Should you burn your American/US Airways miles now?

As expected yesterday, the American and US Airways merger is now official, and it’ll be an interesting few months to observe the industry. There are tons more questions than answers, though I figured I’d share my thoughts on two of the questions I’ve been asked most often on the award ticket front over the past couple of days:

  • Should I burn my American/US Airways miles now or keep them for when the merger is complete?
  • What happens to existing US Airways Star Alliance award bookings once US Airways leaves the Star Alliance? Will they be honored?

Let’s start with the first question. Yesterday I shared my thoughts for why the merger may be positive for frequent flyers in the short term. Within a few months you’ll probably be able to transfer points freely between the two frequent flyer programs, match status, etc. We now officially know the new airline will belong to OneWorld, but there’s a chance that there will be a brief period where you’ll be able to redeem American miles for travel on Star Alliance by transferring to US Airways, for example.

So should you burn your American and US Airways miles now? My answer is the same it usually is — miles are a currency that earn no interest and devalue at an incredibly fast rate, and there’s a huge cost to holding them. So there’s no reason I’d hang onto miles unless you don’t have a use right now.

US Airways still has some real gems on their award chart, like traveling from the US to Asia (via Europe if you’d like) in business class for 90,000 miles, or traveling from the US to Australia (via Asia if you’d like) for 110,000 miles in business class. American also has some gems, like Cathay Pacific to South Asia for 110,000 miles in business class or 135,000 miles in first class. It’s anyone’s guess when US Airways will leave the Star Alliance (though I think we’ll know very soon) and also whether miles will be transferable between programs before any devaluations occur.

So I’d continue to burn miles if you have a specific award in mind, though I wouldn’t burn just for the sake of burning miles out of fear of a devaluation. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to use your US Airways miles for travel on Cathay Pacific in the next year and also a fairly good chance you’ll be able to use your American miles for travel on ANA/Lufthansa/Thai before US Airways leaves the Star Alliance.

The other question I’ve frequently been asked is regarding Star Alliance award tickets booked with US Airways miles, and whether they’ll be honored even for travel after US Airways leaves the Star Alliance. The answer is absolutely. If history is any indicator, you’ll be able to redeem your US Airways miles for travel on the Star Alliance till they formally leave the alliance, and travel for subsequent dates will be honored.

The challenge is if there’s a schedule change on a Star Alliance award reservation after US Airways leaves the alliance. If the schedule change is so bad that it requires rebooking, chances are they’ll accommodate you on American/US Airways, even if it requires opening up award space on their own flights. In the event that it’s for travel to a destination not served by American/US Airways, they should still have an alliance liaison that can handle these situations on a case-by-case basis. So, if, for example, you book a Thai Airways award from Tokyo to Bangkok and Thai Airways cancels their flight, chances are that an alliance liaison could restore the segment for a different date without too much trouble. If it’s really far along in the merger after US Airways has formally joined OneWorld, there’s a chance they may just accommodate you on a OneWorld airline instead.

Lastly, if you run into irregular operations on a Star Alliance award ticket it’s typically up to the airline operating the flight to accommodate you. So if you book a US Airways award for travel on Lufthansa after US Airways leaves the alliance and you end up misconnecting due to a late Lufthansa flight, it would be up to Lufthansa to accommodate you on an alternative flight.

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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  1. Hi – I’m wondering whether you have any thoughts on whether there are opportunities to “arbitrage” the rewards programs.

    For example – is the 40,000 for a USAirways mastercard (after conditions / purchases etc) worth it for when the points convert to the combined program?



  2. Have some DM would like to use for Australia trip for next spring in F. Should I worry or would it be alright to wait a month or so since award spaces are not open for next Feb or Mar.?

  3. @ Seltzaa — I suspect the “new” American’s co-branded credit card will be with Citi, so I’d definitely apply for the US Airways Mastercard as an easy way to earn some miles in the new combined program.

  4. What is the history of miles merging ratios in cases like this? If I recall correctly CO to UA was 1:1, but AirTran to Southwest was pretty strange (granted they both had different earning styles rather than traditional miles.) Is the expectation that this will be a 1:1 miles merger?

