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 InsideFlyer.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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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. […]

Comments

  1. This is excellent!!! I want to use my US Airways miles for first or business to Australia next year… What are the odds the agent will let me route via Asia, or via Europe & Asia (leaving from east coast)?

  2. Maybe a better question to my above question is… What mileage programs are most likely to allow US-Australia routing via Asia, and which ones are most likely to allow routing via Europe and Asia (if leaving from east coast)?

  3. Any luck in getting agents to include stopovers in 1-region travels in Asia? Is it just a matter of calling back?

  4. Just returned from a US-SE Asia trip in F booked with US Airways Dividend Miles.

    BOS-FRA LH
    FRA-BKK Thai (stop)
    BKK-HKG Thai
    HKG-IST TK
    IST-ZRH LX (business)
    ZRH-BOS LX

    I booked this last April, so that might partly explain my being able to get the TA segments on LH & LX.

  5. Forgot to add that HKG was final destination. This was for 160,000 miles and $164 in taxes(and that includes the $50 booking fee too).

  6. Thank you for the excellent synopsis!

    So traveling US to Frankfurt in business will cost 100k, but for a mere 20k more we can tack on Singapore?

  7. When I booked a First Class award ticket a few months ago for travel this summer to FRA, US would not allow me to travel via Asia, even from HNL, which is where I live. Tried several agents at the time, but was forced to travel via the Atlantic, as I was informed each time that travel via Asia was not a valid routing from the U.S.

    Still worked out great, First Class on LH with their new seats, including the A380 on the return. And US has a good award chart from HNL to Europe. But was hoping to try the OZ product on the outbound. Will try Aeroplan next time for an Asian routing to Europe.

  8. I booked my travels 10 days before departure for the following routing (my trip commenced February 3rd):

    SYD-BKK-FRA (TG)
    FRA-EZE (LH)stop
    EZE-FRA-IST (LH)
    IST-BKK (TK)stop
    BKK-SYD (TG)

    All in First class, total taxes came to approx 280 USD.I was not able to book more than 4 segments per trip though. My call to book took 56 minutes even though I had all the flights. Probably calculating taxes took a long time and also it had to be issued instantly due to almost immediate travel. All in all very good experience booking with US Dividend miles, agent was quite capable.

  9. “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.”

    SQ as well,I think ?

  10. How about including a section in future guides saying how far out awards seats can be booked on the airline (I’m guessing 300 or 330 days for many airlines), and when else is a good time to search for availability (for example if certain airlines release seats 60 days out or something)?

  11. Great post Gary, I love your blog. Considering using your booking service for a LAN first/business *A redemption for lax to Easter island to Tahiti to bora bora and back. I know the Tahiti to bora bora leg we’ll have to pay for.

  12. Gary, I just booked a very interesting award yesterday,using US miles. award is on LH and CA F with TK C, 40K +150 in taxes and fee.

  13. Gary,

    I booked a ticket from YYZ to BCN with a stopover at CDG going and a ministop over (less than 24 hours) at BRU coming back. Airlines are AC, LF, Brussels Airways, & AC. When packing I noticed that LF has far more restrictive carry on rules than AC. And Brussels Airways is worse still. Worse still, however, in talking to US, it was suggested to me that my international checked luggage limit might die in Paris because of the stopover. This struck me as nuts, but the agent and the supervisor both said this was likely, and that it wasn’t their problem to fix. In talking to LF, I was told that there was no problem at all and I ran into no problem from LF.

    So was US simply wrong in what they told me, or could a layover kill one’s international luggage limit?

    Equally, are applicable carry on limits whatever a given airline says they are regardless of the limit of the leg flown by the international carrier?

    Thanx,

    Robert

  14. Where can I find a similar description for United ?

    Using UNITED AIRLINES Miles to Book Awards

  15. Anyone else having trouble getting awards in early July? I can’t seem to get a flight back from Europe on any *A carrier. I forgot about the O booking trick, should try that sometime soon.

