US Airways and American Airlines have merged since the publication of this post so it is no longer valid.
US Airways and United are both members of the Star Alliance, so many times you can redeem miles from either carrier for the exact same trip. In those situations, which miles should you use?
I’ve made a list of some clear situations to favor one mile over the other. The list can also be read as a list of situations to collect US miles versus situations to collect United miles though. If your dream redemption falls under a situation listed as a good candidate for Dividend Miles redemption, then you are a good candidate for Dividend Miles accumulation.
1. If you’re flying oneway, use Mileage Plus miles. This is pretty obvious. US Airways charges the roundtrip price on oneway redemptions, and United charges half the oneway price, so oneway in coach from the US to Europe is 30k United miles and 60k US Air miles.
2. If the US Air award chart has a much better deal, use Dividend Miles. If the United award chart had a better deal, you’d want to take advantage of that too, but in practice, US Air has an equal or better chart in almost all situations.
Here are some examples of roundtrip awards from the United States with the US Air price listed then the United price:
North Asia Business Class 90k vs. 120k
Europe First Class 125k vs. 135k
Hawaii Business Class 70k vs. 80k
Here is a counter-example of United being cheaper:
Northern South America Coach 60k vs. 35k
Check out the charts, and if there is a disparity, exploit it.
3. If you are going to fly on US Air metal (planes), use US Air miles. Holders of the US Air Mastercard get a 5k mile discount when booking US Air awards on US Air planes. 5k miles is worth about $90. This is tough to swing many times since all legs must be on US Air planes.
4. If you can take advantage of an off-peak US Air award, use US Air miles. From January 15 – February 28, you can fly on US Air planes to Europe for 35k roundtrip in coach and 60k in business. There are similar deals to South America. It’s not too late to take advantage of the European off peak awards for 2013. Here’s the availability from Philly to Manchester, England for February, 2013.
The bluish dates, about 70% of the calendar, are available dates for 60k roundtrips in fully flat business class seats.
5. If you want a free oneway, use United miles. US Air awards’ routing rules do not allow for free oneways.
6. If you can book online, use United miles. For international awards, US Air charges a $50 award processing fee. Luckily the phone fee is waived (or I guess included in the $50). If you can book your award on United.com, you can avoid that $50 award processing fee and the $25 phone fee. Most awards, including complex ones with stopovers and free oneways can be booked on United.com.
7. If you want to mix-and-match cabins, use United miles. Both airlines let you mix cabins: going to Europe in coach, but returning in business for example. United charges you oneway in coach and one in business in that example for 80k miles total.
US Air would also charge 80k if all your flights are on US Air planes. But in the more likely case that your award includes some partners, US Air inexplicably doesn’t let you mix-and-match for the fair half-half price and instead charges 100k miles for the example of going oneway in coach and oneway in business to Europe.
8. If you want a stopover at a non-Star-Alliance-hub, use United miles. US Airways only allows stopovers at Star-Alliance hubs. United allows stopovers anywhere en route.
9. If you have a glut of one miles, use them. If you have 900k United and 100k US Air, I probably wouldn’t use the US Air unless I was getting max value: a US Air off peak award. Why? In general, diversity of miles is good. But in particular, look at this list. There are a lot of times when you should prefer to use one mile over the other, so having some of both is ideal.
What situations scream out for using one mile over the other that I missed? Share your knowledge in the comments.
The bottom line is that the miles are generally substitutes, but there are times when one mile is more valuable than the other. By paying close attention and using the miles in the situation best suited to them, you can exploit your miles for full value.
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