US Airways’ upcoming departure from Star Alliance on March 30, 2014 is a huge loss for the airline alliance and a particular burden for North American flyers using United MileagePlus miles.
My most-requested award redemptions are business class to Italy or France, often from the U.S. west coast. Trying to put together award space is a tall task and US Airways via Charlotte or Philadelphia to some east coast or departure point is my go-to solution. The back-up is via Phoenix to a Midwest European gateway like Chicago or Detroit or Dallas, again on US Airways.
Next week, that will be gone and Star Alliance redeemers will be faced with a harsh reality: you are going to have to fly economy, add stops, or have to buy your domestic connections separately on an international award redemption.
Try getting from Los Angeles to Chicago on most days—United has no space despite being a hub-hub route with several flights. Instead, award space is on US Airways via Phoenix. How about from San Francisco to Boston? The several daily non-stops on United have no saver award seats, but US does via Philadelphia or Charlotte.
US Airways also has a powerful presence in the Southeast where United is particularly weak. All this adds up to noticeable gaps in award availability and a hole that cannot be plugged by other carriers.
Does Star Alliance have any other options? I proposed Alaska Airlines not for the added value to United Airlines (there would be very little, if any) but for the added value to the Star Alliance network and those trying to redeem miles within North America. My proposition was just a pipedream—Alaska would never join Star Alliance—but there is nothing left except for tiny carriers like Sun Country or Frontier. Everyone else is spoken for, so award availability within North America will soon fall exclusively on Air Canada and primarily United.
United has no incentive to release more award space with flights as full as they are, so I can only warn Star Alliance travelers and particular MileagePlus redeemers that getting you from Point A to Point B within North America, particularly in a premium cabin, is about to become much harder.
As a rather noteworthy footnote, let’s also not forget that US Airways has a superb international business class seat on its A330s and an extensive route network to Europe. It also serves Tel Aviv, Rio, and Sao Paulo and often offers generous award space on these international routes (even in premium cabins if you book 335 days in advance). Further, they have a darn good domestic product with good first class food on flights with meal service and wi-fi on almost all flights.
I will miss US Airways tremendously.
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