Master Thread: Free Oneways on US Airways Awards

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Just in time for my talk about Free Oneways on Sunday at the LAX Frequent Traveler University, I’ve figured out how to add free oneways to US Airways awards.

Until this week, I hadn’t thought free oneways on US Airways awards were possible (without phone agent error), but necessity is the mother of invention, and I had to book myself an award that relied on free oneway principles this week–more on that award on Sunday in an Anatomy of an Award post.

The reason I thought free oneways were impossible on US Airways awards was that free oneways require combining a free stopover at your home airport with an open jaw (or a free stopover on oneway awards.) US Airways offers a free stopover OR an open jaw. Without both, no free oneway is possible. Consider:

Philadelphia to London (destination)

London to Philadelphia (stopover)

Philadelphia to Chicago <– attempted free oneway

This award has a stopover in Philadelphia on the return. And this award starts in Philadelphia but ends in Chicago–an open jaw. You get one or the other with US Airways awards, so free oneways are seemingly not permitted by the rules. The only way to get free oneways was to get a phone agent to erroneously allow you to ticket an award with a stopover and an open jaw–not impossible, but not something you could count on.

But I’ve figured out a way to get a free oneway on US Airways awards. It’s not for everyone, but using this technique can reap huge value, more so than a free oneway on any other award. How does a free business class ticket home from anywhere in South America sound?

US Airways free oneway rules:

1) Your free oneway must be BEFORE your main award TO your home airport. Normally you can choose a free oneway before or after the main award, but not in this case.

2) You must not check any bags–at least not on the return of your main award.

3) You cannot have any open jaws because you need to use a stopover.

4) You must find availability that meets the following constraints:

  • From your free oneway origin to your home airport.
  • From your home airport to your main award destination.
  • From your main award destination to your home airport.
  • Within 24 hours of landing at your home airport, the award must continue from your home airport to where the award began (the free oneway origin.)

5) You must get off at your home airport on the return and go home without flying the last part of the itinerary.

Here’s an example. Say your home airport is Chicago-O’Hare. You want a free oneway from Hawaii five months before your main award to Frankfurt. You would search for Honolulu to Chicago. You would search for the Chicago to Frankfurt roundtrip, and then you would make sure to find some way–any way–to add award flights from Chicago to Honolulu.

You aren’t taking those flights from Chicago to Honolulu, so their timing, the cabin, and the number of layovers don’t matter. All that matters is that you find award space, and that the flight from Chicago leaves within 24 hours of your flight that landed in Chicago. You have to leave in that 24 hour window because layovers greater than 24 hours are a stopover, and you can’t have a second stopover.

Here’s an example of just such an itinerary:

Let me take you through this award piece by piece. The first segment is January 16 from Honolulu to Chicago. That is the free oneway. The cabin listed as “Unknown (I)” is domestic first class.

The next two segments are the main award, Chicago to Frankfurt roundtrip–a two week vacation in June. Both ways are in Global First Class (three-cabin first, flat beds). Then comes the part I crossed out that we aren’t going to fly–Chicago to San Francisco to Honolulu.

The key thing to note is that the take off from Chicago to San Francisco is within 24 hours of the landing in Chicago from Frankfurt. A US Airways award can only have a break of more than 24 hours between flights twice–at the stopover and at the destination. So you must find a way for the award to continue from your home airport on the return within 24 hours.

The other thing to note is that Chicago to San Francisco to Honolulu are in economy (X) class. Remember that you can always fly economy class on business or first class awards. As it turns out, this was the only space I could find back to Hawaii within 24 hours of the return from Frankfurt, so I added it into the award. Good thing we aren’t flying it!

The above award priced out to 125k US Airways miles plus $180.98 ($131 taxes, $50 award processing fee). The roundtrip price from the US to Europe in first class is 125k miles, so Honolulu to Chicago is a free oneway!

Now in the five rules above I said that on the return you had to have only carry ons. The reason is that you are leaving the airport midway through your itinerary, so if you had a checked bag, it would be sent on without you (or whatever the security procedure is these days.)

