US Airways and ‘Starnet Blocking’ — Is US Airways Preventing Members from Booking Award Seats That Lufthansa Is Offering?

I mentioned on Sunday that redeeming US Airways miles for Lufthansa transatlantic flights has been a challenge over the past couple of weeks.

Flights that Lufthansa is offering to partner airlines are showing up to US Airways reservations agents as unavailable. I’ve tested this on a number of routes and dates and found this to be the case — bookable with Continental or Aeroplan miles, but US Airways says not available.

At first I assumed it was an IT glitch of sorts, something I’ve seen and experienced with US Airways in the past. Or just agents who didn’t know how to search for what I was asking about or who didn’t know what they were doing. I’ve frequently asked about first class awards and the agent will say nothing is available — when the agent was looking for business class space and not first class. US Airways doesn’t have a first class cabin, most agents don’t wind up checking for first class very often, and some don’t’ even know the difference. So they search out “I” (business class award) inventory instead of “O” (first class award) inventory. Solution there is hang up, call back.

But something different does seem to be afoot, and does only seem (so far?) to be affecting Lufthansa transatlantic flights.

Not surprising, Lufthansa’s availability is just downright outstanding, it’s available so often that US Airways must be just bleeding cash to Lufthansa for the frequency with which they’re booking those seats. And as cheaply as US Airways prints miles (with generous bonus promotions even on purchased miles), they really do want to be redeeming on their own metal on not so frequently on partners.

United has been the pioneer of ‘blocking’ award seats, implementing a system to prevent their agents from seeing the space that’s otherwise being offered. What happens is that the agents say it isn’t available, which isn’t quite true, the airline just doesn’t want to pay their partners for the seats that are available. And it winds up as quite an awkward situation, where the agents (intending to be helpful) explain that the partner airline just isn’t making the space available, when that’s just not true at all.

But United hasn’t done much blocking at all the past six months. United used to refuse to book awards across many of their partners, whenever they were expecting to hit their quarterly budgets for buying the seats from their partners. In early May the practice seemed to lift and became an issue for only about a week and a half since that time. I do hope it’s gone for good.

Hopefully US Airways isn’t picking up the practice, blocking the generous inventory that Lufthansa makes available. It’s still a little too early to tell exactly what’s happening, and especially until US Airways comments. But from what I’ve seen I’ve certainly experienced the blocking. It’s not that US Airways can’t access the seats, either. When they enter the city pairs they’ll see the space not available. But if the agent will manually request the space from Lufthansa, it’ll come back confirmed. That’s something which worked without any difficulty for me this evening.

This is definitely in the category of ‘developing….’

But with all the miles they’re printed it’s certainly been something I’ve worried about, and is also why I’ve burned through a bunch of my US Airways miles this year for first class awards to India and South Asia.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. How was india, Gary. It’s about the one place i haven’t used miles to go to and been thinking about it.

  2. I’ve recently had difficulties to let US book a LX C award from ZRH to Asia. I could see the space on ANA and I could even book the seat by calling United, but US insisted it was not available. I’ve tried almost a dozen times but still no success. Frustrated.

  3. As I posted on FT, I got two F segments (DEN-FRA, FRA-DEN) by doing the same thing – manual request. After her initial search of course turned up nothing, I was honest with the Winston-Salem agent on the Platinum line. I explained that there were online discussions of US people having trouble with LH F TATL despite other *A carriers (chiefly UA, CO) having no problem with the same routes.

    I politely asked if she could do some kind of manual request and she said she remembered having to do that all the time immediately post-US/HP merger and gave it a shot. She had to do outbound and inbound separately, so the inbound was temporarily made in Y. Once the outbound manual request for F confirmed, she requested F on the inbound and all was good.

    After reading others being denied any kind of manual request repeatedly, I hope it doesn’t become ridiculously difficult to do and that this truly is some kind of screw-up. I still favor the screw-up idea because every single LH segment I asked to look at always had C available, and it’s clear LH F outside TATL routes aren’t a problem.

  4. Gary — have you tried to contact US Airways corporate about this? You’ll probably have a lot more luck making that inquiry than we mere peons…

  5. Just out of curiosity… why do you use US Air miles on Lufthansa flights to Europe? Isn’t it cheaper to use ANA miles?
    Thanks Gary.

  6. Depends how much you spend get the ANA miles versus US miles. Buying US miles in vast quantities for anywhere from 0.5cpm to 1.5cpm in the past 18 months through countless buy miles, grand slam and hotel transfer promotions has made it ridiculously affordable. Not too easy to become a mileage millionaire with ANA for those prices.

  7. Looking at your narrative and from experience troubleshooting similar situations at other airlines, this appears to be an AVS synch issue rather than anything sinister. This is not an uncommon problem when booking across Type-A AVS linked reservation systems. It can probably be fixed by a full AVS recap or for a permanent fix, a Direct Access link (I’m actually surprised that so many *A partners don’t have this set up with each other yet).

    The problem with a full AVS recap over such a large inventory volume is that if transmitted in “QN” mode or higher it will flood the switching systems (the TAM migration last November is a good case study of this – it crashed DCS systems pretty much worldwide), and if transmitted in “QD” or lower there will be a time lapse that allows new inventory misalignments to occur.

    AVS recaps are time consuming, labour intensive and financially expensive propositions, especially over a huge inventory the size of Lufthansa. The infinitesimally small portion of revenue represented by US Airways booked partner awards simply cannot justify the costs.

  8. Back in July, I have no problems getting 2 LH F using US miles. I had problems with LX instead. Days after days, I can see availablity, US agents can’t see them, they cannot / will not manual release these seats. I gave up and booked LH instead.

    I wonder if it’s now more consistent that US blocks both LH and LX?

  9. I was able to easily book LX F flights. I tried over and over and tried to ask for manual requests for LH F flights but was unable to do it at all. I ended up with the LX F flights as the only other option was UA F…

  10. Am I seeing the reverse of Starnet blocking? Tried booking an award ticket ATL-YOW using Miles-and-More… only one AC flight available, arriving after AM. Nothing on CO/UA/US. Tried UA – one ticket on an earlier AC flight available (I needed three), and three return tickets on CO, which I could book as one-way using UA miles. Tried CO – plenty of seats available on AC, but not the business class return tickets that I placed on hold with UA (on UA metal). Besides, they don’t have one-way awards. Tried US – only their own flight available, with 2 stopovers (didn’t bother checking return flights, as they don’t do one-way awards either). So, I cancelled my United reservation for return flights and just booked round-trip award on CO in economy.

    Moral of the story: some AC flights were truly not available to UA, US or LH, but available to CO (not even a code share!) Some CO flights were available to CO and UA, but not US or LH. Some UA flights were not available to any of their partners, not even CO!

  11. Sorry for the confusing account above. Typo: AC flight available with LH miles lands after *2* AM. US did not have anything available on AC at all, UA had 1 seat, and CO had three. For return flight, seats on CO were available using CO or UA miles. In addition, UA had business class available on its own metal, not available to any partners.

  12. I had purchased 100,000 US Airways miles during the double miles promotion. Yesterday I called US Airways and booked a business class ticket for an open jaw itinerary to Europe on Lufthanthsa for this summer without any problem at all. If nothing else the discussion about Starnet blocking got me worried enough that I went ahead and booked it early! Hope others have similar positive experiences.

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