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American Airlines and US Airways are currently offering huge bonuses on transfers from SPG Starpoints. Until July 31, 2014, you can transfer 20,000 Starpoints to 30,000 miles in either program.

American Airlines and Citi are still offering 100,000 miles on the American Airlines Executive Card, a deal which has been around since January, though presumably is on life support since the landing page is now gone.

US Airways and Barclaycard upped the public bonus on The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® to 40,000 bonus miles after first purchase this year, its highest level in my memory.

All this is great news, or is it?

  • Why do I feel like American Airlines and US Airways are scamming us?
  • Why doesn’t it bother me?

Right Now

The bottom line is that it has never been easier to earn US Airways and American Airlines miles.

The Near Future

Early next year, the AAdvantage and Dividend Miles programs will combine as part of the integration of the New American Airlines. We will get a single award chart for the new program, and I expect it to be worse than either of the current American Airlines or US Airways charts.

The Scam

I don’t think this binge of giving miles away and the upcoming devaluation are coincidental.

I think the planners at American Airlines and US Airways know they’ll be offering us a much worse award chart in early 2015 even if every specific award price hasn’t been chosen.

To offer us seemingly huge mileage bonuses before the devaluation without noting the devaluation is deceptive in my opinion.

Readers of this blog know the drill. Take the big bonuses, but plan to redeem by early 2015 for travel through early 2016 at current prices. You can redeem both types of miles for travel up to about 11 months in the future.

Joe Schmo, who doesn’t read this blog, is about to have the value of his miles slashed completely unexpectedly after loading up on American Airlines and US Airways miles through the various offers.

To me what US Airways and American Airlines are doing is akin to a government saying, “Convert your currency to ours and invest in our bonds.” And then a few months later, devaluing its currency overnight once you’re locked into those bonds. If the New American’s chart requires 30% more miles for redemptions, American currently expects such a devaluation, and American is extra-aggressively trying to get you to earn more miles now, doesn’t the analogy hold? Is there any difference besides scale between the two examples?

Hopefully I’m totally wrong, and the New American’s chart is identical to American’s (or even better, US Airways’) chart, and American and US Airways aren’t actively trying to scam us right now by offering bigger-than-normal bonuses while knowing that they plan to snatch back most of those miles through a devaluation that’s only 6-8 months away.

Raise your hand if you think no devaluation in 2015 from the New American is likely.

Raise your hand if you think US Airways and American know a devaluation is coming and are more-actively-than-usual encouraging us to load up on miles that will become worth less very soon without disclosing that a devaluation is coming.

Why I’m Not Upset

Just because I think they’re trying to scam us doesn’t mean I’m upset.

I actually love American and US Airways’ strategy of enticing us to collect miles. I’ve been sufficiently enticed!

  • I just got the Citi Executive American Airlines card last month and hope to get its 100,000 mile bonus soon.
  • I have gotten The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®‘s 40,000 mile bonus twice.
  • I expect to transfer Starpoints to US Airways miles this month to take advantage of the 20k-points-to-30k-miles transfer bonus.

But I am collecting all these miles knowing that they have a soft expiration date. If I don’t redeem them by early 2015 for travel by early 2016, I’ll probably get a lot less value, in the realm of 20%, 30%, or 40% less value.

Who Did a Devaluation Better?

When United and Delta announced big devaluations of their charts in 2013, they didn’t precede those with huge promotions to lure us into collecting more of their miles.

We didn’t see 100,000 mile sign up bonuses on their credit cards or transfer bonuses from Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards.

Worst Case Scenario

I am confident I can beat the New American’s devaluation, but my confidence is only 100% if award-chart changes are announced with some notice.

United did a great job of this. It told us on October 31, 2013 that award prices were going up for redemptions beginning February 1, 2014. We had four full months to redeem at the old prices for travel through early 2015. I still have an upcoming Lufthansa First Class award at the old prices.

Delta did a mixed job of this, telling us in August 2013 that travel after June 1, 2014 would cost more miles effective immediately. Then in November 2013, it made some of those changes effective February 1, 2014 without notice. Delta may have learned its lesson though since its newest award chart for awards booked starting January 1, 2015 was announced with tons of notice.

American and US Airways generally seemed trustworthy to me, but they made 17 changes in April with no notice including eliminating stopovers on American Airlines awards, eliminating American Airlines (RTW) Explorer Awards, and raising the price of a popular US Airways award.

If American handles its new award chart like that with no notice, that will make it much more difficult for me to beat the devaluation. Ideally the new award chart would be announced with a few months notice, so we’d all have time to redeem at the current prices.

Bottom Line

I know American Airlines and US Airways are being more aggressive than usual in trying to get us to collect their miles through mega bonuses.

I think they know they will start offering a far worse award chart in 6-9 months from now, which will effectively devalue the miles we get right now.

I think this is extremely deceptive, bordering on a scam.

I won’t be hurt by any of this–far from it! I’m taking the extra miles and planning to redeem them before any award-chart price increases. I’d advocate the same, or steering clear of the big bonuses.

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