Should You Redeem US Airways Miles Now Or Wait?

As you may (or may not) know, I also have a points consulting service, whereby we help people redeem their airline miles. I have several colleagues working with me, and they’re some of the most knowledgeable and passionate people I know in this hobby. During my dad’s round the world surprise birthday trip they offered to step in and help with some guest posts. Thanks to the positive feedback, they’re back with more. This post is from my friend Tiffany, whom you’ve heard from before.


One of the questions we’ve been getting nearly constantly is whether it’s better to use US Airways miles now, or wait until they combine with the American AAdvantage program in the second quarter of this year.

It’s an interesting question, because the two programs have radically different routing rules, and many cases where their award prices are different as well. This means there’s more to consider than just the mileage rate to a given destination.

Background info

To start out, it really helps if you are comfortable with the basics of US Airways and American routing rules.

Rather than rehashing everything here, there are a few of Ben’s posts that you should reacquaint yourself with:

Go ahead and read ’em. I’ll wait.

Ready?

So there are a few key things we want to consider:

  • Stopovers
  • One-ways
  • Elite status
  • Regions

Stopovers, one-ways, and open-jaws

American doesn’t allow connections of more than 24 hours on a single award ticket, so if you’re looking at flying to Istanbul and spending a few days in London en route, US Airways is going to be the better option.

Similarly, US Airways prices one-ways at the same rate as a round-trip. So if you just need a one-way ticket back to the US from Frankfurt, you’re likely better off using American miles.

As far as open-jaws are concerned, it likely doesn’t matter. The region involved is going to have a greater impact. This is because American prices round-trip awards as a combination of two one-way awards, so it really doesn’t matter what your origin and destination are.

Elite status

This one is a bit tricky, because we’re not entirely sure how elite status will impact previously booked awards.

For example, I have Executive Platinum status with American — does that mean I’ll be able to waive change fees on an award I book using US Airways miles before the programs combine? I assume I’d at least be able to talk my way out of a cancellation fee, but nothing has been officially announced.

That being said, if you have US Airways Chairman’s Preferred status you might as well lock in some awards now, as there really isn’t a downside.

Regions

This, to me is the biggest factor. In most cases, US Airways has the more lucrative premium cabin award chart from the United States, with the exception of Southeast Asia and Peru/Colombia/Venezuela/Ecuador.

If you want to compare the various charts, Ben has a handy guide with all the various regions and cabin classes and the corresponding mileage requirements with both American and US Airways.

(I’ll wait again, it’s okay)

To summarize, here’s the breakdown of which program has the better mileage rates for a given region:

For flights to:Book through:
Central America / Northern South AmericaAmerican*
South AmericaEither, unless you need a stopover or a one-way, or are going to Easter Island
EuropeEither, unless you need a stopover or a one-way
Middle EastUS Airways has the better rates, American offers awards on Etihad
AfricaUS Airways
Northern AsiaUS Airways
Central Asia / Indian SubcontinentUS Airways
Southeast AsiaAmerican*
South Pacific / OceaniaUS Airways, unless you're going to Tahiti

Routing rules

However, how you intend to get there is potentially more important than where you’re going when it comes to choosing between the two programs.

For example, I’m plotting out a trip to Peru (surprise Ben!), and availability directly to Lima isn’t looking too hot around my dates.

Availability through Santiago is wonderful though, and flying Dallas > Santiago > Lima works nicely. American wouldn’t allow this routing, given Santiago and Lima are separate regions. So while both programs would allow connections in North America, US Airways will allow connections in South America as well.

US-AA-South-America
US Airways would allow the routing in blue, whereas American would not

While American is ostensibly cheaper at 60,000 miles for a roundtrip in business class to Peru, the routing through Chile would require 165,000 miles. So 100,000 US Airways miles is probably the better option in this case, unless I can change my dates.

Machu-Picchu
And I’d really like to go back to Peru

Conversely, for travel to Southeast Asia, the American AAdvantage award chart is much more generous, at 135,000 miles for a roundtrip in first versus 160,000 through US Airways. American will also allow you to route through Tokyo or Hong Kong along the way, which pretty much covers your transpacific options through oneworld.

US Airways, however, has a tenuous grasp on geography, and will allow you to route however the heck you’d like.

If you want to have a stopover in Europe or route through the Middle East that’s completely acceptable, though it might take a few phone calls. So unless you’ve found a routing on JAL or Cathay Pacific, you might want to explore options with US Airways, even though it technically requires more miles. If it means you can route via Europe or the Middle East (with a stopover), then it might be worth the mileage premium.

Bottom line

I’d summarize my thought process sorta like this:

US-trouble-tree

And I’m not joking about the time required. I love calling US Airways, but know I’m in the minority there.

For me personally, I’ll be trying to redeem as many of my US Airways miles as possible under the current chart. They have the better redemption rates in most cases, and certainly have the more liberal routing rules.

What about you? Are you redeeming your US Airways miles now, or waiting?

Comments

  1. Thank you for this awesome post, Tiffany! I redeemed a lot of my US Airways miles last year before it left star alliance so this year I’m just waiting for my US dividend miles to merge with my AAdvantage miles (i rarely fly AA so I need to increase my AAdvantage miles account!

