Using US Airways Dividend Miles to Book Star Alliance Awards

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). With the numerous partners in the Star Alliance, most awards are possible.

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 I want, and 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. 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 personally 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 Pacific or by 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. Here is US Airways’ schedule of fees.

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 in order to ticket. Purchase miles transactions USUALLY post instantly to your account, though there are occasional delays. Note than some airlines do not allow their award seats to be put on hold, like Air China – instant ticketing only. But that’s by far the exception.

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. On awards booked particularly far in advance, this happens more than you might think. 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. 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!

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Pingbacks

  1. […] Looking at rewards flights on USAirways, my dates would need 90,000 miles for economy. On Continental I could do the same dates for 55,000. Or fly Business for 105,000. The *A charts say 60k for economy on partner airlines. If you are using usairways.com, US will not show you partner flights. You must call in to book those. And the reason there is a difference is US is not showing you the lowest tier of awards on US flights. Given when you are flying (summer), those awards are sold out already. I would suggest reading some in this thread and this. […]

  2. […] What I love about US Airways is awards in premium cabins on Star Alliance partner airlines, and a generally reasonable award chart — in some cases downright generous such as 90,000 miles roundtrip between the US and Hong Kong, and 110,000 miles roundtrip between the US and Australia or Africa. Here’s my guide to using US Airways miles to book Star Alliance awards. […]

  3. […] What I love about US Airways is awards in premium cabins on Star Alliance partner airlines, and a generally reasonable award chart — in some cases downright generous such as 90,000 miles roundtrip between the US and Hong Kong, and 110,000 miles roundtrip between the US and Australia or Africa. Here’s my guide to using US Airways miles to book Star Alliance awards. […]

  4. […] What I love about US Airways is awards in premium cabins on Star Alliance partner airlines, and a generally reasonable award chart — in some cases downright generous such as 90,000 miles roundtrip between the US and Hong Kong, and 110,000 miles roundtrip between the US and Australia or Africa. Here’s my guide to using US Airways miles to book Star Alliance awards. […]

  5. […] What I love about US Airways is awards in premium cabins on Star Alliance partner airlines, and a generally reasonable award chart — in some cases downright generous such as 90,000 miles roundtrip between the US and Hong Kong, and 110,000 miles roundtrip between the US and Australia or Africa. Here’s my guide to using US Airways miles to book Star Alliance awards. […]

  6. […] What I love about US Airways is awards in premium cabins on Star Alliance partner airlines, and a generally reasonable award chart — in some cases downright generous such as 90,000 miles roundtrip between the US and Hong Kong, and 110,000 miles roundtrip between the US and Australia or Africa. Here’s my guide to using US Airways miles to book Star Alliance awards. […]

Comments

  1. @ Andrey-

    I guess what you can do is write a letter (email) to US Airways and tell them to look into it.

    It happened to me this time when I was trying to book Tokyo Haneda to Taipei Songsian on All Nippon. United, Air Canada and All Nippon’s reward booking systems showed this route, but somehow US Airways’ didn’t. I have talked to 4 agents in US Airways but got the same answer- this route cannot be located.

    I brought this issue to their attention by emailing. Now they know what’s going on and will work on this. However, I was told that they don’t know when it will be fixed (i.e., it will take a while).

    Now I am thinking to accumulate my miles on UA/CO because it is much easier to book a reward flight on UA/CO. US Airways, though, has better rate of redemption. 90,000 miles on Biz Cls to Asia (from US) but UA/CO asks for 120,000.

  2. Gary, thanks for all this great advice. One question, if I may. In trying to use my Dividend Miles on an LH-F class ticket from EZE to FRA that shows available on award nexus, http://www.continental.com, and even air canada’s site. I am told, though, by the US Airways agents that it doesn’t show available. I even pressed them to “long-sell”, as you mention and they tell me they can’t see it.

    Any other advice in trying to get this booked thru DM?

    Many thanks for all the great posts!

    p

  3. Hi. I am trying to find a C class on SQ from LAX to SIN and then to India, open jaw and return from Tanzania back to Los Angeles. I had an agent tell me that was 100k miles but when I called today they told me that is going to be 120k miles and no stop overs allowed. Is that correct? Should I just go ahead and ticket the one she has on hold for 100k miles with $90 dollars only in Taxes? the only problem is that in one reservation I am able to fly the day flight which was impossible to find on SQ from Zurich to Singapore and with the one that she said 100k I was able to only get the return on SQ from Singapore to Zurich which depart at awful hour at 1:30 am… that means no dining and wining and going West, more jet lag? Plus they told me there were no partners going to Zanzibar in Tanzania? email me if you can… to MascJock90212@aol.com

  4. Great insight & information! Thx!! No real help from USAIR, I am very flexible with my dates and am trying to book from CLT to BKK in Business class anytime after 09-01-12 returning prior to 04-04-13. Any want to stay for two weeks. Any help or info would be greatly appreciated would like to stay at burning the 120k if possible. Thx jw

  5. Great guide, I used it to book my wedding in Istanbul and honeymoon in Japan. PAP-EWR-MUC-IST(stopover)-ICN-NRT(destination)-IAD-EWR-PAP. All in biz with the longhauls on Lufthansa, Turkish and ANA for 90k miles each. A steal!

