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!