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US Airways miles stink because their routing rules and fees are frustrating.

But US Airways miles are incredible because the award chart is so generous. I’ve talked about sweet spots here and here.

Overall, the sweet spots on the award chart and US Airways off peak awards more than make up for the routing restrictions, so I value US Airways miles more highly than any other airline mile at 1.95 cents each.

If you use US Airways miles correctly, you can reap incredible value. (See: When to Use US Airways Dividend Miles and When to Use United Mileage Plus Miles.) This anatomy of an award shows just such a maximum value award and takes advantage of the current Share Miles promo at usairways.com.

My sister has an upcoming trip to India. She didn’t have very many miles, so she was looking at cash tickets. She found cheap tickets to Bangkok from her home airport of Honolulu, much cheaper than she could find to Chennai, India.

She told me she had 29k US Airways miles and asked me if she could use them to get to Chennai. I didn’t think so, but I took a look at the chart, and it turns out 29k US Airways miles go pretty far in South Asia.

Within South & Central Asia, roundtrip awards cost only 25k/30k/40k miles in economy/business/first.

So I went straight to united.com to search for availability from BKK-MAA for the dates she wanted. I started on united.com because it shows almost all Star Alliance availability while usairways.com shows only US Airways space.

On united.com, I learned that Thai Airways has a daily direct flight from BKK-MAA. Like many intra-Asian flights on many carriers, there is award space basically every day in every class.

Since her dream dates were available, the only hang up was that she only had 29k miles and wanted two tickets. The first thing I told her is that we needed 31k miles more not 21k. If US Airways is offering roundtrip awards for only 5k extra miles in business class, I’m not letting her turn that down.

There are three main options to get 31k US Airways miles.

Buy 32k US Airways miles at usairways.com for $602

US Airways miles normally cost 3.5 cents plus taxes and fees. But US Airways runs near constant 100% bonus offers that makes the final all in price 1.88 cents per mile. In October, the promotion is targeted, and it seems like nearly everyone was targeted.

Through this offer, she could buy 16k miles + 16k bonus miles for $602. 1.88 cents per mile isn’t horrible, but this was the worst option.

Transfer 26k SPG points to US Airways miles

She didn’t have any SPG Starpoints, but if she had, 26k SPG points would have transferred to 31k US Airways miles. SPG points transfer to tons of airlines at a 1:1 ratio, and each full 20k transferred earns a 5k bonus.

Transferring 26k SPG points and buying 32k miles for $602 are both decent deals, but there is a better deal at the moment.

Share US Airways Dividend Miles with a 100% Bonus

Last week, I detailed how US Airways’ current 100% bonus on transferred miles gives everyone the ability to buy up to 50k US Airways miles for 1.1 – 1.2 cents each.

The upshot is that transferring miles between accounts incurs a fee of $30 + 1.075 cents per mile. But the transfer creates bonus miles equal to the number transferred.

That meant she could get the miles two ways. She could either receive a 16k transfer from someone, which would put 32k (16k transfer + 16k bonus) miles in her account. That would cost the transferor $202 and 16k of his miles.

Or she could receive a 31k transfer, which would put 62k miles in her account. Then she could return 31k miles to the original transferor. Both parties would end up with 31k more miles than they started with and credit card charges totaling $363.25. Each party would have bought miles for 1.17 cents each.

I thought the second idea was better because it didn’t mean anyone giving up any of their miles. This transfer deal is so good, I recommend people max it out speculatively–without an award in mind–so I was eager to encourage more transferring instead of less.

I found a friend who wanted to swap 31k transfers, and the deals were made. Points transfers through the current promo are instant. (I have four data points. These two and two more when I swapped 50k with a friend.)

Ticketing her trip

The order of ticketing the trip was important. I either wanted to make sure she had the entire trip or nothing. Booking only part of the trip could have led to expensive cancellations or changes if we couldn’t book the rest. To that end, we did things in the following order.

1) Placed BKK-MAA-BKK on hold with US Airways for three days. The only way to reserve or ticket US Airways awards on its partners’ planes is to call 800-622-1015 since usairways.com doesn’t show the space. The phone fee is waived for partner redemptions.

2) Ticketed HNL-BKK-HNL with cash. She is flying China Airlines via Taipei and crediting the miles to her Delta account.

3) Made the US Airways miles transfers.

4) Ticketed the US Airways award BKK-MAA-BKK for 60k miles and $157 total for two passengers in Thai business class.

Analyzing the award

Throughout this post, I’ve been calling this award a sweet spot award. By that, I mean something very specific. I would define a sweet spot as an award that is any one of these three things:

  1. An award that is much cheaper with one airline’s miles than another airline’s miles. This award cost 30k miles per person. United wanted 80k miles per person for the same flights. That’s a 100k mile savings for two people.
  2. 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. My sister’s award is not this type of sweet spot.
  3. An award that is very expensive with dollars and very cheap with miles. I found this route on a direct flight on Air Austral for $349 per person in economy, so this doesn’t qualify.

 

This award from BKK-MAA roundtrip meets the first definition–much cheaper with US Airways miles than with United miles. Two passengers on the same Thai Airways flights in business class would cost 100k more miles on United than on US Airways.

Of course, United would only charge the government taxes of $28.62 per person. US Airways adds a $50 award processing fee to the per-person total, meaning the out of pocket cost is $100 more with US Airways miles. That’s a small price to pay, though, to save 100k miles.

My sister spent 60k miles and $157. The first 29k miles were her own. Let’s value those at 1.95 cents each, my value for US Airways miles, for a total of $565.50. The next 31k she “bought” via the transfer bonus for $363.25. Add in taxes and fees of $157.24, and she spent $1,085.99 in value ($565.50 + $363.25 + $157.24) or $543 per person.

That’s less than a $200 premium over flying economy class on a budget airline to get roundtrip business class on Thai Airways, which will include lounge access, meals, free baggage, and a rare treat to mitigate the stress of flying with a six-year-old.

Recap

One of the many US Airways award chart sweet spots is intra-South & Central Asia. My sister booked a direct flight from Bangkok, Thailand to Chennai, India roundtrip for two passengers for only 30k miles and $78 in taxes and fees per person.

That’s $50 more per person than booking with United miles, but 50k miles fewer per person! US Airways has a number of cheap spots on its award chart that can be exploited to enjoy premium travel for pennies.

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