Should You Book US Airways Awards Now Or Wait For AAdvantage?

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.


US Airways and American announced their award programs would be combined in the second quarter of 2015, which led to many questions about whether it was better to redeem US Airways miles now or wait. Now that the merger is imminent, Ben asked if I could go through the options again.

First though, let’s have a moment of silence for what has been one of the more lucrative (and certainly most entertaining) mileage programs out there.

candle

US Airways Dividend Miles has made premium cabin travel downright affordable for many of us. They’ve offered a promotion on purchasing or sharing miles nearly every month that I can remember, and with rates ranged from ~1.2 to ~1.88 cents per mile, it was a pretty reliable way to get discounted business class tickets to Asia.

Beyond that, their agents are stupendously entertaining. Or maddeningly frustrating, depending on your perspective.

But if you wanted to rack up miles cheaply, and push the limits of a program, US Airways has been the place to do it.

As Dividend Miles disappears, so does much of the fun in this game, at least for me.

Anyways, let’s talk about US Airways miles redemptions, and what is reasonable over the next little while.

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.

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. US Airways has better pricing for nearly all regions, and a priceless understanding of geography.

US-Airways-World-Map

This means you can basically route however the heck you’d like, and aren’t going to be subject to American’s rather antiquated routing rules.

If you want to have a stopover in Europe or route through the Middle East on the way to Southeast Asia that’s completely acceptable, for example, though it might take a few phone calls. So even for routes that are technically more expensive with US Airways, you might still want to explore options through Dividend Miles, even though it technically requires more miles.

If it means you can route more creatively (with a stopover), then it might be worth the mileage premium.

Bottom line

For most people, in most cases, redeeming your US Airways miles before they merge with AAdvantage is the way to go. I’ve previously summed up the decision process as such:

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.

Hold times can also best be described as “atrocious” this week. I held for the Chairman’s Preferred desk for over two hours on Thursday night, so the amount of patience required cannot be overstated.

And it goes without saying that being especially nice on the phone is going to be important as well. This will be a stressful few days for Reservations agents.

For those of you redeeming miles this week, good luck!

Comments

  1. I called yesterday. I don’t know if this is typical or well-known and I just didn’t realize it. My booking was ORD-HKG-SYD returning SYD-HKG-LAX-DFW-MSN. So, it was kind of a multi-city booking or so I thought. But when I chose that option in the automated system there was an automated message that effectively said, “We’re too busy right now. Call us back later” and ended the call. Didn’t even give me the option of being placed on hold. If I made it a straight roundtrip from ORD, then I was put on hold. Interesting quirk.

  2. Off the topic, I have an upcoming AA flight but with BA flight number? Can I credit the miles into Alaska? Or I have to credit the miles into AA or BA?

  3. @ alex — Technically I don’t believe codeshares can be credited to Alaska, though in practice it might work.

  4. I recently booked a US award to BKK. I had to call and since there was so much weather trouble I never could get through. So I followed the advice on FT and called the UK office via the Canada toll-free number. They couldn’t have been more helpful and took my spoon-fed itinerary. It’s a fairly straightforward trip DCA-JFK-HKG-BKK-HKG-ORD-DCA. I’m in F on the way over but the return only had business class available so they charged me mileage as if it were two one ways…F miles over and C miles back. So that was a nice saving of 20K miles. I don’t know if that has always been there practice or not since this was the first time I ever booked one of their awards.

  5. @Tiffany This is slightly off-topic, but what are your favorite ways to get to Italy from California? We’ve done LH through FRA or MUC in the past, but LH availability seems scarce…do you like to connect to East Coast flights?

  6. It will be interesting to see what happens when all of these US Airways agents who are so … notorious … merge their way into the pool of AAdvantage agents, as presumably will happen sooner or later. I have always thought of AA as having pretty good phone support, but that reputation might end up being at risk.

  7. I should add, it will also be interesting to see if such agents open up the possibility of bending AA’s rules on awards a bit, though I guess it sounds like AA has a second line of defense against breaking award ticketing rules, so perhaps not?

  8. OMG.

    Tiffany, that flowchart is priceless. You are awesome.

    Ben is lucky indeed to have you, and we’re lucky to read your pieces here.

    Keep up the great work!

  9. I called US Airways yesterday and had a good chat with the agent. She told me they’ll be busy the next few months as they have to go through a lot of training integrating with AA agents. It’ll be interesting to see the end result!

  10. @ RakSiam — Great recommendation! International numbers are my favorite way to get around hold times.

  11. The key to dealing with US Airways phone agents is to learn some Spanish … much quicker wait time and when the Spanish speaking agent comes on the phone simply say “Hablas ingles?” They all speak English and you’ve bypassed everyone else in the queue.