  5. I currently have a US Mastercard w/my 1st anniversary coming up in July. Should I apply for an AA card now to get in on the sign up bonus?

  6. @ Chris — It’s definitely going to be 1:1. It was different with AirTran and Southwest because they don’t have traditional mileage currencies.

  7. @ SEE — Absolutely, I’d do so either way, regardless of whether or not there’s a merger. It’s a great card with a great sign-up bonus.

  8. How soon is too soon to get a second US MasterCard? Got my first in late November and am planning my next round of apps for late February/early March. Trying to decide if I hit Barclay’s for another 40K then or hold out hope that my early June apps will still be able to get in on the deal.

  9. I’ve been trying to find USAirways award availability to Australia and can’t seem to locate any online. Is there a trick to that?

  10. @ Amanda A — The US Airways website only displays award space for travel on US Airways, and they don’t fly to Australia. You’re better off using United’s website and looking for saver class space. If there’s saver availability through them, you should be able to book it through US Airways as well.

  11. @ Mitch @ JP — This seems to very much be a case of “YMMV.” The minimum you need to wait is 90 days, though in practice even after that many report being denied if they have an existing card. So the card isn’t as churnable as in the past, or at least it isn’t a safe bet. I have the US Airways card and haven’t “risked it” by applying for another card, as there are other card offers out there I’d rather take advantage of than risking a rejection.

  12. What do you think is the likelihood that US and AA EQMs will at some point be combinable for status qualification? UA and CO did this prior to merging. I am eager to requalify for EXP and there seem to be more Star Alliance than One World mileage run opportunities.

  13. @ Nguyen — American charges 55,000 miles each way in business class between the US and Asia 2, so that’s the correct cost.

  14. @ Erik — I’d say it’s fairly likely that EQM totals will be combined at the end of the year. No guarantee, but I think it’s pretty likely given how early in the year the merger is being announced.

  15. What I am wondering about the US Mastercard is what will happen to the 10,000 miles each year at renewal? Will I be receiving miles in the new program each year or will that perk be useless therefore making me cancel and not renew…

  16. @ Ryan K — If I were a betting man I’d say the issuer for the “new” American credit card will be Citi, so the Barclays card will probably be discontinued. The Barclays card offers a 10,000 mile annual bonus while the Citi card offers a 10% rebate on award bookings. I’d guess the latter benefit will stick if the Citi card does.

  17. To play safe I booked my two F awards between FRA and NRT for September already. Going there via ZRH (I was surprised to hear they have 2 F seats on LX in F!) and return on NH / ANA in their new F-seat.
    Should be a great trip and given the lack of complicated connections I am slightly relaxed about any schedule changes in the future.

  18. @ Hamurabi2008 — Wow, you managed to snag first class on Swiss using US Airways miles? First I’ve heard of someone doing that in months. Did you find space on the ANA tool, or how did you find it, as I haven’t seen space on them in a long time?

  19. I currently bank miles on Aegean for US Air flights to earn Star Alliance status faster. With the move to One World for US Air, should I stop this practice and just bank with US Air? They are one of the main carriers out of my airport along with United and Delta. No AA here.

  20. @ Brian — If you fly US Airways a good amount then yes, I’d say that’s your best bet so you can start banking status with them. Maybe keep crediting to Aegean till you get a “round” number of miles good for an award, and then make the switch.

  21. Lucky, just rang US Airways this morning to book a return dividend award flight for TG Syd-BKK-CDG, and the agent initially said it was all good, then came back and said it was an illegal routing. She had indicated that all the agents had been to a training session just recently and told that no routings were possible from AU via Asia to Europe. The only alternative was to fly via US. She had also said that people booked on routings like this with TG were being refused boarding on these flights – have you heard anything like this?

  22. Well just called US Airways this afternoon and managed to book my TG flights with no issues… hopefully it is definitely ticketed.

  23. Lucky, nobody has pointed out the benefits of the merger for those people living in a US Airways hub that are sitting on a boat load of British Airways miles or UR points! I can’t wait to start booking all the nonstop short haul flights for just 9,000 miles roundtrip. It is a good way to burn Avios.

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