Matthewonlive and let's fly

More Starnet Blocking by US Airways

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.

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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.

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Comments

#1
Gary Leff December 26, 2012 at 06:12 pm

ANA has gotten much worse, the system used to have a problem with ANA's Air Japan flights but now even long haul (I've seen it on US - Tokyo routes frequently of late) and it has gotten silly.

The Lufthansa first class thing was infuriating but now much less of an issue since there's only close-in space and you can't change your return after departure of the outbound with this program.

I have to think the only reason we haven't seen a devaluation or fully revenue-based program is the wait and see game with American on a merger, since they'd take over THAT program and change IT there's no reason to do it with Dividend Miles only to spook everyone and mothball the program anyway.

I've been burning through those US miles as fast as I can. But I have a ton left, my only consolation being that in a revenue-based program the miles won't be worth less than my cost basis, though probably less than the price to buy them with 100% bonus.

#2
steve December 27, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Thanks, Matthew, for the current insight in using DM via USAir for SA seats. Depressing to say the least. I've got 200K miles that I'm looking to use next year in biz. class - hopefully w/Luft, AUA and/or Swiss.

Using UAL search I've seen bites months out on Luft and AUA. My questions to you: 1.is USAir blocking of Luft/AUA affect biz. class? 2. Any further tips on how to speak with a USAir agent when I have found something available using UAL/ANA search?

Indeed, I wonder if all the cheap mile sales by USAir has put a wrench in the works. For every action there's an equal and...

If push comes to shove I'll cash in my UAL miles instead and shoot the USAir wad on their new Envoy product. It's sometimes too much of a hassle to search UAL site and then have to cross your fingers when you dial USAir to hope they can book it.

I've always gone out of my way to have all the routing details, primary and alternate, in order to speed things along and I've always had luck in the past, but your latest report signals bad times indeed.

Of course I could just sit back and wait for the Leprachaun to work his alchemy and change DM into Aadvantage. But devaluation might be just the disaadvantage I fear lies ahead.

#3
arcticbull December 28, 2012 at 01:08 am

That really is unfortunate, it's a great program to have in your toolbelt. That said, I think all my new mileage purchases will be from AV/TA. With their Cash + Points I only need to buy 40% of the required miles speculatively which limits my exposure. The big downside (requiring the same cabin on all flights even when it doesn't exist) is pretty easily mitigated with BA miles for use on AA/AS domestically.

The points landscape really did change this year huh :)

FWIW the UX blocking you referred to, I don't think it's US Air doing it. I've run into this before, and it's usually flights operated by ExpressJet. Every time I saw it happen, it wasn't just US that was unable to book the space -- Aeroplan couldn't see it either. The issue there lies with United: they're either blocking it or there's a glitch, but either way it's not US' fault -- this time :)

#4
Mike S. December 28, 2012 at 04:47 am

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 get the same b.s. from their agents - "not available to book with dividend miles" In other words, they can see that the reward inventory is there, but they won't book it!

#5
Matthew December 28, 2012 at 01:31 pm

@arcticbull: Good point with AV/TA--I have not looked into it deeply. At least with Aeroplan, if a United Express flight is not showing up, you can ask them to long-sell it in and it always comes back as confirmed.

#6
Matthew December 28, 2012 at 01:32 pm

@Mike: I don't think the US agents can see the inventory--something in the system blocks it from becoming available. I wish I knew how the system worked.

#7
Todd April 23, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Looks like this is even more serious now with LH bookings using US Airways miles. Now you cannot book LH at all in any class of service after Oct 31, 2013. The agents cannot see it at all. Makes getting to Europe very difficult especially if you're trying to use up miles before the US/AA merger.

I wonder if there will ever be an official word from US on this?

#8
Matthew April 23, 2013 at 01:09 pm

@Todd: Did US Airways tell you that? Were you seeing space on united.com showing on Lufthansa in business or economy that you could not book on US Airways?

#9
Brett July 30, 2013 at 02:48 pm

I tried booking flights on LH to Europe after signing up on www.expertflyer.com, which showed the availability for June 2014. However, when I called US Airways to book, they said it wasn't available. I gave them the exact flight numbers and everything. I ended up just booking an open jaw (using another city) on US flights. Today, I tweeted @USAirways today asking why they are part of Star Alliance if they don't honor award tickets on them, and I only got the runaround. At least I was able to use award tickets before the merger, which I assume will make it even harder to get award tickets.

#10
Matthew August 2, 2013 at 03:50 pm

US Airways has pulled Lufthansa space it seems, in an erratic fashion, going forward. Most carriers are still bookable, even next June, but Lufthansa is becoming increasingly difficult.

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