How to book an “interesting” US Airways Award routing

I just ticketed two awards which will blow your mind (unfortunately I am not permitted to talk about them or FT will beat me up), and as you may know if you follow me on Twitter I had the wonderful enjoyment of having conversations with call center agents sales representatives (that’s what the hold music calls them) from the US Airways Dividend Miles desk, of course, with extremely long wait times.

Let me walk you through some of the fun I had. Also here are some tips to deal with the agents that might be useful if you are trying to book an clearly illegal interesting routing.

When I’m trying to feed them the flights I personally feel that it is awkward when saying that I got disconnected, so generally what I’ll do is just let them do a feeble attempt. If they fail, I’ll feed them flights. I nearly never ticket on the first go-around with the agent (and maybe I should), but I always put it on hold. So it doesn’t really matter for me.

Hopefully the call centre volume will not be that heavy, so I’ll call back and fix the “dummy” routing one segment at a time. I also tend not to ticket without the agent doing something with the ticket (changing/deleting segment) because often they’ll look at the ticket (and this is particularly true with itineraries with lots of segments) get confused, and send it to the rate desk.

From experience their computers will price essentially everything. As long as the MCT will work, and you’re not going REALLY REALLY CRAZY.

But I got this to work:

Distances

Distances

You can see the four segment path in red, Hong Kong-Singapore-Tokyo Narita-Chicago-Vancouver is nearly twice the length of the direct HKG-YVR flight. This routing is also way over the TPAC 25M routing, which is 9573 miles. Way way over! But it still ticketed. 😉 So what I do is I ask for the taxes and the miles. Generally, if they can pull that up before checking everything, you have a fairly good chance to ticket.

I honestly hate the rate desk. I would say 99% of the time, if you have an illegal routing, they’ll say it’s invalid, and the poor agent will delusionally believe make up some bogus reason about why your itinerary is invalid. In my opinion, you want to AVOID THEM you usually get a bad outcome. If you don’t get the agent to “do” anything before ticketing, then it doesn’t feel like s/he’s “seen” the ticket. If that happens then once they actually look at the ticket, then you have a chance of them getting confused about whether it’s valid or not. You don’t even want them to have the thought of questioning whether the itinerary is valid, because every agent looks at it differently. Your itinerary needs to look as clean as possible.

One last thing: when I need a *click* is say I really need to get to a meeting so I’ll call back, or I’ll think about what flights to take and I’ll call back. It usually almost works.

So here’s basically how my calls went:

Agent #1: “No, I can only book what shows up on my screen, and I don’t see any dates in August or September which have space.” *Click*

Agent #2:

Sir, I’ll need to send that to the rate desk to see whether it’s valid. Please hold….

Sir, both the departure and the return will not work, because it’s invalid.

I ask: “why?”

The agent says I’m not sure, I can’t ticket. It’s illegal and the computer won’t allow it.

(I call BS!).

Let me look for something that will work. She comes back 10 minutes later with all the segments except one in business class.

I say, please leave the segments as-is, thank you (not)! *click*

Agent #3: (Luckily) I do not think the previous agent made a record. So I patch up the dummy routing. What I do is “swap” in some segments. After all, to the agent, SYD-SIN-MNL looks pretty similar to SYD-BKK-NRT, right? The return works, but the departure doesn’t.

.

.

.

Agent #somewhereinbetween: Sir, it looks like your are connecting in NRT which is a bit north. That violates your minimum connect times so this ticket is invalid. Sigh…

.

And a few more duds.

.

Agent #8: Again, relatively intelligent, checks the ticket, and she says:

“Sir, you are transiting another region, which means your ticket should price at 120,000 miles (which officially is correct but so far this is the only agent that has pointed this out) because you’re transiting Asia.”

I think now my reservation is pretty much toast, so I asked her to cancel. Back to square one.

Agent #9: Seemed the most intelligent of them all put together two holds on two tickets, each with 8 segments, in 5 minutes. Colour me impressed. Then she went to the rates desk and comes back saying your connection via NRT isn’t valid. She says she is trying the same flights as the return (via TPE), and nothing seems to show up (that’s because the BR flight is only bi-weekly!). She then tells me to just wait it out and see if anything opens up.

Agent #10: Really nice, looks at my ticket, thinks its nice and clean, and tickets! Easy and simple!

I swear I wasn’t drunk. 😉 I honestly think why the agent roulette stopped at 10 was really pure luck. Agent 9 simply somehow noted the reservation that the departure was invalid, on one of the tickets only. The ticket which had the invalid notation somehow got the segments deleted  on the departure, which agent 9 said was invalid. The other ticket had no such indication (which was the one with the intact flights). So with two different agents just a few minutes apart, one notices that its invalid, and the other doesn’t. This is why hanging up and calling back is so important. 

