First off, let me just say I understand the rules and the patience required when booking award tickets using US Airways miles. But that doesn’t mean I can’t poke a few holes in the ‘logic’ this airline uses to come up with these rules. It’s pretty widely known by now that US Airways has historically had a lot of rules for awards that were just never followed, or perhaps the most clueless agents around. Since the AA merger, US has tightened up extensively on what you can and can’t do with your US miles.
In the past US agents priced itineraries manually, which led to ALOT of flexibility. For example, earlier this year before US left Star Alliance I was able to book a 90,000 mile award in business class as DEN-ORD-VIE (stopover) -BKK (long connection) -TYO (destination) -SJC-DEN. Absolutely CRAZY they allowed this! I also have a 110,000 mile trip booked for April to S Africa that looks like this: DEN-LAX-MIA-DOH-CPT/JNB-DOH-HKG-LAX-DEN.
That has all changed. According to the updated membership guide, US specifically states no routing across opposite oceans. They are also very firm on the MPM (Maximum Permitted Mileage), which cannot be exceeded more than 25%. Understandable, but they seem to also be going bonkers over taking the most direct routing, and here is where my blood pressure began to rise trying to book a trip for June…
Let’s start out with some of the pluses that I hope get carried over to the new AAdvantage program:
– US’ website is terrible for booking awards, and only displays US and AA flights. But common sense prevails at US; if you can’t book it online, you have to call and they will waive the telephone booking fee:
AA? Hahahahahaha, good luck with that unless you are Executive Platinum booking for yourself only (I have a couple DOT complaints in about this little gem).
– US allows either a stopover OR an open jaw on your itinerary. The fine print on this is that the stopover MUST be in a OneWorld ‘hub’ (more on this in a bit):
AA? Not anymore. They used to allow a stopover at the N. American gateway city, which was very advantageous if you happened to live in a N. American hub city. You could essentially get a free flight within the U.S. to use later. But alas, no more stopovers with AA awards.
Now, the not so good stuff:
– US will not allow you to change your award ticket once travel has begun.
– US requires the stopover to be in a OneWorld ‘hub’ as defined by them.
– No one-way awards allowed unless you pay the whole round-trip price in miles.
– No exceeding the MPM by more than 25%.
– Can only hold an award reservation for 72 hours (AA is 5 days).
– The booking process over the phone can be a nightmare, so come prepared (YMMV)!
My Latest Experiences
Things seem to have really changed at US Airways as it relates to award bookings. My thinking is that the ‘experts’ at AAdvantage came in and were horrified by what they saw going on in the US Dividend Miles department…
As I said above, I was able to book some pretty crazy routings around the world as a single destination award. But on this last one, we were attempting to go from DEN to ICN with a stopover in HKG on the outbound. So when we had all the flights booked in the record (DEN-LAX-HKG-ICN-HKG-KIX-LAX-DEN) the agent said she needed to have the rate desk price everything. That’s when the fun started. The agent said I was not taking the most direct routing. I asked what that might be, and she said to check the Oneworld.com website. Looks like the only valid way to get to ICN from DEN is DEN-LAX-NRT-ICN or DEN-DFW-ICN. I was a little speechless just because I hadn’t had much pushback from US in the past. Of course those routings were not available, so I hung up and called back. Got a different agent, but same result. Come on, it’s not like I’m trying to go to Seoul via the Atlantic this time 😉
Sooooo, the 2 hours I spent on the phone got me to the point where the rate desk FINALLY divulged the correct reason for denying my routing: The DEN-LAX segments cause the MPM to be exceeded by more than 25%. Okay, so they are enforcing their internal rule, that’s fine, but why did it take 2 hours to get the truth? Ultimately I just changed it to originate in LAX and problem solved.
Now, for my S. Africa trip in April I booked DEN-LAX-MIA-DOH-CPT/JNB-DH-HKG-LAX-DEN in business last year. This was no problem at the time. I called last week because I figured I could add a CPT-JNB segment on BA (Comair) and make the itinerary a stopover rather than an open jaw. Well, back to the rate desk where the supervisor denied it claiming I was not stopping over in a ‘OneWorld Hub.’
I wasn’t going to press too much, but last I checked JNB was BA/Comair’s hub. So I stated this and about 20 minutes later the agent came back stating she read that OneWorld subsidiary hubs were not to be considered for the free stopover. I wonder if in those 20 minutes of hold time they wrote that ‘rule’ and published it 😀
Are US Miles still as valuable as they used to be? Sure, if you have patience and know what you are doing. The rules in the updated membership guide are dizzying, but there’s still a great deal of value to be had. It just seems that US has clamped down ALOT on what is and isn’t allowed. I’m hoping for the best in this merger, but with AA’s archaic routing rules and US’ terms and conditions, things don’t look so good post-Q2 2015.