Category Archives: Routing Rules

Why Is My American Airlines Award Pricing 25k Miles Higher Than It Should?

This blog contains links to our affiliates. Below are credit card products that we recommend from our advertising partners.

We just got an interesting comment on Bill’s great recent post about Booking Etihad Business Class Using American Miles.

MojoMama is trying to go from Los Angeles (LAX) to the Maldives (MLE) in First Class.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 8.42.57 AM

The United States to the Maldives should be 90k miles each way in First Class according to American Airlines’ chart. But she’s getting charged 115k miles:

Trying to book LAX-JFK(stopover)-AUH-MLE in first for August, but it’s pricing at 115,000 miles. Being told AUH-MLE is separate award because it’s not in the same region, which I know is false. Also, was told must route over Pacific via HKG to get to Maldives on one award ticket, which I also know is false. My question is, is LAX-JFK-AUH-MLE a valid routing? It comes up on ITA, but I don’t see it on the Etihad website.

There’s a lot to unpack in this comment because it gets at several of the Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards.

In the end, as is often the case, American Airlines is trying to charge her the correct amount of miles even though its phone agents are giving tons of misinformation about why the price is what it is.

What are the phone agents getting wrong? Why is Los Angeles to the Maldives 115k American Airlines miles in First Class? How can it be cheaper? What should MojoMama do?

Continue reading

US Airways Award Chart Sweet Spot: Australia via Asia

This blog contains links to our affiliates. Below are credit card products that we recommend from our advertising partners.

US Airways has some incredible deals on its award chart. I’ve talked about off peak awards, South America deals, and intra-South Asia before. The drawbacks to US Airways awards are numerous–they have to be roundtrip, they have a $50 “award processing” fee, and changes cost $150–but if you can deal with the drawbacks, the chart itself is a gem.

I would define an award-chart sweet spot as one of three things:

  1. An award that is much cheaper with one airline’s miles than another airline’s miles. For instance, EZE-BOG, CLO-BOG-EZE in Avianca business class coss 30k US Airways miles or 80k United miles.
  2. An award that is much cheaper than a slightly different award on the same airline. And ideally the sweet spot award can be turned into the highly similar award cheaply. For instance, New York to Istanbul oneway in economy is 20k miles using AA miles between October 15 and May 15. New York to Amman those same dates is 45k miles oneway in economy. New York to Istanbul is a sweet-spot award and can be turned into New York to Amman by adding Istanbul to Amman on Royal Jordanian for 7,500 Avios.
  3. An award that is very expensive with dollars and very cheap with miles. A lot of domestic Avios awards are like this. Charlottesville, VA to Chicago oneway on American Airlines is $392 in October. Or you could buy the flight with 4,500 Avios and $2.50. Sweet spot.

 

A great example of the second type of sweet spot is the difference between a business class award with US Airways miles to South & Central Asia and a business class award to the South Pacific.

Roundtrip Award Price from the United States and Canada

Look closely: it’s cheaper to fly roundtrip from the United States to Australia–in the South Pacific–than it is from the United States to Thailand–in South and Central Asia. In and of itself, that’s not too amazing since Bangkok is farther away than Sydney.

What’s amazing is that you can route through Asia to Australia on a US Airways award. That means adding a nine-hour flight from Bangkok to Sydney will lower your award’s price!

Theoretically US Airways award routings must be less than the MPM (maximum permitted mileage) for your origin/destination city pair. In practice, that isn’t the rule, US Airways agents don’t know that’s the rule, or US Airways agents don’t enforce the rule.

I’m 90% sure that the way US Airways awards are priced is by the agent figuring out in which region the origin city and destination city lie and reading the price of awards between those regions of the chart. (I think this because many US Airways agents think out loud, so I hear things like, “Bangkok…Thailand…South & Central Asia. This award is 120,000 miles.”)

Now if you have a crazy routing, the agent might be awoken from his sleep-booking and check to make sure you’re following the rules. And by crazy routing, I don’t actually mean backtracking or flying too far–agents don’t know geography. I mean flying too many segments. They get suspicious if you have an award with many segments that maybe you’re flying too far; they don’t get suspicious if you are actually backtracking wildly but you only fly three segments.

All of this is to say that you can easily route through Asia on the way to or from Australia (or New Zealand) on a Dividend Miles award from the USA. And doing so can mean an incredible trip at a very low miles price–lower than if you didn’t include Australia.

Let’s look at an award I talked about yesterday:

As you’ll notice on this award, oneway is direct: SYD-SFO. But the routing from San Francisco to Sydney is San Francisco-Tokyo-Bangkok-Sydney.

This circuitous routing checks in at a whopping 12,675 miles.

12,675 miles is much farther than the MPM for the route: 8,911 miles. But US Airways agents don’t check MPM routinely. There’s almost no chance a US Airways agent would think twice about ticketing this four-segment itinerary for 110k miles. And if he does, hang up, and call back.

