|by Jason Steele|
Back in late 2009, I told you about the US Airways promotion where you could essentially miles at about .5 cents each. Myself and others I know spend thousands of dollars ing hundreds of thousands of miles. While I had used a few miles here and there in the past, I finally got around to planning a fantastic trip with the hundreds of thousands of miles I had left.
US Airways Doesn’t Make It Easy
If you want to redeem your miles for a domestic or international award entirely on flights operated by US Airways, you can search for it and book it fairly easily on their web site. That said, they use a three tiered award system with the “Low” awards being extremely scarce. It is easy to find entire months with now “low” awards on a particular route. The real value of the miles is booking a partner award, but it is very hard to do so. They do not have an online booking tool, so you have to call them up. Consider that there are over a dozen members of the Star Alliance, there are hundreds of combinations of dates and flights that can get you to your destination. At the same time, the people at US Airways really do not have any effective tools to search for those flights. If you leave the searching to them, they are likely to try a few combinations, tell you there is nothing available, and give up.
The Key To Finding Award Space
Ultimately, you will have to do their work for them. The only way you can effectively find the open space on the flights you want is to search the web site of the one partner that shows award space available online, Al Nippon Airways of Japan, or ANA. Your first step is to create an account with ANA. Next, you search for partner awards. It is not as easy as putting in your origin and destination, you will actually have to specify each city pair for each flight along the way. You do this one by one until you find the space you need on each flight to get you to your destination. You will quickly learn that the longer the flight is, the harder it will be to find award space, so you search for those first. Only then will you find the shorter flights to connect you to and from the international gateways on your itinerary.
Calling US Airways
This is where the fun begins. US Airways has not bothered to train all of their people to search for partner awards. You will often find yourself speaking with someone who just won’t accept the fact that you have already done the searching for your seats. You then have to politely hang up and call back. The other problem is that the award redemption rules are manually enforced by different agents in different ways. Some will make up their own rules and insist on their validity, even when you read contradictory rules to them right from US Airway’s own website! Others will not be aware of any of the rules and will allow you to book just about anything their computer will let them. In all cases I remained polite and appreciative in order to encourage their co-operation. In the end, it took me six calls to find the right person who was willing and able to book our itinerary to the middle east, with a stopover in Europe on the way home.
You Are Going To Need A Lot Of Patience
In addition to having to call over and over again to find the right agent, this is still an arduous process. On my final call, finding, booking, confirming, pricing taxes and fees, and paying for my itinerary took all of two hours on the phone! Only then did I have to go to each partner’s website, enter my confirmation code, and select my seating assignments.
Patience Pays Off
I spent about $3,000 on the TrackItBack product in order to earn about 475,000 Dividend Miles. I then donated the product to charity and took a write off roughly equal to the taxes and fees I paid on my itinerary. Therefore, $3,000 is a rough estimate for my out of pocket expense for three business class tickets to the middle east with stopover in Europe on the return (120,000 miles each), and I still have 115,000 miles left. Since our three tickets are mostly on Lufthansa, I decided to go directly to Lufthansa’s website to see what they would have cost if I wanted to pay cash for them. They priced out at over $22,000! Granted, my itinerary is not perfect. For example, I am traveling from Europe to Denver via Miami, but I think the $19,000 savings is worth an extra few hours enjoying Lufthansa’s superb business class, especially considering my Frankfurt to Miami flight will be on their all new, A380 Super-Jumbo.
In the end, it was probably worth the 2-3 hours I spent calling US Airways as well.