US Airways Begins to Crack Down on Extreme Award Redemption

The US Airways gravy train has been incredible for the past few years.

First, they’ve printed miles like mad, whether through last December’s holiday shopping promo that allowed the purchase of miles at about 7/10ths of a penny apiece through the purchase of stickers (donating those stickers to charity could get your effective cost down half a penny) or perpetually selling miles with a 100% bonus (125% for elite members!). With cheap miles abundant, US Airways was said to be the ‘official consolidator of Star Alliance premium cabin seats’ — you could buy your business and first class travel dirt cheap on flights where awards were available.

Second, because they were incredibly flexible and easy on the redemption side. With no ‘Starnet blocking’ (United’s practice of programming their computers to say that award seats aren’t available on partners even when they are being offered, because the airline didn’t want to pay their partners for the seats) and basically no routing rules folks redeemed with ease. There was no difficulty transiting Europe and Asia on the way to Australia. And folks used to be able to do a stopover in each direction on an award more often than not, getting in three destinations on a single ticket.

Well, first US Airways clarified their stopover rules which had seemed to permit only a single stopover when using partner airlines (and one in each direction on US Airways awards only) to be clear that only one stopover was permitted on any award itinerary.

Then they began to have difficulty booking Lufthansa first class awards between the US and Europe. I never got clarification (on purpose) as to whether it was a technical problem or purposeful blocking a la United. But this challenge was relatively easy to overcome, at least until recently when Lufthansa dramatically reduced their first class award space on many routes going forward — come April they’ll begin the retrofit of first class cabins on their 747 aircraft, and those routes getting the new cabin will see only 8 seats instead of 16. Cutting available seats in a cabin in half also dramatically reduces award space. And since they’re uncertain where the new aircraft will fly on any given day, they’re being extremely cautious in the release of award seats so they don’t have to involuntarily downgrade folks or not have seats to sell. Routes served by an Airbus still seem to have the same award space on offer, but Lufthansa is a huge 747 operator.

Meanwhile, US Airways has also updated their membership guide to crack down on some of the crazy routings, though their routing rules remain perfectly generous.

14.Award travel is permitted when the distance in one direction does not exceed the maximum mileage allowed between the origin and destination. Certain itineraries are subject to mileage restrictions. Travel from North America to Europe is not allowed via Asia. Travel between Europe and Japan/North Asia/South Asia/Australia/New Zealand is not permitted via North America.

No more US to Europe via Asia, perfectly reasonable. If you want to travel to Europe, cross the Atlantic not the Pacific. Imagine that! No more Europe to Asia via the Atlantic. You can’t actually stop in the US between say London and Bangkok. Logical and no great loss. In either case, no “going the wrong way” to get to your destination.

Note that this doesn’t limit travel between the US and Asia, you can still fly via the Atlantic or the Pacific.

US Airways now says that you’re limited to flying no more than the ‘maximum permitted mileage’ between any city pair. Each pair of origin and destinations have a maximum number of miles you can fly, and many airlines limit travel to not exceed that number. United enforces this for instance. Aeroplan will allow you to exceed it by 5%. But here US Airways is saying no crazy out of the way routings.

Fortunately travel between the US and Asia via the Atlantic has explicitly higher maximum mileage allowances than via the Pacific, it’s not a huge constraint.

My guess is that US Airways will not be auto-validating maximum mileages, but it gives them an excuse to deny routings that their earlier rules about requiring most direct travel were unclear on. Probably the rate desk can validate routings, so some will be denied and others will not.

It does mean that folks will most of the time no longer be able to fly between North America and Australia via Europe and Asia.

Bottom-line is that US Airways has woken up to their loosey-gooseyness and is acting to limit. Not surprising at all, especially as they’ve printed miles so cheaply and the redemption of those miles can be expensive. But for now the changes they’re imposing do see rather reasonable. I only worry about the implications of not being able to easily redeem for first class seats that Lufthansa is offering. I do hope that’s a temporary condition.

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, 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. Gary, in your experience has US blocked any other awards than LH first? For example, LH business, UA first, etc.?


  2. Please don’t post headlines like that! I nearly had a heart attack thinking you learned something new in the last 24 hours! I can work within these limits if I have to (LH annoyance/workaround excepted).

  3. So Gary, last year I booked my dad on SQ SFO/SIN/SYD for 110,000 USAir miles in biz class. Would that no longer be allowed? It was a great workaround to UA’s stinginess on SFO and LAX/SYD biz class availability (and he stopped over in SIN on the way back from SYD).

  4. LH F is overrated; the 8 fewer F seats on retro-fitted 747s will translate into MORE J seats. Applaud their decision!

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