US Airways and American Airlines have merged since the publication of this post so it is no longer valid.
US Airways has some incredible deals on its award chart. I’ve talked about off peak awards, South America deals, and intra-South Asia before. The drawbacks to US Airways awards are numerous–they have to be roundtrip, they have a $50 “award processing” fee, and changes cost $150–but if you can deal with the drawbacks, the chart itself is a gem.
I would define an award-chart sweet spot as one of three things:
- An award that is much cheaper with one airline’s miles than another airline’s miles. For instance, EZE-BOG, CLO-BOG-EZE in Avianca business class coss 30k US Airways miles or 80k United miles.
- An award that is much cheaper than a slightly different award on the same airline. And ideally the sweet spot award can be turned into the highly similar award cheaply. For instance, New York to Istanbul oneway in economy is 20k miles using AA miles between October 15 and May 15. New York to Amman those same dates is 45k miles oneway in economy. New York to Istanbul is a sweet-spot award and can be turned into New York to Amman by adding Istanbul to Amman on Royal Jordanian for 7,500 Avios.
- An award that is very expensive with dollars and very cheap with miles. A lot of domestic Avios awards are like this. Charlottesville, VA to Chicago oneway on American Airlines is $392 in October. Or you could buy the flight with 4,500 Avios and $2.50. Sweet spot.
A great example of the second type of sweet spot is the difference between a business class award with US Airways miles to South & Central Asia and a business class award to the South Pacific.
Look closely: it’s cheaper to fly roundtrip from the United States to Australia–in the South Pacific–than it is from the United States to Thailand–in South and Central Asia. In and of itself, that’s not too amazing since Bangkok is farther away than Sydney.
What’s amazing is that you can route through Asia to Australia on a US Airways award. That means adding a nine-hour flight from Bangkok to Sydney will lower your award’s price!
Theoretically US Airways award routings must be less than the MPM (maximum permitted mileage) for your origin/destination city pair. In practice, that isn’t the rule, US Airways agents don’t know that’s the rule, or US Airways agents don’t enforce the rule.
I’m 90% sure that the way US Airways awards are priced is by the agent figuring out in which region the origin city and destination city lie and reading the price of awards between those regions of the chart. (I think this because many US Airways agents think out loud, so I hear things like, “Bangkok…Thailand…South & Central Asia. This award is 120,000 miles.”)
Now if you have a crazy routing, the agent might be awoken from his sleep-booking and check to make sure you’re following the rules. And by crazy routing, I don’t actually mean backtracking or flying too far–agents don’t know geography. I mean flying too many segments. They get suspicious if you have an award with many segments that maybe you’re flying too far; they don’t get suspicious if you are actually backtracking wildly but you only fly three segments.
All of this is to say that you can easily route through Asia on the way to or from Australia (or New Zealand) on a Dividend Miles award from the USA. And doing so can mean an incredible trip at a very low miles price–lower than if you didn’t include Australia.
Let’s look at an award I talked about yesterday:
As you’ll notice on this award, oneway is direct: SYD-SFO. But the routing from San Francisco to Sydney is San Francisco-Tokyo-Bangkok-Sydney.
12,675 miles is much farther than the MPM for the route: 8,911 miles. But US Airways agents don’t check MPM routinely. There’s almost no chance a US Airways agent would think twice about ticketing this four-segment itinerary for 110k miles. And if he does, hang up, and call back.
There are two cool things about this award. First, you can take a stopover in Tokyo or Bangkok for as long as you’d like, combining Asia and Australia on one trip. Second, the trip costs only 110k miles.
San Francisco to Bangkok roundtrip would cost 120k US Airways miles! Or this trip would cost 135k United miles, so 110k is a hefty discount–a sweet spot.
The taxes and fees are a little higher with US Airways than United. United charged $173.10 for this award–all government taxes. US Airways would charge $223.10–the same government taxes plus a $50 award processing fee.
Also, this award could be booked on united.com with United miles. To book it with US Airways miles, you would have to call 800-622-1015. You wouldn’t incur a phone-booking fee. US Airways agents would proactively waive it, since the award is not bookable online. (See How to Avoid the Phone Fee on Award Bookings for tricks on how to avoid phone fees for all four legacy carriers.)
US Airways has a sweet spot on its chart from the US to Australia for 110k miles in business class. This can be made even sweeter by routing through and stopping over in Asia.
While US Airways may technically have a rule limiting the distance you can route on an award, their agents don’t enforce that rule, especially if your award doesn’t have very many segments.
There are some annoyances when dealing with US Airways awards like the $50 processing fee, having to call to book, $150 change fees, only getting one stopover OR one open jaw, and on and on. But I think those nuisances are more than compensated for by the super generous chart. USA-Asia-Australia-USA for 110k total in business class cannot be beaten.
I’ve booked several awards to Australia and New Zealand via Asia with Dividend Miles, so I’ll be sure to do an Anatomy of an Award post on this routing in the coming days.------------------------------------------------------------
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