  6. I am interested in Brian’s itinerary. He made a stopover in Istanbul and Tokyo is final destination. Did he stop in Istanbul for over 24hours? If so, should it be calculated by 100,000 miles in business as it go to Europe? What’s trick to redeem the similar itinerary( one stop in Europe and the other in Asia) by 900,000? My itinerary is NYC(JFK or EWR)- LONDON(LHR or Gatewick for 5 days)- Tokyo( 5 days)-NYC?? Thanks.

  7. Great post and just wanted I needed. I am about to book my first stopover/open jaw ticket. I want to fly from CLT->FRA, FRA->LGW->CLT. Before I call the US Airways rep, do I need know which flight I want or will they help me with this? Also can I stay in London for 2 nights?

  8. Thanks for all of your great posts! I recently used USAir miles to hold 2 business class seats for a roundtrip from PHL to TPE for 180,000 miles total. I ran into a lot of problems and am not sure if I could have done something differently.

    I first went onto United.com to look at the Star Alliance awards. Oddly, it would show as having availabiilty but when I call the agent, those seats would not be available (e.g., Air Cananda business class). Is it possible that Star Alliance would release some seats to United that it wouldn’t for USAir? They did cost more on United (60,000 miles for OW business ticket on that leg).

    I thought I’d check because you seem to be able to figure out what’s available and feed it to the agent, but none of my planned flights were available when I called. Please help! thanks.

  9. I don’t see anywhere on US Airway’s website about fees for: change of date, or change of origin/destination. Know where I could find those?

  10. Hi,

    The link to the award chart is not working.

    Does someone have a link to what the awards will cost in miles? I am interested in awards from Australia.

    Thanks,
    Dale.

  11. I started reading up on FF info about a month ago and know I have a lot to learn. I noticed that you didn’t mention stop-overs in your article. Any advice for how US Air handles stop overs?

    Also, My husband and I want to cruise Europe in April 2014 for our 25th wedding anniversary and we have miles on US Airways. We want to fly into Barcelona and out of Venice. I know that you recommend using Expert Flyer to let you know when seats are available, but I was hoping that you had a recommendation of a route that we could take that had the best Biz/First class cabins and/or a route that we could take for a stop over we can take for a day or two.

    Many, many thanks to you and your commenters!
    Janet

  12. Dop! To clarify, my question about stopovers is how long are you allowed a stop over with US Air, e.g. 8 hours or 8 days.
    Janet

  13. You can have one stopover OR an open jaw. Flying into one city, back from another is an open jaw, so you can’t also have a stopover. Sorry!

  14. for legs that rarely opens up, how would you make the booking? say I want to book a round trip open-jaw itinerary, but each way has one leg that doesn’t open up that often. If I see either leg is available, should I just book it and change later (and of course pay the change fee) ?

  15. is it possible to book separate awards tickets for each family member for the same trip? we have 3 US Airways cards with 35000 miles on each. Thanks!

  16. I generally don’t purchase points “outright” bec they get devalued over time or I may “feel pressure” to use them up “rightaway” bec they get devalued in the future. I would rather take that `$1100 (100K miles) and put it in a low cost index fund and accumulate compound growth for future travel with flexibility (bec there are always good deals to have even w/ $$).

  17. Gary,
    My brother and I are planning a trip from US to Asia in a year using Dividend Miles for business/First class travel. Likely leave from IAD and travel to BKK. Can we reach Asia thru Europe and then return to US across the Pacific? Also is it possible to visit Tokyo on return for more than 24 hours?
    Thanks for any help.

  18. @Steve G yes you can fly via Europe one direction and Asia the other, if the first agent says no hang up and call back… And you can have a stopover in addition to your destination, if that stopover is in Tokyo then you can’t have one in Europe..

  19. Gary,

    Thanks for the info. Very helpful! Is a stopover a leg that’s longer than 24 hours? In other words, can BKK be our”destination” from IAD….. We stay there a few days then travel BKK to NRT……stay there a few days…….and then return from BKK to IAD? I realize we would have to take a one-way from NRT to BKK to position for the return.

    Steve

  20. Steve G — it is fine to do

    IAD-BKK with connections, stop
    BKK-NRT, stop
    NRT-IAD

    That is a roundtrip with a stopover at NRT on the return.

    You do not need to buy BKK-NRT, that is part of the award

  21. Hi Gary:
    I wonder if you know the $50 award processing fee is refundable or not if I want to cancel a reservation contains schdule change.
    Thanks
    Neal

  22. If I book a complicated itinerary involving multiple airlines, do I need to worry about my checked bags being transferred?

    What is the maximum layover time? Is it then considered a stopover?

  23. Hi Gary – I booked a flight a while back using us air miles for a r/t flight (LAX-SYD) on united. I noticed a signifigant schedule change (>4 hours) to my flight on the return leg that doesn’t work for my schedule. What are my options for changing the return leg? United says they cannot help me because I used us air miles. Thoughts? I have no status on United.

  24. @Jay – US Airways will refund the tickets without fee if you want. They cannot rebook you on United because they are no longer partners with United. They can replace United flights with US Airways or American flights assuming it’s a domestic schedule change that’s at issue.

  25. Hi there, just turned into aware of your blog via Google, and located that it is truly informative. I am gonna be careful for brussels. I will be grateful when you proceed this in future. Many people might be benefited out of your writing. Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>