  16. I do have a question, when the rates go up to actually use usair miles with usair flights (standard us trip up to 60K now) can you call and say you want to book a star alliance ticket and specify the usair flight or even use the United flight numbers that are actually serviced via Usair? The ticket within the domestic us for star alliance would be 25K and right now usair has the flights at 60K.

  17. In comment 17,
    Robert told you that he had booked a stopover in CDG,
    Is CDG a star alliance hub?
    It is a AF’s hub.
    US’s DM is a great FFP

  18. I just got back LA from Zurich by Swiss Air. I was on Economics class. In using my US Air FF mileages, I wanted to upgrade to Business. However, Swiss asked me for PIN of my US Air FF account. Other than my FF account number, I had no clude what the PIN was. Did anyone ever done successfully in using either US Air or United mileages to upgrade a class in Swiss or Luftansa?

  19. Is this a legal routing with dividend miles

    GUA-IAH-FRA STOPOVER ECONOMY Atlantik
    FRA-BKK-DPS Destination ECONOMY 30.000 miles
    ——————————-

    DPS-BKK-JKF-IAH-GUA BUISNESS 45.000 miles

    total miles 75.000

  20. Is it possible to book one way travel with US Airways miles? They are charging me roundtrip miles.
    One way LAX-FRA on united for 30,000 miles but US airways is charging 60000 miles..

    I don’t have 60K but have little more than 30K.

  21. How far in advance can you book international reward travel with Dividend Miles? I cannot get an exact response, and I am trying to use miles for an Africa safari–very date specific.

  22. good info on this blog -now bookmarked.
    for stopovers can you do it in a third cont/area?

    e.g. flying north asia to us can you do a stopover in hawaii ?
    or flying north asia to mexico can you do a stopover in us?

  23. Great info! Any idea if US will allow you to book a mixed award on United? For instance, looking at LAX-HNL on united.com shows availability of 20K awards in one direction, but 40k on the return. Will US let me book the R/T for 60k?

    Thanks!

  24. what defines a segment?
    if you r not doing a stopover,just a transit is this still a segment??
    thanks

  25. great information. do you now is scl a star alliance hub.
    my routing:
    zrh-gru
    gru-scl
    scl-eze
    eze-fra
    fra-zrh
    they dit on the phone that this routing is not possible
    Thanks

  26. hi i wont to book award in one ticket, us air agend dit they cant book because scl is not a hub from star alliance
    they booking is
    zrh-gru-scl
    eze-fra-zrh

  27. today i get a routing to scl from us air outbond 35 hours 4 stopps with changing flights inbound 34 hours with one overnight and 3 stopps with flight change.

  28. Hi Gary

    Is Usair anti life? I booked a RT first class ticket for my wife and I to China. I started the booking in April. They knew we were travelling there so our 7 month old lap baby could meet her grand parents. I called repeatedly – was told everything was fine – the most we would have to pay at the gate with united was taxes.

    When we checked in — Usair forced us to pay $2000 based on the highest published airfare. We also found out that Usair cancelled our bejing ti shenzhen segment which had been confirmed since April. So, basically Usair extorted almost $3000 from us the day of departure.

    What recourse do I have? I have been thinking of a letter to customer relations, contesting the charges, litigation and/or a social media campaign.

    What happened to us was very unfair…

  29. @fred on internatioanal an infant fare is 10% of a paid ticket. Most US carriers charge it as 10% of full fare, however sometimes US AIrways’ will calculate it based on a discounted ticket, it’s always worth getting the infant fare calculated and paid in advance and if you don’t like the price call back because it may get calculated lower. But the $2000 was probably correct. As for a cancelled segment that you had to buy yourself, that you should write to customer relations about.

  30. hi,

    how does luggage ck in work on these long trips.
    eg can you have your luggage ckd in to final estination even its a two day trip as long as each stopover is less than 24hrs?
    with a lot of luggage this makes a difference!

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