  2. What do we think are the chances of voluntary changes to 037 (US) tickets (1) once the loyalty programs merge and (2) once a single operating certificate is issued? (Presumably 037 tickets will continue to be issued for non-award travel until (2) occurs.) I’ve got a US-issued award for August travel, and I’m hoping CX opens up F space on a particular flight before my outbound departs. If I’m willing to pay the $150 change fee, will I be able to, or will Dividend Miles award tickets allow only involuntary changes after Dividend Miles is absorbed into AAdvantage?

  3. 😉 I think I’m in that minority that likes calling US airways. It makes you feel pretty good that you are three times more knowledgable than the airline agent you are speaking to on the other end of the phone

  4. @ Mitch — You know, that’s a great question, and they haven’t said anything yet. I doubt even the folks at AAdvantage know for sure yet. My guess is that it will somehow be systematically possible to make changes, but still an absolute PITA.

  5. @ Lantean — Where haven’t you been? I think business class to Australia is a particularly good value, but there are so many potentially fun options!

  6. Excellent post topic, Tiffany. Thanks for the education/info.

    Count me in as one that hates calling U.S. Air. So frustrating that I know more of their rules than most of the agents. Agent roulette might be fun except it’s minimum of an hour of my life I can’t get back.

  7. @ JimC — Hah, my pleasure! Agree that it can be frustrating, but at the end you get to (hopefully) take an awesome trip!

  8. @ Miles Down Under — Not necessarily more difficult that I’ve noticed, maybe just a different kind of difficult? Taxes no longer auto-price, which means nearly everything gets reviewed by the rates desk nowadays, so that’s an added element of fun.

  9. Tiffany,
    Great post and thank you for writing this, by the way please pardon silly question from a newbie but I appreciate if you can help.
    For SFO – NRT/ICN roundtrip first and business class, why does using US Airways miles is better? While AA has off peak award chart to North Asia and US Airways doesn’t.
    Also can I use US Airways dividend miles on partner airline like Cathay and JAL just like AA?

  10. @ David — Thanks for reading! Unless you specifically need a one-way award, or have found a non-stop routing on American or JAL, US Airways is likely better for a few reasons:
    — US Airways allows stopovers, so you could visit two cities
    — They also allow you to route via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific (American doesn’t)
    — The AAdvantage off-peak award chart only applies to economy bookings

    And yes, you can absolutely redeem miles on the other oneworld airlines: http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2014/03/31/us-airways-oneworld-award-routing-rules/

    Does that help at all?

  11. I would burn miles as soon as possible. It is only a matter of time before we see another devaluation and the sweet spots are gone. It makes sense for them to do this when the accounts merge. Great post Tiffany. Keep them coming!

  12. @ Tiffany — thank you for the reminder and for the flow-chart (is that a first for OMAAT? 😉 ). Have been thinking of venturing to Buenos Aires to visit friends over Thanksgiving week but award availability on the return is nonexistent on *A or OW (even if not going directly to Houston or Dallas).

    So may just hold onto my US miles until 2016 and hope for a mythical Qantas award 😀 (with limited vacation time, already have more than enough international travel in 2015 planned).

  13. Tiffany,

    Yes it helps a lot! Thank you! By the way, so I can use dividend miles for SFO – HK on Cathay first or business, have stopover in HKG, then connect to JAL first or business for NRT or ICN? While using AA miles they don’t allow that kind of routing, right?

    Also with US Airways, only one free stopover allowed on roundtrip, isn’t it? So if I already stopover in HKG during SFO – NRT outbound route, I can’t have a stopover again on inbound route NRT – HKG – SFO.

  14. @ Ivan Y — Thanks! Bueños Aires is tough for award space, but look at connecting through Santiago, and you might be surprised 😉

  15. Tiffany,
    Thanks, you’re awesome! Keep writing awesome post like this kind of guide for maximizing stopover rules and best redemption for miles and points, many of us like it(including me!) 🙂

  16. @ Tiffany — Thank you for the advice! Surprisingly, there’s outbound nonstop availability IAH-EZE but the return is the tricky part for my dates. AA has Y & F on SCL-DFW but no award space EZE-SCL or DFW-IAH.. Will keep checking and watching paid fares as well.

    P.S. Off-topic but in case anyone’s wondering, apparently there’s an error with Park Hyatt Buenos Aires availability — it shows no standard rooms available for cash bookings that far out (Nov. 2015) while making them available for points or points+cash. The Diamond line notified hotel and they are looking into it.

  17. Hi Tiffany,

    This is a great post, though I’m still trying to figure out where to go…

    For traveling from HKG to US in premium cabin on Oneworld, is it an increase in value of the miles or a decrease with AA than USDM, not factoring in the generous routing?

  18. @ Norman — Thanks! For Hong Kong to the US you’d pay 110,000 miles for business class in either program, or if you’re looking at first it would require 120,000 Dividend Miles or 135,000 AAdvantage miles.

    Assuming you’re after Cathay Pacific, the routing options would be similar. US Airways is the better overall value given you can add a stopover for no additional miles.

  19. Thank you so much for this tip. So what are the options of redeeming some and using money to pay rest for a first/business class ticket for Africa?

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