US Airways, American Airlines, and British Airways are all members of the oneworld alliance who should be equally sharing award space on their own flights with their partners.

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For the first time, I’ve found a case where US Airways “Low” (their name for “Saver”) price award space is not bookable with American Airlines or British Airways miles.

Either the US Airways space is phantom, or it isn’t being shared with American Airlines and British Airways, which would be a huge problem because American Airlines and British Airways awards are often cheaper than US Airways awards.

Refresher on Partners Sharing Space

As a refresher, airlines usually share all their capacity-controlled Saver award space–whatever that’s called like “MileSAAver” or “Low”–equally with their own members and their partners. There are a few exceptions, but US Airways economy Low space has never been an exception, so I would expect US Airways miles, American Airlines miles, and British Airways Avios to be able to book it equally.

Airlines never share their less capacity controlled seats with partners–award space with names like Medium, High, AAnytime, and Standard.

That means that any Low award space at usairways.com, any MileSAAver award space at aa.com, and any British Airways award space at ba.com should be available equally to all three types of miles. (British Airways doesn’t have tiers of seat availability.)

Why This Matters

US Airways flies from Sarasota, FL to Charlotte, NC, which is a distance of 547 miles.

  • US Airways would charge 25,000 miles and $36 for the one way flight at the Low level.
  • American would charge 12,500 miles and $6.
  • British Airways would charge 4,500 Avios and $6.

I’d much rather book the flight with Avios than with US Airways miles. Or if I needed the segment as part of an international award to Asia, I’d want to book it with American Airlines miles.

If US Airways isn’t sharing the space, that makes American Airlines and British Airways miles less valuable.

  • On what routes is US Airways space not bookable with AA and BA miles?
  • What is the root cause of the problem? Glitch or purposeful blocking?

Investigation

Commenter Anthony said that he saw economy award space on US Airways flight 5474 from Sarasota to Charlotte on November 17 on aa.com but not on ba.com, so I investigated.

I replicated his searches and found he was right. AA.com showed the award space.

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AA.com shows space on US5474 in economy

BA.com didn’t show the award space.

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BA.com says economy award space on US 5474 is “Not Available”

I dug deeper and tried to book the space on aa.com. I selected US5474 space and clicked “Continue” to go to the next step of the booking process. I got this error message: Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 12.42.18 PM

I tried the other two flights that day that aa.com said had Saver award availability. Each time I selected one, I got the same error. Eventually all three showed as not having Saver economy award space.

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Now I headed over to usairways.com. I thought maybe aa.com was just showing phantom award space, and usairways.com had never released Low award space on the flights.

However usairways.com showed Low availability on all three flights on November 17 including US5474.Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 12.44.55 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 12.45.15 PM

If there really was Low space on these flights, then aa.com was right to display Saver award space originally and ba.com was wrong to miss the space.

I wanted to test whether this was phantom space or actually bookable, so I selected US5474 and a dummy return leg (usairways.com requires roundtrip booking).

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The total came to the Low price of 25,000 miles plus taxes and fees.

The price dropped to 20,000 miles plus taxes and fees because I am a US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® cardholder which entitles me to a 5,000 mile discount on all awards operated by US Airways planes. (I got the card for the 40,000 mile sign up bonus after first purchase because it that’s enough miles to go all these places.)

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 12.45.54 PM

I was able to select seats and got all the way to the credit card input screen.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 12.47.03 PM

I didn’t input my credit card, so I can’t say for sure whether the space was bookable. Unfortunately US Airways doesn’t allow free refunds of award tickets in the first 24 hours like some airlines do.

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The last thing I checked was whether an American Airlines phone agent could book the economy award space on US5474 by calling American Airlines AAdvantage at 800-882-8880. The agent could not see economy award space on November 17.

Recap of Investigation

Economy award space at the Saver level for US Airways flight 5474 on November 17 was:

  • displayed but not bookable on aa.com (clicking on it gave an error message and made the space disappear)
  • not displayed on ba.com
  • not bookable by calling American Airlines
  • displayed on usairways.com (the booking process was completely normal until the end when I decided not to input credit card info)

What is Happening?

I think there are two possibilities:

  1. Phantom space is showing up on usairways.com and aa.com that is not bookable. BA.com is CORRECTLY not displaying this phantom space. I would definitively say this is the case if I had tried to book the award on usairways.com and gotten an error upon inputting my payment info.
  2. US Airways is not releasing all of its Low space to partners, almost certainly because of a glitch. I say “almost certainly” because I see no reason US Airways would want to deprive American Airlines, which is legally the same company since the December 2013 merger, of the award space.

What Routes are Affected?

I don’t know. Steve, another commenter in the same thread, said he had encountered the same problem but hasn’t yet specified a route or date.

If you find other routes are affected, please share in the comments or by emailing me.

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