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US Airways has legally combined with American Airlines, but the airlines are still being run as two brands with two frequent flyer programs until some time in 2015.

Next month there are two key dates in the integration of the two airlines and specifically their AAdvantage and Dividend Miles programs.

This change only affects US Airways miles and does not affect American Airlines miles. It doesn’t mean that US Airways and American Airlines miles will be combined or freely combineable. All it means is that the award space you can book with your US Airways miles (or we can book for you) will change.

Which awards should you book by March 30, 2014 with your US Airways miles? Which awards should you book March 31, 2014 and later with your US Airways miles?

Star Alliance vs. oneworld

To refresh your memory of what airlines are in oneworld versus the Star Alliance, I’ll list the airlines in each alliance with their hubs.

Star Alliance

(UA) United Airlines (Newark, Houston-Intercontinental, Washington-Dulles, Chicago-O’Hare, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Cleveland, Tokyo-Narita, Guam)
(US) US Airways (Charlotte, Philadelphia, Phoenix) until March 30, 2014

(JP) Adria Airways (Ljubljana, Slovenia)
(A3) Aegean Airlines (Athens, Greece)
(AC) Air Canada (Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver)
(CA) Air China (Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai)
(NZ) Air New Zealand (Auckland)
(NH) ANA (Tokyo-Narita, Tokyo-Haneda, Osaka, Osaka-Kansai)
(OZ) Asiana Airlines (Seoul-Incheon, Seoul-Gimpo)
(OS) Austrian Airlines (Vienna)
(AV) Avianca (Bogota, Colombia; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Quito, Ecuador)
(SN) Brussels Airlines (Brussels, Belgium)
(CM) Copa (Panama City)
(OU) Croatia Airlines (Zagreb)
(MS) EgyptAir (Cairo)
(ET) Ethiopian Airlines (Addis Ababa)
(BR) EVA Airlines (Taipei, Taiwan)
(LO) LOT Polish Airlines (Warsaw)
(LH) Lufthansa (Frankfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf, Berlin-Brandenburg)
(SK) Scandinavian Airlines (Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm)
(ZH) Shenzhen Airlines (Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Nanjing)
(SQ) Singapore Airlines (Singapore)
(SA) South African Airways (Johannesburg)
(LX) Swiss International Air Lines (Zurich)
(JJ) TAM Airlines (Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia), leaving second quarter of 2014
(TP) TAP Portugal (Lisbon)
(TA) TACA (San Salvador, San Jose (CR), Lima)
(TG) Thai Airways International (Bangkok)
(TK) Turkish Airlines (Istanbul-Ataturk)

oneworld alliance

(AA) American Airlines (Dallas-Fort Worth, New York-JFK, Los Angeles, Chicago-O’Hare, Miami)
(US) US Airways (Charlotte, Philadelphia, Phoenix), starting March 31, 2014

(AB) Air Berlin (Berlin-Brandenburg, Dusseldorf)
(BA) British Airways (London-Heathrow, London-Gatwick)
(CX) Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong)
(AY) Finnair (Helsinki)
(IB) Iberia (Madrid, Barcelona)
(JL) Japan Airlines (Tokyo-Haneda, Tokyo-Narita, Osaka, Osaka-Kansai)
(LA) LAN (Santiago, Lima)
(MH) Malaysia Airlines (Kuala Lumpur)
(QF) Qantas (Sydney, Melbourne)
(QR) Qatar (Doha)
(RJ) Royal Jordanian (Amman)
(S7) S7 Airlines (Moscow-Domodedovo, Novosibirsk)
(UL) SriLankan Airlines (Colombo), joining early 2014
(JJ) TAM Airlines (Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia), joining second quarter of 2014

As you can see, the Star Alliance is much larger, though it will lose two members to oneworld in the coming months in US Airways and TAM.

Awards to Book by March 30, 2014

If you book an award by March 30, 2014 with your US Airways miles, you can combine US Airways award space with award space of Star Alliance partners.

That means you want to book awards by March 30, 2014 for travel until about February 27, 2015 that is better served by Star Alliance carriers. Generalizations are no substitute for award searching the day and route you have in mind, but hopefully my generalizations can guide your thinking.

The five places I would try to book by March 30, 2014 with US Airways miles are:

  • Hawaii
  • Europe
  • South America
  • Africa
  • certain awards to Asia

Hawaii

United has better award space to Hawaii and more comfortable fully flat bed first class options than other airlines. If you want to book a Hawaii trip with your US Airways miles, now is probably the time to book it.

Note, though, that traditional airline mile are not usually the best way to book an economy award to Hawaii. If you live on the west coast, you are better off using British Airways Avios, and if you live somewhere else, you’re probably better off using Arrival miles from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® and ditching the award space hunt altogether.

Europe

Star Alliance options to Europe are much better than oneworld options with a few big caveats.

Currently United is offering good economy and first class award space to Europe on its planes. Austrian is offering fantastic economy space and business space (starting 89 days before departure.)