With the above itinerary, you could check a bag because that wouldn’t actually happen. If you land your international flight at your home airport, you have to collect your bags to go through customs, then you can walk out with them.

The two main worries with booking the above would be delays and annoying the airlines. If there were a delay, the airline has a responsibility to get you to Honolulu, not to Chicago, so conceivably it could route you some way that didn’t include Hawaii.

The other worry is that an airline might get angry if you continually booked awards and only flew some of the segments. Or at least people say this is a worry when you book revenue flights using the hidden city trick. I can’t see US Airways catching on to you for booking like this. And in any case, this trickery is being forced on us by their routing rules, which somehow make it cheaper to add on two more award segments to Hawaii. (Not adding those segments would cause the award to price as Honolulu to Chicago plus Chicago to Frankfurt.)

How to Plan and Book

Usairways.com is pretty useless since it only displays space on US Airways’ flights. United.com is fantastic, though, displaying most of the Star Alliance. Search on united.com for space as outlined in Free First Class Next Month: Star Alliance Searches on United.com.

The trickiest part will probably be to find the return plus the dummy legs since the dummy legs have to begin within 24 hours of landing at home from the main award. When you’ve found Saver award space on united.com for all segments, you can call US Airways at 800-622-1015.

Tell the agent you want to book an award from the free oneway origin to the main award destination. Give the dates and flight numbers for each flight, and you should be able to construct the award quickly. When you’re done, you can ticket it or put it on a three day courtesy hold.

What Can You Book? US Airways Routing Rules

US Airways nominally has some routing rules. But computers don’t price US Airways awards; humans do. And humans do it by looking at the origin and destination cities and where they fall on the award chart.

That means if you keep your total number of segments low, you make their job easy by feeding them flights with space, and you’re friendly, you can get away with a lot.

I’ve definitely never encountered a US Airways agent who mentioned MPM or routing from one continent to another via a third. I have heard some agents enforce an eight segment cap, but I’ve also personally surpassed that.

Where Can Your Free Oneway Go?

Like all free oneways, you can add a free oneway as long as the city where your free oneway starts is in the same region of the US Airways award chart as your home airport. So your free oneway can be from anywhere in the continental US, Canada, or Alaska.

Your oneway will also be free if the origin city lies outside your home airport’s region, but the origin’s region has the same award price to your destination region. (I wish I could make that sentence simpler. Hopefully an example will clarify.)

For instance, our free oneway above was from Hawaii. Hawaii is not in the same region as the continental US. When your main award is to Europe, you can add a free oneway to Hawaii because Hawaii <-> Europe and mainland <-> Europe cost the same price on the award chart.

Below I’ve reproduced the award chart from the mainland and from Hawaii. Where they are equal, you can get a free oneway from Hawaii on that type of award.

On awards to South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East you can add a free oneway from Hawaii to your home airport before the main award. The same is true for economy class awards to the South Pacific.

But a oneway to Hawaii before a business class award to Australia would cost 10k miles because you’d have to pay for a 120k award instead of a 110k award. Before a first class award to Africa, a oneway from Hawaii to your home airport would cost 30k miles.

To me the most intriguing free oneway, and the best free oneway possible on any airline is a free oneway from anywhere in South America to your home airport in business class before an award to Europe!

Everyone knows the USA to Europe is 100k miles roundtrip with all the legacy carriers. It’s the most common award I book with my Award Booking Service. And regular readers of MileValue are hopefully aware of occasional posts on the sweet spots of the US Airways chart. My personal favorite is South America to Europe for 100k roundtrip in business. And US Airways, unlike other carriers, doesn’t split South America into more than one region.

I know from booking an award this week that you can route from South America to Europe via North America. That means you could do:

Rio/Buenos Aires/Cuzco/your dream spot –> home (business)

home –> Europe (business)

Europe –> home (business)

home –> South America (unflown dummy legs)

All that for 100k total miles. That’s a 50k mile discount over what United or American would charge for the same. And you can fly to South America on United’s world class flat bed business class product with excellent availability.