There are two cool things about this award. First, you can take a stopover in Tokyo or Bangkok for as long as you’d like, combining Asia and Australia on one trip. Second, the trip costs only 110k miles.

San Francisco to Bangkok roundtrip would cost 120k US Airways miles! Or this trip would cost 135k United miles, so 110k is a hefty discount–a sweet spot.

The taxes and fees are a little higher with US Airways than United. United charged $173.10 for this award–all government taxes. US Airways would charge $223.10–the same government taxes plus a $50 award processing fee.

Also, this award could be booked on united.com with United miles. To book it with US Airways miles, you would have to call 800-622-1015. You wouldn’t incur a phone-booking fee. US Airways agents would proactively waive it, since the award is not bookable online. (See How to Avoid the Phone Fee on Award Bookings for tricks on how to avoid phone fees for all four legacy carriers.)

Recap

US Airways has a sweet spot on its chart from the US to Australia for 110k miles in business class. This can be made even sweeter by routing through and stopping over in Asia.

While US Airways may technically have a rule limiting the distance you can route on an award, their agents don’t enforce that rule, especially if your award doesn’t have very many segments.

There are some annoyances when dealing with US Airways awards like the $50 processing fee, having to call to book, $150 change fees, only getting one stopover OR one open jaw, and on and on. But I think those nuisances are more than compensated for by the super generous chart. USA-Asia-Australia-USA for 110k total in business class cannot be beaten.

Bonus

I’ve booked several awards to Australia and New Zealand via Asia with Dividend Miles, so I’ll be sure to do an Anatomy of an Award post on this routing in the coming days.

How Americans Can Exploit US Airways’ Cheap Awards from South America

This blog contains links to our affiliates. Below are credit card products that we recommend from our advertising partners.

Yesterday I talked about some great sweet spots on the US Airways chart for awards originating in South America. Maybe you thought that post was irrelevant for Americans.

But Americans can still get half the value of these sweet-spot awards by using open jaw itineraries.

US Airways sweet-spot awards can have tremendous value for Americans if they’re employed as part of something I’ll call a triangle award.

A triangle award is using three or more oneway itineraries to create a journey that includes two or more destinations. A picture of the itinerary I’ll be discussing in this post should explain why I call it a triangle award.

LAX-ZRH-EZE-LAX

The first leg of this triangle is Los Angeles to Zurich. The second is Zurich to Buenos Aires. And the third is Buenos Aires to Los Angeles.

The reason other airports like Lima, Frankfurt, and London are on the map is that they are layover cities.

The Sweet-Spot US Airways Award

The sweet-spot US Airways award from yesterday’s post that this post will focus on is South America to Europe roundtrip for 100k miles in business class.

That was a 40k mile discount over the equivalent roundtrip award with United miles!

Unfortunately most of don’t live in Europe or South America, so we can’t take full advantage of that incredible price. But we can take half advantage of that huge US Airways discount by flying an open jaw award that includes a Europe to South America segment.

As I’ve explained, US Airways awards are allowed one open jaw OR one stopover. If we use the open jaw by departing the US to Europe, but “returning” to South America, we will get half the benefit of the super cheap Europe to South America awards on US Airways.

The Half Sweet-Spot Award

Specifically an award like LAX to Zurich, Zurich to Buenos Aires will cost 100k US Airways miles, but 120k United miles. We aren’t getting a 40k mile discount, but a 20k mile discount is still like saving almost $400.

The rules

US Airways awards allow one stopover OR one open jaw. Using this technique uses your open jaw, so you can’t have any stopovers en route or an open jaw in Europe.

That means no stopping over in London, though 23-hour layovers are fine, and no flying into Zurich but out of Frankfurt.

Most US Airways agents kind of vaguely somewhat know about this rule, and it’s easy to tell if it’s been violated, so getting around it would be tough.

The other rule is that the distance between the two open jaw cities on a US Airways award must be shorter than both the distances of the flown legs.

In the LAX-ZRH-EZE example, the distance between LAX and EZE (Buenos Aires) must be shorter than the distance between LAX and ZRH (Zurich) and the distance between ZRH and EZE.

(I can’t find the text of this rule anywhere, so I don’t know whether it’s the distance as the crow files between the cities or the actual distance flown given the layover airports. If anyone can find the text of the rule, point us to it in the comments.)

In fact, my planned award runs afoul of this rule. LAX to EZE–the open jaw segment–is not the shortest segment. LAX to ZRH is slightly shorter.

But this rule is rarely enforced if the distances are close. I assume the reason is because US Airways agents don’t know how to or don’t want to check distances.

Whatever the reason, I was able to place the following award on hold with US Airways:

This is a screen shot from United, which wanted to charge 120k miles and $98.

I can’t get a screen shot of the US Airways award with its price, but the exact same flight on hold at US Airways cost 100k miles and $148. (The extra $50 is the US Airways award processing fee.)

The 20k miles savings per person is substantial. It’s almost enough to cover the third leg of the triangle.