I could have booked this if I was lucky in three calls (or less). Or it could have taken me a lot longer. Honestly, when you are doing routing that look clearly weird (take for example YVR-DEN, JFK-ICN-BKK-HKG, HKG-SIN-NRT-ORD-YVR: that’s right, I got a stopover AND an open jaw, as well as clearly invalid routing both ways), it will take a bit of luck and a lot of calling. But the more you “know” about how to approach the call center, the higher the probability you will get to ticket something. That’s why some award booking services might be really helpful if you don’t want to deal with that (although they might not accept your request).

So I hoped my rant might help you in the future as you burn your RT business class award to North Asia for 90,000 miles. 😉

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Comments

  1. Why, in heaven’s name? On a revenue ticket, for a mileage run, I could see this. But on an award?

    Plus, transiting USA when origin and destination are not in the US? You must be a glutton for punishment. I say that as a US citizen.

  2. I called them trying to book an open jaw and just 1 stopover award recently and they always start off the call saying “unfortunately you cannot have both open jaw and stopovers”. they first asked me what my starting and end points were and then if it were a direct flight. there was no way around it until the 3rd agent that i called back for. she got all the way to the end but had a supervisor review the itinerary which she came back and said it was invalid. back to square one.

    • Yes, it’s hit and miss a lot of the time. For my ticket, what I suspect is that the agent didn’t really look at the ticket properly, and somehow the computer priced it, so it ticketed! Officially openjaw+stopover is NOT ALLOWED (but neither is backtracking, exceeding maximum permitted mileage, pricing as the most expensive region), but often you can get away with a lot.

  3. You don’t get it.
    He changed the destinations and arrival for you not to know about them.

    Besides this incredible work of genius (switching airports), he basically applied what FT members have fed him in the forums when he asked for help.

    You see pure work of genius and bragging!

    • I just want to clarify that the routing that I booked was not from FT. I’d also like to know what sort of things that you are accusing me of “learning” from FT that I am bragging about here.
      I’m not trying to do that. I’m just trying to give people some tips (albeit a bit vague, but then I blame my 2am self), on how to book the routing that they see as the “typical” result of having a agent who doesn’t care.

  4. I still don’t get it, use less points than it supposed to be for a reward ticket or booked an illegal ticket with some tricks?

    For the routing mentioned above nothing special to me or probably I am missing something, any clarification would be greatly appreciated

    • He wanted to get from Hong Kong to Vancouver instead of taking the most direct route (1 flight segment) as highlighted in green on the map, he managed to book 4 flights and what is considered an invalid routing.

  5. I might just have you beat! 😉

    Have a booking in a few weeks from the USA to Australia via Europe and Asia with a stopover in Hong Kong on the way home all in 1st class.

    CLT-JFK-FRA-BKK-SYD (final destination) SYD-BKK-HKG (stop) HKG-BKK-FRA-JFK-CLT

    280,000 US Airways miles in 1st class on Lufthansa and Thai.

  6. I just got back from SYD-BKK-ICN-KIX-SFO-LAX-DEN all in F for 80K miles, booked on united.com. In a less crazy routing, I was able to get IAH-IAD-FRA-BKK-HKG all in F (LH, TG) for 70K (first call got COS-IAD-FRA-BKK-HKG, @united changed it up later).

  7. I myself only try to hit 2 or 3 destinations at a time, i would like to enjoy my stays and have enough time in each destination. I once did the explorer award, it is nice once but ill not repeat any time soon if it is still around.

  8. Hello, I encountered a problem when I was booking a relatively complicated itinerary. One of the agents say that it’s not a valid routing and made a note on the hold reservation (darn!), do you think calling again (and again and again) will likely to get around it? My itinerary is as below:

    CMH-IAH-LHR (stopover)-ADD-PEK(destination)-HND-YYZ-PHL-CMH

    The agent asks me to replace IAH with somewhere on the east coast and did not raise questions regarding the rest of the itinerary. What do you think is the crux of the problem here? Thanks much!

    • No, generally once the reservation agent makes a note you’re pretty screwed with trying to ticket as generally agents don’t like to go against what another has already noted. It’s likely though if you call enough times and get the right agent you’ll be able to ticket – it just depends on how many times you’re willing to call. I’d say you’re probably better off cancelling and then starting from scratch.

  9. If I manage to get a ticket with “interesting” routing (like the one you have here) booked and ticketed, and then need to do some changes to it, would the agents still be able to cancel this (given that it has been ticketed?)

    What if there is aircraft/schedule switch prior to departure and we need to call back?

    • If ticketed, agents cannot cancel it. If there’s a schedule change, it really depends on the agent who’s handling your call. If the agent realizes that your current itinerary is invalid, either you’d be stuck with having to get a legal routing or keeping your schedule swapped itinerary.

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