage for HKG-ALA is 3172.

    HKG-BKK-ZRH-FRA-ALA is 10,031
    ALA-FRA-CDG-BKK-HKG is 10,378

    Each direction more than TRIPLE the actual MPM for the route.

    HKG-ICN-FRA-ALA is still 9780, still triple just allowable MPM, but under 10,000. In allowing this route they certainly weren't enforcing ACTUAL MPM...
     
  13. ariyo15
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    Hmm... I've tried that once and the agent (on the third addition) caught on real fast. They just see it - if they're not "the one" - and say, "sir, this may be invalid. I'll have to check with the rates desk." Or, even worse, "sir. Wer'e going to have to start over. I'm not allowed to have this go through with this routing." Ugg. Those are the worst. I have a bit of a concern now. I booked a NA-SA trip in F for my honeymoon and one of the segments is BKK-DPS. At the time of booking it was a two-cabin plane. So, I booked J. But now, they've opened up to the 747 all-series. So, I'm worried: Do I try to call US and have them manually put me in (which I know can work without paying the fee if you play enough "roulette"), OR do I not risk calling up and being told, "Despite having this itinerary ticketed, I'm going to have to cancel it because it is not inline with our routing restrictions." Hmm...Suggestions?
     
  14. That was just from my experience. As always, it will probably depend on the agent you get. I never had a problem to hang up and to tell the agent to leave the reservation unchanged.
     
  15. gleff
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    What's your current routing?
     
  16. calvinoeh
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    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

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    Thanks for checking the actual MPM and the miles for my route :) The agent had to refer to the rate desk to try to ticket it and after a while she came back and said this routing is no good as it exceeded MPM. Not sure if they even did check..

    Still happy with what I ended up with... can't wait to try OZ F :)
     
  17. calvinoeh
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    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

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    Does F show up on the 747 BKK-DPS flight on ANA? Thought they were selling this as a 2 class plane...
     
  18. gleff
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    It has been..

    And widely available to boot.

    F cabin is showing up for sale as well.
     
  19. DeacFlyer1
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    Haha...I'm not going to generalize into male v. female, but I do always love it when I get a lovely southern gentlewoman on the other end of the phone--it is always a pleasure to speak to them!
     
  20. gleff
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    It was suggested to me that we add a definition for open jaw and stopover. But I'd love input from the community here before editing my posts above. Make sure that I've got my US Airways-specific practice correct here, and also that the explanations are clear? Your help is appreciated!

    Stopover is a connection that's more than 23h59m (so staying in a city for 24h or more). [I have had agents claim the rule is 18 hours but I do not believe that is correct]

    Open jaw is flying into one city and back out of another. Your itinerary doesn't connect the two cities. Put another way, there's an 'unflown segment' or a break in the itinerary. The unflown segment as to be the shortest segment. Your flown segments both have to be longer than the unflown distance between where your itinerary starts and picks back up.
     
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  21. LN-FHU
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    LN-FHU Silver Member

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    I am wondering if anybody knows if US and EU US Airways-offices/callcenters use different reservation systems ? None of the agents I've talked to, has been able to do a manual sell/longsell. 3/4 of the agents knew what it was, and had the skills to do it, but the reservation system couldn't do it.
    Does anybody know if there is any relevance to it...?
     
  22. DeacFlyer1
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    Thanks for this, very helpful. I'm going to use an example to make sure I'm understanding open jaw correctly: If I booked PHL-ORD and then MKE-PHX, that would be (theoretically) valid, because the distance from ORD-MKE (the unflown segment) is less than both PHL-ORD and MKE-PHX? But if I tried to book PHL-ORD and then STL-MCI, that would be invalid, because the distance from STL-MCI (flown segment) is less than the distance from STL-ORD (unflown), correct?

    Not that I would ever book that as an award itinerary, not really sure why I chose those cities!
     
  23. gleff
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    Without checking the distances... correct.
     
  24. ariyo15
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    YVR-LAX-NRT//HND-BKK-DPS**DESTINATION** DPS-SIN**STOPOVER** SIN-BKK-FRA-YYC-YVR Now you understand why I'm worried. Unless, gleff, you have reason for me to believe I shouldn't be. That would be nice :)
     
  25. gleff
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    Your routing may confuse some agents (eg the NRT/HND co-terminal issue) but it looks otherwise fine to me. It is a legal routing.

    Because calling US Airways agents does always come with a certain amount of your mileage may vary, there is risk any time you speak to them but I wouldn't worry too much about this getting cancelled.
     

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