A sampling
of flat
bed routes

If you see any other incredible routes for free oneway on US Airways awards, let us know in the comments.

Recap

I originally didn’t think free oneways were possible on US Airways because free oneways on roundtrips require a stopover AND an open jaw, and US Airways gives you one or the other. But through a little trickery, free oneways are very possible on US Airways. You just have to take your free oneway first and add dummy legs to your award.

I hope the seeming complexity doesn’t put anyone off because this free oneway can be the most lucrative of all free oneways since you can use it to fly home from anywhere in South America in business class for free before an award to Europe.


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37 COMMENTS

  1. Great post, and really helpful.

    I’ve a question about adding a free oneway to an AA award. I have ticket on hold to the Carribbean on AA metal in during the offpeak season (JFK-STT, STT-JFK). I tried adding a free oneway to the ticket online, but AA priced the oneway at 12.5 miles. Why is that? Does STT count a part of the US here?

    • AA rules only allow stopovers when flying to Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Asia. So you can’t get a free stopover or a free oneway on the way to the Caribbean, but enjoy that award for 25k miles. Have you looked at using Avios instead?

  2. I have some concerns, which perhaps can be addressed successfully, but I wonder.
    1) This is really hidden city ticketing, even if on an award ticket. There are considerable risks with that, as well as the ethical issues, which I’ll discuss here. By intentionally holding a reward seat from Chicago to Honolulu (or from your home airport to South America) that you don’t plan to use, you are keeping that seat out of inventory. There are not an unlimited number of award seats between Chicago and Honolulu, and you are really cheating someone else out of the chance to get one, for selfish purposes. From the airline’s perspective, that’s a seat they cannot otherwise sell or use to satisfy a reward booking for another customer. From the point of view of another passenger who really wants to fly from Chicago to Honolulu, it becomes an unavailable seat. Is it really right to pursue that free one-way by booking a seat you don’t plan to use, at the expense of another person’s opportunity to book a seat at all? I am on the side that it is unethical to book award seats that you never intend to use or cancel in timely fashion. Maybe next time it will be you or a client who wants to fly someplace, but there are no award seats to be had, since people are doing hidden city bookings. Are we really all in this just for “me”?
    2) The airline is responsible to get you from Frankfurt to Honolulu. The fact you’ve booked a connection in Chicago doesn’t mean for certain you’ll actually have a layover there. If there is a flight irregularity you could wind up being connected through another city. You may be skilled at fast-talking your way out of that one, but not all people reading this are necessarily aware of the risks, or quite as nimble with it.

    I really enjoy and respect this blog, but I think it’s possible the dreams of free one-ways have gotten in the way of honesty and ethics.

    • These are good points. I laid out the hidden city mis-connect worry. Especially if you have your continuing flights the next morning, this mis-connect fear is remote. I don’t think there is an ethical dilemma in booking an award segment I won’t use, but if others are uncomfortable doing this, I can understand. Wait until you see the award I booked with this technique (though it’s not a free oneway) on Sunday. The value is mind-blowing.

  3. for the return from your international destination, it really depends on each airport, how they handle this. for example at JFK all passengers claim their bags and then those whose trip ends at JFK walk out, and transferring passengers check-in their bags for the next flight. so you could really easily just take your bag and walk out.
    however, at IAD the transferring passengers are separated from those terminating in DC right after stepping off the plane. so this would not work because you’d be forced to re-check your bag.
    one clever way to do this would be to book your hidden city leg from alternate airport… let’s say you arrive your Europe to JFK but your ongoing leg is from LGA… in this case you’d have no problem just waking out.

    • Good point. I also think if you are taking off the next day like in the screen shot above–landing at 3 PM, taking off at 6 AM–you could just check your bags through your home airport.

  4. Definitely a newbie to this process, but what do you do about getting to the home –> Rio/Buenos Aires/Cuzco/your dream spot leg after you’ve booked this free one-way?

    Use other miles (or cash) to book a one-way ticket, knowing that you’ve saved by having the return be part of the free oneway?

