Every savvy points aficionado has a love-hate relationship with US Airways Dividend Miles. After all, with essentially no routing rules, a very attractive award chart, and an abundance of cheap miles made available through perpetual 100% bonus offers, you need never pay more than $2,000 for a business class ticket to Europe or Asia (or both…).
Yet all is not well in the world of US Airways. All signs point to an imminent award chart devaluation and the program offers no one-way awards for half the price of a return ticket. But the true problem—and one that appears to be getting worse—is the problem of Starnet blocking, the filtering out of award inventory that Star Alliance partner carriers have made available so that Dividend Miles cannot be used to secure those flights.
The root of this problem remains unknown. But whether it is a technical glitch that US Airways refuses to fix as it directs its attention toward a merger with American Airlines or a more deliberate attempt to shield revenue, I really do not care—the problem is there and it is getting worse. And I want to get to the root of it.
For well over a year now, Lufthansa First Class (O Class) space has been unbookable using Dividend Miles unless you can coax an agent into doing a manual request or "need-need" for the desired flight. Agents are explicitly forbidden to do this and 9/10 refuse, so I now refuse to even engage in seeking a manual request for my clients. There's also the problem of Swiss Air. Swiss does not release a lot of space, but does release some business class seats on routes like Boston/Miami/Montreal-Zurich. The good news is if there is more than one seat, US Airways can grab the space. The bad news, which happens frequently, is that US Airways cannot grab the last seat—if there is one seat left, US Air agents will not be able to see the space.
Throw in random problems with South African Airways and United Express and you have a program that is lacking, but still decent overall. Until recently. For the last few weeks (perhaps longer…) US Airways has been blocking premium space on many ANA flights. For example, a client wanted to travel from Munich to Shanghai via Tokyo on ANA. United, Aeroplan, and ANA (the three online tools in which you can check Star Alliance award inventory) indicated all three cabins were available from Munich to Tokyo and business and economy class from Tokyo to Shanghai.
But US Airways couldn't see the seats. And don't think I didn't try—I called the Chairman's (top-tier) desk five times and received the same answer each time. For me, this is the straw that breaks the camel's back. The Dividend Miles program as we know will soon be history, I suspect, and I will no longer buy points prospectively nor will I encourage my clients to. Only if I can place a reservation on hold will I purchase these points, and with US Air now blocking at least some ANA flights, this will become more difficult.
The infuriating thing is that US Airways agents and those that manage them are willfully ignorant about this problem. I've reached out to some contacts at US Airways and never received a reply. I've talked to many agents about this problem and most (particularly US East agents) vehemently deny there is any blocking going on, instead trotting out the same old "partners have chosen not to make this flight available to US Airways" tripe. I suppose I cannot blame them—that is what they are taught—but I intend to get to the bottom of this problem. I hold out no hope that it will be fixed, but wonder if CEO Doug Parker and company are complicit in this endeavor or US Airways' technology really is just that bad. Either way, Starnet blocking undermines Star Alliance and misleads consumers. Please fix it, US Airways.