Lufthansa is also offering good economy and business class space, but US Airways agents can not see most of it because it is being blocked by their computers. Attempts to get the agents to book you the space that Lufthansa has released to partners–but that is not showing on the agents’ screens–is currently futile. Also, US Airways miles cannot book Lufthansa First Class space at all according the US Airways award chart.

Even with the Lufthansa-blocking, US Airways miles are more valuable to Europe before March 30, 2014 because several Star Alliance partner including United and Austrian are offering good space to Europe.

South America

You might be surprised to see South America on the list, but here’s my reasoning:

We need to look at the change in partners. Currently US Airways miles can book United flights. I booked United flights to Brazil for June’s World Cup with my US Airways miles.

On March 31, US Airways miles lose United’s award space but gain LAN’s. United’s award space to South America is generally better than LAN’s.

Note 1: American Airlines has the best award space to South America. You can book it now with US Airways miles or book it after March 31, 2014. Either way is fine.

Note 2: US Airways treats all of South America as one region, so awards to Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru are much cheaper with other types of miles.

Africa

The Star Alliance kills oneworld to Africa. The Star Alliance has several African partners like South African, Ethiopian, and Egyptair. Plus Lufthansa has great award space via Europe and United even flies to a few African cities.

Oneworld mainly serves Africa via British Airways, and awards on British Airways flights incur massive fuel surcharges.

If you want to go to Africa in the next year with your US Airways miles, book your award by March 30, 2014.

Certain Awards to Asia

The Star Alliance beats oneworld in terms of the number of partners in Asia and there is more economy and business class transpacific award space with the Star Alliance.

The one type of Asia award I would hold off on booking now would be if you want to fly Cathay Pacific business or first class with your US Airways miles. In that case, wait until March 31.

Awards to Book After March 31, 2014

1. Awards for travel February 28, 2015 or later

You can only book US Airways awards up to 330 days out. On March 30, 2014, you’ll be able to book until about February 27, 2015. If you make changes or new bookings March 31, 2014, you will only be able to use oneworld award space.

2. Awards to These Place

I’d generally wait until March 31, 2014 to book US Airways awards to the following places.

  • Middle East
  • Cathay Pacific Business and First Class to Asia
  • Australia & New Zealand

Middle East

Qatar has good award space and an awesome business class product to the Middle East. Wait until March 31, 2014 and you can book the award space with US Airways miles.

Cathay Pacific Premium Cabins to Asia

I’ve had Cathay Pacific First Class on the top of my wish list for a while. If it’s on yours, wait until March 31, 2014 and book it with US Airways miles.

Australia and New Zealand

Qantas has incredible economy award space to Australia with connections to New Zealand that is bookable with US Airways miles starting March 31, 2014. Business and first class space to Australia will stink equally on Star Alliance and oneworld partners. (Use Delta miles to book Virgin Australia business class.)

US Airways allows you to route to Australia via Asia, so there should be a great chance to book Business Class awards on Cathay Pacific from the US to Australia for only 110k US Airways miles roundtrip, starting March 31, 2014.

Awards You Probably Shouldn’t Ever Book with US Airways Miles

Don’t forget that there are plenty of awards that are a bad deal with US Airways miles now and still will be on March 31. A change of partners won’t help.

These four regions don’t usually offer a good cents per mile value in economy with traditional miles. (Of course, they can sometimes.)

  • Intra-North America
  • Hawaii
  • Central America
  • Caribbean

For Central American and Caribbean awards, I like Frontier miles and Avios depending on the destination. Frontier charges 30,000 miles roundtrip to its Central American and Caribbean destinations with good award space. Frontier is currently offering 40,000 bonus miles after spending $500 on the Frontier card in the first three months.

For domestic flights, Arrival miles are almost always best. You can book any flight on any airline and redeem a net of 88 miles for every dollar of the flight, which is 1.14 cents per mile. The Arrival card earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases, and comes with 40,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months.

Caveat

Note that this post is very general by necessity. Your specific routing and dates might suggest the opposite path as I am advocating in this post. This post is no substitute for award searching.

Getting US Airways Miles

There is still time to get US Airways miles by March 30, 2014.

The US Airways card offers bonus miles on first purchase. If you open the card today, the miles will likely post in late March. The best offer is 40,000 bonus miles after first purchase.

You can also transfer Starpoints to US Airways miles. Every 20k points transfer to 25k miles. Mine posted within 24 hours on my last transfer. You can earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $5k in the first six months on each of these cards:

I got both in August of last year because Starpoints are the most valuable points in the milesphere.

Recap

US Airways is leaving the Star Alliance on March 30, 2014 and joining oneworld the next day. This affects what partner award space can be booked with US Airways miles.

Some awards are best booked by March 30 to take advantage of Star Alliance space, and some awards are best booked March 31 to take advantage of oneworld space.

The timing of some award bookings doesn’t matter because the space you want is on US Airways or American Airlines planes, both of which are already bookable with US Airways miles. For other awards, you don’t want to use US Airways miles at all, so it doesn’t matter when you book them with Arrival miles, Avios, Frontier miles, or Delta miles, which are not affected much by the change.



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