    I spent a record 2hours and 32 minutes on the the phone last week as I pushed the English language option… then called back a few hours later and used the Spanish to confirm and I was speaking to a real person in 4 minutes

  12. @ Bgriff — No kidding, it’s going to be a spectacular change for them. AA has computers, a rates desk that can do arithmetic, and a separate ticketing department that reviews everything, so not many opportunities for shenanigans there, realistically.

  13. Tiffany,

    You’re post was great. I’ve been with USAirways since 1996 after graduating college. I too had a moment of silence. Actually, I had 3…one when the merger with AA was approved, second when US left Star Alliance, and now the merger of the loyalty programs.

    I’ve had tons of creative routings in the past that I will miss so much. One of my favorites is Caribbean/Mexico/Central America to South/Central Asia. When US devalued its award chart, it didn’t touch Caribbean/Mexico/Central America to South/Central Asia, which continues to be 90K round-trip in business class. Even though I live in the US, I’ve taken advantage of this a few times. I get to go to the Caribbean/Mexico with a stopover at my home airport and continue on to my destination in SE Asia and on my return I get back to my home airport and just walk out without taking the connecting flight(s) back to Caribbean/Mexico. Don’t think many people know this routing.

    I feel like singing the song from the Sound of Music…so long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen adieu, to you and you…LOL!!!

  14. Hi Lucky,

    I have lots of miles with AA, Delta and United; and lots of points with Citi, Amex and Chase. I’d love to use them for overseas business/first, but can’t because of family concerns. I would like to use these miles/points for domestic first class rather than watch them dwindle in value until my wife and I free to travel overseas again in 2020.

    What’s the best way to do this? Can PointPros help?

    thx,

    Dan

  15. Ahhhh, Tiffany does it again; distills complex decision-making and routing analyses into easy-to-grasp charts. This is SO helpful!
    Thank you!

  16. Argh.. Have my vacations mostly locked in for 2015 so just have to hope that upcoming AA/US devaluation will not occur before I get a chance to book some 2016 travel.

  17. Any thoughts on how Alaska fits in on this?

    Seems once AA/US merge, you will immediately be able to use your US (now AA) miles for AS, right?

    When (if ever) do you think AS will be usable to book US and not just AA?

  18. Hi Tiffany
    While I agree that US used to allow all sorts of creative routings and allowed you to push the boundaries in my experience they are much more switched on and much stricter on the rules. Yes the agents are clueless but they’re much more likely to seek supervisor approval if theyre unsure of something than just letting you talk them into it. I think this is largely because of the move into Oneworld. When they were in *A they used to let me jaunt all over the globe however I wanted and price everything without even putting me on hold but I’ve called up more than a dozen times over the past few months and theres a noticeable change – they always put you on hold to check things and they notice your creativity more than they used to.
    I’m not saying there’s no flexbility, I am saying it has become much, much harder and will take up a LOT more of your time to try and get away with something creative.
    I’ve had my fun with USDM and booked and flown some really fun creative routings so I’m ready for the merge – its not like it used to be anyway.

  19. @ Aaron — Yep, once Dividend Miles merges into AAdvantage you’ll be able to redeem those miles for travel on Alaska. I assume that Alaska miles can be redeemed on US Airways very soon, though we haven’t received official word yet.

  20. @ Dan — Sure, we’re happy to help with domestic itineraries, though can’t add as much value as with international itineraries. Unfortunately there aren’t many amazing domestic values, so you’ll typically be stuck paying 45K-50K for domestic first class. If that’s a price you’re willing to pay, it shouldn’t be too tough to find availability.

  21. Thank you Tiffany for this great write up (thanks to Benny for allowing you to post). I would like to piggyback the comments by @John about a sweet spot in the award chart. I’m an expat living in SE Asia. I have done the round-trip F class award for 120k miles from S Asia to Mexico many times to get back to the US. I take a short break in Cancun for a few days. Just need to purchase a cheap one-way ticket to get to my desired destination city in the US. They have always allowed me to do an open jaw booking so that the departure city on the return is starting from the US. I am very sad about the end of US Airways Dividend miles. RIP and thanks for many great years!

  22. It seems that the US award reservations would be unavailable from midnight March 25th (just talked with US airways), and it’s just sad to let this awesome FFP go away.
    Thanks for the great article. Well put and simplified 🙂

  23. @ Ben — Completely agree. There are things I used to book routinely that I wouldn’t even bother trying nowadays. But gosh it’s been fun!

  24. @Tiffany! So great to meet you in San Diego a few weeks ago. Great article. In looking at the detailed flow chart, am I able to travel from The China to Central Southern Euromerica? 🙂

  25. @ Scott — Hah, nice meeting you as well! Certainly possible in the past, but wouldn’t hope for much this week, sadly.

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