US Airways is once again running a 100% bonus on purchased miles through September 30, 2014. Every other month US Airways has been running this promotion, but I would not expect it to last – I sense an imbalance in supply and demand that will be solved through a dramatic award chart devaluation coupled with a further increase in the cost of miles once the merger with American Airlines is complete. But for now, US Airways Dividend Miles remain a valuable currency. Below are some tips for most effectively earning and using your miles.
As usual, the promotion is tiered, with an increasing bonus the more miles your purchase:
- 1,000-9,000 miles = 25% Bonus
- 10,000-19,000 miles = 50% Bonus
- 20,000-29,000 miles = 75% Bonus
- 30,000-50,000 miles = 100% Bonus
1. Sign up for the US Airways MasterCard from Barclays
Application Link: US Airways MasterCard with 40,000 Bonus Miles
I have not written about this card in awhile, but it is still a no-brainer credit card to get your hands on for the following reasons:
- 40,000 miles after your first purchase
- First checked bag free for you and up to four companions on US Airways flights
- Companion certificate – valid for up to two people on a domestic US Airways round-trip in the Lower 48 for $99 each + tax
- Priority boarding – Zone 2 on US Airways flights
The card carries an $89 annual fee that is not waived the first year.
These miles will post quickly if you pay the $89 annual fee immediately and the extra miles will allow you to fully take advantage of the sweet spots on the award chart since the purchase mile bonus is capped at 100,000 miles.
2. Do not stock up on miles – just buy what you intend to immediately use
With a devaluation imminent, it is not wise to stock up on points. The only exception I would make is if you are planning an August or September 2015 trip and do not want to risk there not being another 100% bonus offer before it comes time to book the space for your trip.
But if you are traveling in the next 12 months, you can save a great deal compared to purchasing tickets outright by smartly using your miles, particularly in premium cabins.
3. Check britishairways.com for oneworld award space
British Airways has the most comprehensive award search tool for oneworld carriers, offering the ability to search online for all alliance partners. You do need a British Airways Executive Club account to search for space, but sign-up is a breeze and no points are required in the account in order to search. It is best to search segment by segment. Any space you find should theoretically be bookable with US Airways, though I have found that US Airways blocks BA’s Comair-operated flights within South Africa and the vicinity and also blocks certain Iberia Express flights.
4. Place your reservation on hold before you buy miles
US Airways allows a courtesy 72-hour hold on award tickets, whether you have sufficient miles in your account or not. This is a great benefit because you can eliminate almost all risk by securing space before you spend money on points. These points purchases are processed by points.com and are not instant, but typically take no more than 48 hours, usually within 24 hours, and sometimes within minutes.
4. Avoid fuel surcharges on British Airways
While you may be stuck with British Airways sometimes because it tends to offer more generous award space between the United States and Europe (in all three cabins), avoid it if possible because of the heavy fuel surcharges that defeat the purpose of mileage redemptions. No use redeeming 60,000 miles for an economy class trip to Europe when you are hit with over $600 in out-of-pocket taxes/fees as well. Business and first class redemptions are a bit more palatable, but there is nothing like paying $1100 out-of-pocket on a “free” ticket.
In my experience, fuel surcharges are also collected on Finnair and Iberia, though they are more modest. When US Airways first began collecting fuel surcharges on BA, it was possible to still find agents who forgot to add in the surcharge, but I have no recent success stories on this front.
For travel to Europe, Air Berlin, American, and US Airways are your best option, even though space is extremely limited in premium cabins (and all cabins on AA). Remember Cathay Pacific also flies between Vancouver and New York with good award space and though not technically a legal routing, you may be able to route to European destinations from the USA or Canada via Amman on Royal Jordanian or via Doha on Qatar. Fuel surcharges are not collected on either carrier.
5. Do not forget US Airways non-oneworld partners
Speaking of Europe, another viable option to get to Europe is on TAP Portugal, an old Star Alliance partner than US Airways continue to partner with. Redemptions are available on the following non-oneworld partners:
- Aegean Airlines
- Air China
- Hawaiian Airlines (only on inter-island and South Pacific flights)
- Jet Airways
- South African Airways
- TAP Portugal
You can mix and match these carriers, along with US Airways, but you cannot mix oneworld and partner airlines on the same reservation.
I just booked a trip for a client from Sao Paulo to Athens using a mix of Air China (which flies a Fifth Freedom route from Sao Paulo to Madrid), TAP Portugal, and Aegean. There are no fuel surcharges on any partner carriers.
6. If taxes seem too high on your award, call again
You would think that one of world’s largest airlines would have a more competent system to calculate taxes, but it is often done manually and the result can be extra taxes you should not have to pay – or forgotten taxes that work out to your advantage. If taxes seem high, call again. For a proper frame reference, you can use ITA Software to check what taxes should be.
> Read More: The US Airways Dividend Miles Tax Game
7. The redemption sweet spot from North America is still to Asia
US Airways devalued its chart earlier this year, taking away the golden goose of 90K mile r/t business class awards between the USA and North Asia that could be routed via Europe with a stopover there (the price is now 110K), but first class remains just 120K miles. With liberal routing rules, you can come up with some very clever routings and nice products. Oneworld carriers are most generous of the three alliances in allocating first class award space and awards booked in first class on American, British Airways, JAL, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and Malaysia Airlines are all possible.
Another gem is traveling from Mexico or Central America (including the Caribbean) to South and Central Asia for only 90K miles r/t in business class or 120K in first class (from the USA to South Asia is 120K in business or 160K in first class). Buying a cheap one-way ticket or an Avios redemption to a starting point in that region is a great way to save a lot of miles.
* * *
Dividend Miles remain incredibly valuable. With a devaluation inevitable, there great risk in stocking up on points, but if you are ready to book now there are some very attractive redemption options available that are significantly cheaper than redeeming points with other top oneworld loyalty programs like AAdvantage, British Airways Executive Club, JAL Mileage Bank, and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.