Using US Airways Dividend miles purchase promotions to book first and business class travel on the cheap from Australia
You may be wondering why the hell US Airways Dividend Miles has any relevance to the Australian frequent flyer – and usually it doesn’t. However US operate promotions to purchase miles relatively frequently with 100% bonuses, meaning you receive double and get to bank miles for around 1.88 US cents per mile.
The current promotion is no exception, with 30,000+ mile purchases kicking back the same miles again to your US Airways account – purchases yield bonuses as follows:
- Buy or Gift 10,000 to 19,000 Miles, Get a 50% Bonus
- Buy or Gift 20,000 to 29,000 Miles, Get a 75% Bonus
- Buy or Gift 30,000 to 50,000 Miles, Get a 100% Bonus
The full 50,000 mile purchase with the 50,000 bonus comes in at $1,881 USD including tax.
Your US Airways account needs to be at least 12 days old, so if you haven’t signed up for one and are considering this, go do that now, then come right back.
US Airways is a fully fledged member of the Star Alliance, meaning you can then redeem those miles for travel on any of their partners who fly to Australia, including Air New Zealand, United or Singapore Airlines, and further beyond, Lufthansa, Swiss, South African, Turkish… Star Alliance has a great reach.
These ‘buy miles’ promotions from US Airways at the 100% miles level come around once every few months, and I haven’t written about them recently – and I should have as they’ll be going away soon with the US and American Airlines merger in early 2014, which will see US drop out of the Star Alliance to join oneworld alongside American. Given these, you may be more interested in this promotion now than in the past – either to make the most of the current use with US Airways partners, or to bank and transfer over to AAdvantage. More on this later.
What are the best value options for using US Airways miles from Australia?
The US Airways partner award chart outlines the cost in miles for redemptions – note that all costs are for return flights, as US don’t allow you to book one way using miles.
Remembering that US Airways generally partner with Star Alliance airlines (with a few exceptions), this means there’s no Australian domestic options to use Dividend Miles.
Air New Zealand are the closest airline to Australian shores, and using Dividend Miles for flights to New Zealand is great value with NZ falling in the South Pacific region, at 30,000 miles for a return flight. Given the 100% bonus kicks in at 30,000 miles in the current promotion, purchasing 30,000 miles would yield another 30,000 for two return tickets in the South Pacific region. The 60,000 mile total would you set you back $1,128.75 USD including taxes, so around $1230 AUD – or $615 AUD per return flight plus some additional booking taxes, in Business Class, which is a great deal.
The South Pacific region includes Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands that Air New Zealand services, for example the Cook Islands (but excluding Hawaii). As such, some of the best value uses of US Airways miles on Air New Zealand is for long-haul regional travel, such as Perth to Auckland, or Sydney to Rarotonga (in the Cook Islands) which Air NZ even fly direct.
Outside of the South Pacific the award chart originating from Australia is fairly consistent, with travel to non-Asian regions in Business Class coming in between 110,000 and 130,000 miles return. The maximum amount of miles you can buy is 100,000 (50k purchased + 50k bonus) which makes purchasing miles for tickets to fly to these regions outright a little tricky.
You can buy more miles on top of the promotion, but you won’t get bonus miles, so you’ll be buying them at double the cost to get up to 110k, for example.
For both the Asian regions on the award chart, Business Class comes in at 90,000 miles return so you can simply purchase enough miles to buy a return flight outright on Singapore Airlines, Asiana or Thai to any of their networks in Asia, including across partners. 90,000 miles is around $1700 USD – again, generally a steal for Australia -> Asia return Business Class travel.
Remember that US allows you to have a range of creative routings on your award tickets, including up to 8 flight segments, and one stopover or one open jaw (in theory any stopover should be at a Star Alliance hub city).
US do allow you to transfer miles between accounts, but it’s not cheap to do so, so buying miles for multiple accounts to book travel for one person isn’t really economical.
The Points Guy has a great run down of the various options for researching award seat availability on Star Alliance airlines.
To be honest, my preferred option is United.com for simple searches, along with awardnexus.com for more complex routes.
US Airways Dividend Miles – rules and quirks
Gary Leff has the best comprehensive and easy to understand guide on all the ins and outs of US Airways award tickets. Seriously, just check this out, it has everything you need to know.
Purchasing miles, making the booking and associated fees
As outlined in Gary’s guide, US Airways allows you to hold seats before you purchase any miles for 3 days. You can call up, place a reservation on hold, buy the miles, then call back to get it ticketed and pay the appropriate taxes within that timeframe.
In terms of fees, take a look at the fees section again in Gary’s excellent rundown – in a nutshell, you pay taxes, no phone booking fee, but (acceptable) change and cancellation fees.
Oneworld risks and opportunities
As I mentioned earlier in the post, US Airways is merging with American Airlines, and their loyalty programs will probably join up in early 2014 with Dividend Miles eventually losing the ability to book awards on Star Alliance partners. It’s likely that Dividend Miles could be transferable at a 1:1 ratio to American Airlines Aadvantage, which would then be usable to book on oneworld airlines – e.g. Qantas.
However, nothing is known yet in terms of timings or transfer rates, so unless you are not averse to risk, I wouldn’t be buying miles through US Airways for this purpose.
If you have a specific use for US Airways miles, and there is award seat availability for the dates you are wanting to book for, it’s a super-easy way to travel in Business or First Class on the cheap.
If you can stomach buying miles to store them for later use, it’s definitely worth considering – US Airways don’t sell them any cheaper than this. The offer ends August 31st.