    Again, sorry. Everything else sounds great. I just need to clarify this one piece to fully understand the benefit.

    • Exactly, book a oneway award of buy a oneway cash ticket. If you can find a oneway cash ticket for half the normal roundtrip price, you’ve saved a bundle. Otherwise book a oneway award with AA or United miles. Bonus tip, look into off peak economy pricing on AA for huge savings. You could get a 20k mile total r/t to Argentina.

  5. Great Scott! You’ve done it. A “hidden city one-way” only requires a stopover? Even A free one-way from S. America?!? It seems so obvious now. This strategy in award-space can probably be used in a few other, but less lucrative scenarios. Will be on the lookout.

    Also, this seems a minor caveat, but I believe US Airways also stipulates that the stopover must be at a Star Alliance hub city.

    From TPG (http://bit.ly/kYZ8Bq):
    US Airways: Charlotte, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Washington D.C
    United: Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C. New York/Newark, Houston, Cleveland and Guam
    Air Canada: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary.

    • That is definitely a rule–thanks for the reminder. That is not uniformly enforced, so I would call a few agents if necessary. If no one will ticket me, I would look to using Avios or cash to get to a Star Alliance hub.

  6. So if I route from South America to Europe via North America can I have a free stopover in North America? Can I do an openjaw as well?
    i.e LIM-JFK>stopover>JFK>FRA
    FRA>JFK>stopover>JFK-EZE

    • That itinerary has two stopovers and an open jaw. You can have one stopover OR one open jaw. Here’s how to correct it.

      LIM-EWR (stopover)
      JFK-FRA (destination)
      FRA-JFK (destination)
      EWR-LIM (unflown dummy leg)

  7. I have already booked a US Airways flight award LAS-PHX-CUN and CUN-CLT-LAS. Can I still add a free oneway after the flight is already booked?

  8. I think you also forgot to mention that US Air doesn’t allow any changes on award tickets once travel has started… so if your free one way is in February and your real trip in July… you have to hope and pray your plans won’t change at all during those 5 months.
    This may backfire against many..

  9. Hello, I have united miles and wanting 2 rt ticket to Europe in 2014 on flat beds. Can I apply for US airway card and try to get 60000 miles and be able to use both united miles and us airways miles to book same flight on flat beds? Thanks

  10. Do you still value US Airways miles as a pretty good deal? Just received offer for 40,000 with 10,000 for transfer?

    • US Airways miles are awesome, but that transfer bonus is awful. There is a 3% fee on balance transfers, so that’s like buying miles for 3 cents each. 40k on first purchase though is great.

  11. I know it’s possible to use Dividend miles to route North America-Asia-Europe-North America, pricing out as one North America-Asia round trip award with a stopover in Europe.

    Is it possible to book a similar award originating in Europe? I can’t see how North America could possibly be considered a valid stopover point on a Europe-Asia award, nor Asia on a Europe- North America award. But on the other hand, the number of segments and distances would not have to be any different than in the North America origin case.

    • Hello. Pls let me know if there is also setting good to do with 120k miles flying form SFO TO MNL in j. I don’t know of this route can use a free one way? I want to make use of my miles wheater to fly anywhere else. I’m flying December and staying for two months. Is there something good we can do to make us of the miles or just typical RT booking from SFo to mnl…?

      Thanks

  12. Is it possible to do RT business class to North Asia from HNL via Europe for 90K US Airways miles? Looking to get free one way HNL-IAH(stopover), IAH to North Asia(destination), North Asia to HNL(with dummy legs).

    • Should be possible. Keep segments low. I’m not quite sure I understand your need for dummy legs. Edit: unless you live in IAH, which is what you must mean

  13. Anyone have suggestion for SFO TO MANILA with free one ways??? I don’t know what to think of or if this Is even possible???

    Business class and BR is a fave airline.

    Hope someone has a good plan idea….

    Thanks

    • SFO-MANILA-SFO//later free oneway anywhere east of SFO in the US or Canada in domestic first class on a BR business award.

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