Should You Redeem US Airways Miles Now?

Reader Autolycus asked the following question on my post on Monday about the best Star Alliance programs for premium cabin redemptions post-United/US Airways:

Lucky, thanks for this very helpful post. Is there any chance that some time between now and maybe the end of February, you could do up a post to help people decide what their best options are for US Dividend Miles before and after the alliance switch? Or just the pros and cons of each alliance, given the current US Dividend Miles award chart and routing rules?

Probably unintentionally this is a really loaded question and there’s not a straightforward answer, so I’ll split my thoughts up into a few parts.

We don’t know what US Airways mileage redemptions will look like post-March 30, 2014

March 30, 2014 will be US Airways’ last day in Star Alliance. As of March 31, 2014, they’ll belong to OneWorld. That’s about all we know as of now. Here are a few questions we don’t have answers to yet:

  • Will US Airways use their current award chart, the American award chart, or have a new award chart altogether once they join OneWorld?
  • What routing rules will US Airways have when they join OneWorld?
  • Will American AAdvantage and US Airways Dividend Miles be transferable between accounts at that point?
  • Will US Airways Dividend Miles be redeemable for premium cabin travel on American’s non-One World partners, like Alaska, Air Tahiti Nui, Etihad, etc.?
  • Will US Airways have access to American’s distance based OneWorld awards?

Given how little we know, it’s tough to recommend holding off on redeeming miles, since US Airways has a fairly lucrative award chart.

The best uses of US Airways miles prior to March 30, 2014

The US Airways award chart is extremely lucrative pretty much across the board, so wherever you want to go you’ll have a hard time beating their award chart. Here are a few of my favorite US Airways redemptions:

  • 90,000 miles for business class to North Asia.
    • This is just about the lowest cost in the industry for business class to Asia, so it’s quite a value.
    • By US Airways’ definition, North Asia goes as far South as Hong Kong. Furthermore, US Airways lets you route from the US to Asia via Europe, so you can have a stopover in Europe enroute.
    • This is pretty funny since US to Europe in business class costs 100,000 miles, so you save 10,000 miles by continuing on to Asia. Check out my previous post about the Star Alliance business class products with the best availability.
  • 120,000 miles for first class to North Asia.
  • 110,000 miles for business class to Australia/New Zealand/Africa.
    • This is considerably cheaper than the competition, not to mention that US Airways will let you route from the US to Australia via Asia (and sometimes Europe), which is often helpful given how limited award availability is nonstop between the US and Australia/New Zealand.

Like I said, just about their entire award chart is lucrative, so it doesn’t matter where you’re trying to go, it’s a great value regardless.

General advantages of redeeming US Airways Dividend Miles

So what are the main benefits of redeeming US Airways Dividend Miles under their current program?

  • Extremely generous routing rules.
    • While at most other airlines computers price award tickets, at US Airways agents manually price awards.
    • Add in the fact that many of US Airways’ agents are geographically challenged, and this can add to some amazing redemption opportunities if you have the patience to play phone roulette.
  • Star Alliance has excellent business class award availability to Asia and Europe.
    • All things considered, the Star Alliance has the best award availability to Asia, as you can redeem miles on Air Canada, Air China, ANA, Asiana, EVA, Singapore, Thai, United, etc. Since you can route via Europe, that opens up lots more carriers as well.
    • While availability to Europe isn’t great, it’s much better than it is through OneWorld, where the primary transatlantic airline is British Airways, which imposes fuel surcharges on redemptions.
  • Some real award chart gems.
    • US Airways simply has some amazing premium cabin gems on their award chart that that American just can’t compete with, like business class to North Asia for 90,000 miles, or business class to Africa or Australia for 110,000 miles.
    • All of these regions are significantly more expensive on the American AAdvantage award chart.

US-Airways-Redemption-100
Recent US Airways 90,000 mile business class award redemption to North Asia

General advantages of redeeming American AAdvantage miles

  • OneWorld distance based awards.
    • If you want to redeem miles for a routing with multiple stops it’s tough to beat American’s distance based awards, whereby you can fly up to 16 segments and stopover in each city for as long as you’d like.
  • Great award availability to the Middle East and India.
    • American partners with Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways, both of which translate into tons of availability for travel to the Middle East and India. Meanwhile it’s much tougher to find that much space using US Airways miles at present, as this is a rather under-served region for the Star Alliance.

Bottom line

Generally speaking I’d do everything you can to redeem US Airways miles by March 30, 2014. That’s not necessarily because I’m convinced that there will be some new, horrible award chart come March 31, but rather because you have the choice between what you know (which is pretty damn good) and the uncertain future.

Furthermore, while American AAdvantage awards remain a great value, after March 30 the opportunities to redeem for quality Star Alliance carriers in premium cabins will become considerably more expensive overall, so this will be the last chance for many of us to redeem at such low rates.

Comments

  1. What if you had equal number of ua miles and had only trips planned for an entire set of one.. Burn usdm first since ua can book for future and change?

  2. Lucky, considering the Jan 31st devalued UA Chart is going to be effective, other things equal, would you burn US miles first or UA miles first?

