Last month I was able to book an award ticket on US Airways for 120,000 miles and $300 that allowed me to fly from Mexico City to Sao Paulo via Miami, Sao Paulo to Kula Lumpur via Paris, and back to Mexico city via Hong Kong and Los Angeles. The award ticket was booked all in first, except for one long haul segment, Sao Paulo – Paris, as TAM is discontinuing first class service on Nov 1, 2014. At the time of booking, no US Airways partner had TATL award seats available in First; therefore I decided to fly directly to Paris on Tam in business class. The award ticket was booked, after multiple calls, being rejected, changing the routing a number of times and more, but after about 10 hours on the phone with a number of different US Airway agents and held desk teams, US Airways ticketed my award ticket and was I excited to finally be able to take advantage of US Airways liberal routing rules.
Flash forward to today: My award booking has had a number of schedule changes so I decide to call US Airways to see if I could change my ticket. Not only did a number of my flights schedules change, but British Airways was now offering a First class seat between Sao Paulo and London and I was hoping to upgrade to BA on my TATL segment. The first time I called the agent told me that she could not change my ticket to a different airline without paying the $150 change fee but could change my ticekt on TAM to a different day if there was award space. I thanked her, hung up and thought it over. Was $150 worth changing my ticket to experience BA First? After mulling it over I called back and explained to the agent I wanted to change my ticket due to a change in my flight scheduling, after the agent secured the space on BA she came back to the phone and told me she would not be able to change my ticket as there was a note on the account deeming my routing as illegal. The agent was very nice, but told me that if they changed the ticket at all they would have to following routing rules and I would not be able to stop in Brazil on my way to Malaysia. DARN! I thanked the lady and hung up. I waited about a day and decided to give it another go, after all worst case scenario the agent would just tell me no. This time, not only did the lady tell me know, she told me ALL my flights had been canceled due to illegal routing! I immediately went into a panic and told her that canceling my ticket was in violation of the DOT regulations and that I would like to talk to a supervisor as this ticket had been already issued a month prior. She put my on hold, and after about 5 minutes of waiting the phone cut out and I was disconnected. I immediately called back and again asked the agent if I could change my ticket. Before even asking me what I would like to change, he informed me that there was a note on the ticket that stated my routing was illegal due to exceeding maximum mileage and any changes to my ticket would result in forfeiting my booking. Phew! My ticket had not been canceled, but I had been caught!
Story goes that it appears that US Airways is starting to monitor award bookings and the famous around the world trips or out of the way segments are not nearly as frequently possible as before. The computer is erroring out more often than before and when itineraries exceed maximum permitted miles agents are refusing to book the award flights. My advice to travelers trying to book US Airways award flights which exceed MPM:
1) The fewer segments the less likely you are to get caught. If you want to stop in South America on your way to South East Asia try to fly something more direct, like LAX-GRU-DOH-BKK.
2) Just because you can put a ticket on hold does not mean it will ticket. My around the world ticket was on hold for 2 days before I found an agent/help desk team that would approve and ticket the routing. If the agent won’t book it, ask them to continue to hold the ticket so you can look at other routing options, then hung up and call again.
3) If you are booking a unique itinerary which exceeds MPM, do not try to change it after it is ticketed. It appears as though US Airways is auditing award bookings and you may have the same problem I have.
4) Know what routes and what airlines you want to fly before calling. BA.com allows for the most searchability and I highly recommend searching segment by segment.
5) Remember, your stop over can be either outbound or Inbound, but US Airways does require round trip travel.
6) Have fun with your routing. Worst thing that can happen is the agent can say no!