I think about award booking a lot, getting the most out of miles, and piecing together available award seats to manage an itinerary that agents say isn’t otherwise available.
And a couple of Flyertalk threads got me thinking about the quirks and inconsistencies of frequent flyer program rules. It’s often the case with some carriers that the rules are inconsistently applied, and while this can be frustrating for travelers it’s also an opportunity for those with patience and perseverance.
US Airways is uniquely known for its flexible award routings, and also its inconsistency. Call a different agent on the phone, get a different answer almost every time. There are some rules that are clearly in the Dividend Miles Membership Guide, though not many, and those that exist aren’t always followed.
Some airlines have computers auto-validate award routings, clearly US Airways does not. Folks have been known to route across multiple oceans, making extra stops along the way, and the miles charged for awards only sometimes comes back correct (often to the benefit of the member). Calls to US Airways can be frustrating, take awhile (especially as agents put you on hold while they themselves sit on hold waiting for the rate desk to price taxes on an award for those which don’t autoprice).
The key with US Airways is that clear rules don’t really exist, if you can muddle your way through various agents you can more or less do as you wish.
Take by way of contrast United. They enforce ‘maximum permitted mileage’ on an award – every city pair has specific mileage limits that they won’t let you exceed in your travels. I’ve managed to get exceptions for modest overages in the past, but it is a constraint. They also have specific rules for some awards, such as North American to Australia only permitting routing via the Pacific but not via Asia (some programs will allow a routing with stopovers in Asia — or even Europe then Asia). I also believe they will not allow a connection in Cairo when flying between the US and Africa, while the Continental website will even suggest it.
United agents – especially off-shore agents – will get their routing rules confused. I’ve heard on more than one occasion that they “have to use the routing rules of the overwater carrier” on an international award redemption. So even though an award is within mileage limits, they have to check the transoceanic carrier’s published fare routings as well to see if the routing is valid. This is actually not United’s policy, and doesn’t make much sense. I once had an agent tell me that I couldn’t include a Beijing stopover on an award to Bangkok when flying Asiana across the Pacific. As a result, the award could terminate in Beijing, and back from Bangkok — it would have to be an open jaw, and the passengers could join the swim team I suppose to get to Thailand.
The actual rule is that an award has to conform to the maximum permitted mileage limits unless it conforms to a published routing. In other words, a routing has to match one or the other but not both.
Continental doesn’t have much in the way of routing rules, at least that are enforced, and they allow both an open jaw and a stopover — while United and US Airways both say it’s one or the other.
And for among the most generous routings within the Star Alliance (and I say among only because Asiana has distance-based one-way awards with two stopovers in each direction), Air Canada Aeroplan allows routings based either on published routings or on maximum permitted mileage (and they allow you to exceed a city pair’s maximum mileage by 5%). They allow two stopovers or a stopover and an open jaw. And they allow you to route between the US and Asia via the Atlantic or the Pacific or crossing a different ocean in each direction.
Regular readers know that I’m mostly a Star Alliance guy, but this phenomenon is hardly limited to Star carriers. British Airways offers one-way awards with stopovers. This Flyertalk thread discusses a recent example of booking stopovers with British Airways — the conventional wisdom is that stopovers have to be along the most direct routing, sometimes thought to mean in hub cities only. But depending on the agent you get, more creative routings are possible. And agents have also been known to offer an unlimited number of stopovers.
Here’s an example of a one-way business class award from Buenos Aires to San Francisco:
It worked. First agent said I could only do EZE-MIA-DFW-LAX (stopover she said could be as many as I wanted in one direction, but only in hub cities for AA).
Next agent, made it work after I feed her the cities and flights, EZE-MIA (stop), MIA-JFK (my home, stop), JFK-LAS (stop), LAS-LAX (stop and then I added at the last minute LAX-SFO (final), all for 40k BA and $2.50 tax (I think she got the tax wrong). For wahat it is worth the second agent told me she has seen JFK-Vancover (stop), Vancover-HKHG (stop) HKG-BKK (stop), BKK-SIN (stop).
Any interesting routing successes out there worth sharing?