  3. @ E @ Alan — I’d still redeem United miles first. While you can change United itineraries after January 31, it has to be exactly the same routing, which can be a challenge. And I’m sure redemptions using Dividend Miles won’t be bad through OneWorld, but just uncertain.

    So in this case I’d take the unknown (US Airways once they’re part of OneWorld) over the known evil (United post-devaluation).

  4. I redeemed a North Asia trip stopping in MUC and HKG.

    If something interesting happens and I can keep the same trip but on OW carriers I just may pay to change over and fly CX in F.

  5. Book with US mils now, you’re really just putting down the cost of a change fee as a hedge.

    Star is better for business class award availability, and the pre-March 31 arrangement is better for travel to Europe without fuel surcharges.

    oneworld is easier, for the most part, for first class travel outside of Thai, Air China, and Asiana. SQ/NH/LX don’t give access to much or any. LH is only late and US Airways awards cannot be changed (per rules, if not practice) after departure of first flight so changing to LH F for your return can be tough unless it’s a quick trip.

    Agree that we do not know about the March 31 onward award chart (if any changes), about routing rules (though it would take a lot of IT work that won’t be needed once they become AA to change this), or timing of transferrability between AA/US.

    Seems unlike that US miles will be redeemable for American’s non-oneworld partners (since US Airways is a separate entity and doesn’t have contracts in place with those partners, hard to imagine they do the work to create those on a transitional basis) or that they institute distance-based awards.

  6. It seems fairly certain to me that the new USAA chart will rip the bandage – meaning that they will integrate and devalue at the same time.

  7. First off, thanks for taking my suggestion and providing another great post.

    Definitely wasn’t meant to be a loaded question. It’s a very fair point that they could change the award system to the AA setup on April 1. It’s a total WAG on my part, but my guess all the same is that there might be some chart changes (90k might become 100k+), but I will be surprised if the rules are changed significantly to the basic AA system so soon. They will still be operating as separate airlines, and will presumably still have separate inventory and booking systems for the time being. My assumption is that March 31 is simply a changeover from one alliance to another and nothing more or less–although the possibility of increased redemption rates is definitely real.

    So I definitely appreciate the post and your thoughts on the issue, and will start figuring out what plans make the most sense for my ~275k Dividend Miles which will be ~293k after my 3x$750 plus 15k bonus offer. (Side Note: Biggest loss of the merger is going to be the churnable Barclaycard and its constant spend bonuses!) I also have ~53k AA miles, but not nearly the same ability to accumulate them quickly. Wife has none of either.

    But I think I was trying to get something more like what Gary gave a snippet of: What are the relative strengths of *A vs. oneworld with regard to availability, fuel surcharges/airport fees, and coverage to various destinations?
    If all but the alliance stays the same, are there good routings through Europe to North Asia that avoid the London tax and BA fuel surcharge?

  8. I just booked a trip to JNB for December using USDM. The routing through Europe (with a great stopover in Geneva), and only 110K per ticket in business class was too much to pass up given the unknown and higher redemption rates to Africa on AA.

  9. I realize this may be a loaded question too, and obviously nobody knows for sure, but what do you think are the odds of either AA or US or both doing a devaluation without advance notice? Is it possible we’ll wake up on March 31 to a new shared award chart with huge increases? It seems like even United and Delta have given folks a little notice before big devaluations have gone into effect.

  10. Lucky, as an EXP on AA, do we have access to fee-free award changes on reservations made with Dividend Miles? Sorry, I havent kept up to date on the program changes.

    Thanks

  11. @ Jim — I would guess they’ll give at least a little bit of advance notice. I wouldn’t be worried about it happening overnight.

  12. @ Vicky — US Airways has long engaged in the practice of blocking certain partner award space as a means of restricting the amount they have to pay partner airlines for award redemptions, though that’s not anything new and has nothing to do with the merger.

  13. I think Vicky’s question had to do with the fact that some Star Alliance members will continue to be US Airways partners after March 30. The airlines listed in that stick (Aegean, Air China, Air New Zealand, etc….) will still be Dividend Miles partners even after US Airways leaves Star Alliance. That doesn’t affect anything before March 30; in the meantime you can still access the full range of Star Alliance airlines (except those blocked, but that’s another story).

  14. There are several Star Alliance airlines that will remain partners with US/AA after the integration. This includes Aegean, Air China, Air New Zealand, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, TAM, TAP and Turkish Airways. I also think Avianca may be included as well.

  15. Hi Ben

    I want to burn up my us airway miles before march 30th with either a trip to south africa or Brazil/Peru/Argentina. I am based in Los Angeles. Can you recommend any airlines to try (I am looking at business class). Thank you

  16. I am also trying to use US miles to book for May. Award Nexus showed spaces under AC (also *A), can you book that by calling US? thanks

  17. @ DJ — For travel on Air Canada, or you’re saying Award Nexus is searching through Aeroplan? To the best of my knowledge US Airways doesn’t block Air Canada award space.

  18. thanks Lucky, i take it to mean US does allow booking of AC awards, yes Nexus found award avail on AC.

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