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US Airways and American Airlines have merged since the publication of this post so it is no longer valid.

This post is part of a four-part series. In Part 1, we will look at the mechanics of the US Airways program. In Part 2, we’ll look at its award chart and rules to find valuable awards. In Part 3, we’ll value specific Dividend Miles awards. In Part 4, I’ll put a number on one Dividend Mile.

US Airways is a member of the Star Alliance, the largest alliance in the world, so its miles can be used for booking awards on dozens of airlines. This is the reason I’m valuing US Air miles right after United miles. The two programs’ miles can be used for many of the same awards, although, the differences between the programs are substantial. In the same way that my Avios series was heavy on comparisons to the AAdvantage program because they’re in the same alliance, US Air miles will be compared to United miles throughout this series.

Here are the rules and facts of the US Air program:

1. US Air has two region-to-region charts, one for US Air travel and one for partner travel. (It also has a round-the-world option which will not be considered in this series.) A region-to-region chart means that instead of having to calculate the number of miles for an award from your origin city to your destination city, say Atlanta to Rome, you merely figure out how many miles you need for an award from your origin region to your destination region, in this case North America to Europe.

There are several things to familiarize yourself with on the charts: The first is the paucity of zones. Most airlines divide the world into more zones than US Air, which only has one per continent. The only continent divided is Asia, and North and South Asia are defined in a footnote of the partner award chart.

The second is that US Air only operates two cabin planes. On domestic flights, those cabins are Coach and First, on international Coach and Envoy. Both First and Envoy price out as business class level prices, as we would expect. United also only charges business class prices for the best cabin on a two cabin plane no matter what it’s called.

US Airways Envoy seats vary considerably. Avoid the angled lie-flat seats of their Boeings, and look for flights on A330s, which are flying beds with just enough privacy for US Air to call them suites. These seats at business class prices are a fantastic deal.

2. US Air awards cannot be booked oneway. US Air awards can include one stopover or one open jaw. (An open jaw is flying into one city and out of another. Example: LAX-LHR, FCO-LAX) This is one of the biggest weaknesses when compared to United’s miles, which can be used for oneways. Plus when United miles are used for roundtrips, the itineraries can be double open jaw and still include a stopover.

A stopover on a US Air award must be at a Star Alliance hub, and you must have flown into that hub on the hub’s carrier. Here’s a list of Star Alliance hubs.

3. There are three levels of awards, low, medium, and high. Obviously we want to focus on finding awards at the low level price of miles, which are capacity controlled and have the least availability of the three types.

4. Despite having high miles-price awards that involve redeeming obscene amounts of miles, US Air still maintains complete award blackouts on certain dates to certain regions. The blackout dates for 2012-2013 can be found here. This is a pathetic aspect of the program.

5. Travel can be booked on any Star Alliance airline. Travel can also be booked on the following non-Star Alliance partner airlines:

  • Bahamasair
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Jet Airways
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian

Some caveats: Only Hawaiian’s interisland and South Pacific flights can be used. US Air miles cannot be used to fly from the mainland US to Hawaii on Hawaiian. US Air miles can only be used for coach flights on Virgin Atlantic. And award redemptions on Qatar and Royal Jordanian are “temporarily” unavailable. With all these exceptions, in the end, US Air has a pretty weak list of non-Star Alliance partners.

6. There is no booking fee for booking awards at usairways.com. Unfortunately only flights operated by US Air are bookable there. For any partner awards, you have to call 800-428-4322 to book. Pleasantly, US Air does not charge a phone booking fee to book awards that are not bookable on its website.

7. Maddeningly, US Air charges a non-refundable “award processing fee” depending on destination: $25 for tickets within the U.S. and Canada; $35 for tickets to Mexico/the Caribbean; and $50 for tickets to Hawaii, Europe, the Middle East, and South America. If you have Dividend Miles Gold, Platinum or Chairman’s status, this fee is waived. US Air is the only major program to charge this type of fee just for booking any award ticket.

7. There are other fees associated with award tickets. A complete list is here. Some lowlights include a $75 fee to book an award within 21 days of departure; $150 to cancel your award and redeposit the miles; and $150 to change your award in any way including cabin, award type, operating airline of a segment, date, time, origin, or destination.

Some of the preceding fees are reduced or eliminated if the member whose miles were used has US Air status; see the linked list for complete details.

Some of these fees are industry standard like the close in fee and and the redeposit fee. Others like the ability to make no changes to the award without paying $150 much worse than the rules for United or American awards for instance.

United does not charge to add, change, or delete a connection as long as the change happens more than 21 days before departure. Within 21 days, such a change will incur a $75 fee, less if you have status with United.

8. All travel must be completed within one year of the booking date.

9. No changes are allowed to an itinerary once travel begins.

10. Reservations may be reserved for three days before ticketing. Ask nicely.

11. Holders of the Barclay’s US Air Mastercard receive a 5,000 miles discount on awards operated by US Air.

12. Awards can be booked one way in coach and one way in Envoy for half the cost of a roundtrip in each. Example: I fly to Rome in Envoy, but return in coach on an LAX-PHL-FCO routing. The miles cost is 80,000, halfway between 60,000 for coach and 100,000 for Envoy. So far so good.

However, if an award includes any partner flights, the miles cost cannot be averaged and will price out at an all business class award. Example: I fly PHX-ORD-FRA-FCO with a combination of US Air and Lufthansa flights in coach, returning FCO-PHL-LAX in Envoy class. This award prices at 100,000 miles, not 80,000!

13. US Air has the same availability domestically and internationally as United, which is generally pretty excellent, since they’re both Star Alliance members. Availability is a big strength of this program in all classes of service, especially to Europe where the Star Alliance dwarfs its competitors. United itself has good availability to Australia, but if you want to go anywhere besides Sydney or Melbourne, there aren’t any good options. To Latin America, availability is very good from Houston flying the former Continental routes. And hopefully with the addition of Avianca and Taca, availability within Latin America will improve.

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