Buenos Aires to Los Angeles–the third leg

Buenos Aires to Los Angeles has to be booked as a one way, so we’ll want to use United miles, American miles, or British Airways Avios.

On this hypothetical dream vacation, I want to add another stop in Lima. United doesn’t allow a stopover on oneway awards. American allows a stopover, but only in North America.

That leaves Avios. Avios are ideal for short, direct hops like EZE-LIM on LAN Airlines, which would cost only 10k Avios and $60 in government taxes–none of the nasty surcharges that dog many Avios awards

5k Avios and $125 is actually the best deal, but Avios Cash & Points is beyond the scope of this post. So is the fact that this five-hour flight is operated by a plane with fully flat business class seats that would cost 20k Avios and $65.

Then from Lima, it would finally be time to end the triangle journey. Here the best option to LAX would be to use American miles to fly the direct LAN flight. Not only is the flight only 17.5k AA miles in economy, but since I’d be landing at my home airport, I could tack on a free oneway to Hawaii at a later date.

I’d have to call AA to book a LAN flight, so I can’t show a screen shot.

Astute readers will notice this is an application of my free stopovers on AA awards outside the US trick. Except this stopover isn’t just free, it saves us miles!

Instead of paying 30k AA miles to fly EZE-LIM-LAX without a stopover in Lima, breaking it into an Avios award and an AA award makes the total 17,500 AA miles + 10k Avios, which are worth less combined than 30k AA miles.

Recap

As Americans, we miss out on half the fun of US Airways’ incredible awards from South America that I talked about yesterday. But we can still take advantage of the incredible business class price from Europe to South America by flying an open jaw from the US to Europe to South America.

To finish off the triangle award, simply book a oneway return from South America to the US. If you want a free stopover in South America, try my Avios + AA award trick. And no MileValue award booking is complete without a free oneway to Hawaii tacked on!

So who’s going to book the first triangle award to take advantage of US Airways’ sweet spots on its award chart?

For more great posts like this, sign up for the MileValue RSS feed, like the brand new MileValue facebook page, or follow me on Twitter @milevalue. Get your friends involved too, so you can have more companions for your Free First Class Next Month.

What is an Open Jaw? How Can an Itinerary Have Two Open Jaws?

This blog contains links to our affiliates. Below are credit card products that we recommend from our advertising partners.

When I say that United awards can have one stopover and two open jaws, it elicits a lot of confusion. Some people don’t know what an open jaw is while others can handle one conceptually, but not two open jaws. Hopefully I can clear it up.

A roundtrip United award is made up of two oneway segments.

An open jaw happens when the origin of one of those two oneways does not match up with the destination of the other.

For example, consider a roundtrip United award with the two oneway segments LAX -> JFK and JFK -> LAX. This award has zero open jaws because the origin of the first matches the destination of the second (LAX) and the destination of the first matches the origin of the second (JFK).

But consider LAX ->JFK and BOS -> LAX. This award has one open jaw. The origin of the first oneway matches the destination of the second (LAX), so there is no open jaw there. But the destination of the first oneway (JFK) does not match the origin of the second oneway (BOS), so there is one open jaw on this award.

Now consider LAX -> JFK and BOS -> SFO. This award has two open jaws. The origin of the first oneway (LAX) doesn’t match the destination of the second (SFO). Nor does the destination of the first oneway (JFK) match the origin of the second (BOS).

All that’s simple enough. I think people get confused when dealing with United awards that include free oneways. Consider the following United award with a free oneway from Dulles to San Francisco added to a trip to Europe.

IAD -> LHR

FRA -> IAD

IAD -> SFO

These three oneway flights separated by one month each would make up a valid United award, costing 60k miles in economy. The reason is that United awards allow one stopover and two open jaws on roundtrip awards.

As always, a United roundtrip award is made up of two oneways. United would consider the first oneway above to be Dulles (IAD) to London (LHR). The second oneway is Frankfurt (FRA) to San Francisco (SFO) with a stopover in Dulles.

This award has one stopover (Dulles on the return) and two open jaws. The first open jaw is the first oneway’s origin (IAD) not matching the second oneway’s destination (SFO). The second open jaw is the first oneway’s destination (LHR) not matching the second oneway’s origin (FRA).

Open jaws only happen at origin/destination points. They do not happen en route. Sometimes people tell me they want to do a routing like:

IAD -> LHR

FRA -> ATH

WAW -> IAD

They think there are two open jaws, the first between London and Frankfurt and the second between Athens and Warsaw. In fact this cannot be done on one award.

The reason is that one of these putative open jaws is en route. For instance if we consider Athens the destination of the first oneway, there would be an illegal attempt at an en route open jaw with no flight between London and Frankfurt.

Or if we claimed that London was the destination of the first oneway, then what happened between Athens and Warsaw? There would need to be a flight there for the routing to be legal.

I hope this clears up what an open jaw is, what a double open jaw is, and what’s legal on United awards.