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The impending merger of US Airways and American Airlines naturally sparks speculation about what will happen with their elite travel programs and what benefits will still be available for each.
Like Elite Rewards, Special Dividends are for US Airways fliers who go above and beyond their status qualification thresholds for Preferred Members to earn rewards such as coupons to save up to $300 on US Airways Vacation packages to Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean, or you can share the love with gifts to friends and family.
Special Dividends begin at 35,000 miles or 45 segments and above, ranging up to 200,00 miles or 240 segments with the rewards growing incrementally at each level. They are cumulative, so if you’ve reached the 60,000 Special Dividends level, you’ve already earned the 35,000 mile benefits. Also, they are based on your Preferred-qualifying miles or segments (however, buying up to Preferred or nominations to Preferred doesn’t automatically qualify you for Special Dividends).
Below is a breakdown of the thresholds and the benefits you get from each, for the full list, click here.
35,000 Miles/45 Segments
- Nominate a trial Silver Preferred member: Give a friend Preferred benefits for 90 days, including priority check-in and boarding and unlimited upgrades to First Class.
- US Airways Club day pass.
- Wine club discount for California Treasures to have fine wine delivered to your doorstep.
- DM Dining VIP status: Get recommendations for restaurants, bars and clubs, along with exclusive offers and the opportunity to earn more miles.
- US Airways Vacations discount: This new perk allows you to get $75 off a domestic air and hotel package of 3 nights or more with US Airways Vacations, or save $150 on a 3-night international package including air and hotel.
60,000 Miles/ 75 Segments
- Add your spouse or or domestic partner to your US Airways Club membership.
- Give a gift of a US Airways Club membership.
- US Airways Vacations discount: Get $100 off a domestic air and hotel package of 3 nights or more with US Airways Vacations, or save $200 on a 3-night international package including air and hotel.
- Wine Club discount on World of Wine.
- FTD gift certificate for $20 off bouquets, gifts or floral deliveries.
85,000 Miles/ 105 Segments
- Nominate a Silver Preferred member, who will then receive unlimited upgrades, waived first checked-bag fee, bonus miles, etc.
- First Class upgrades on award travel.
- $50 Restaurant.com Gift Certificate.
- US Airways Vacations discount: Get $125 off a domestic air and hotel package of 3 nights or more with US Airways Vacations, or save $250 on a 3-night international package including air and hotel.
125,000 Miles/ 250 Segments
- A free US Airways Club membership.
- Nominate a Gold Preferred member, who will then get unlimited upgrades, checked bag fees waived, bonus miles, etc.
- US Airways Vacations discount: Get $150 off a domestic air and hotel package of 3 nights or more with US Airways Vacations, or save $300 on a 3-night international package including air and hotel.
150,000 Miles/ 180 Segments
- Nominate a Gold Preferred member
175,000 Miles/ 210 Segments
- Nominate a Gold Preferred member
200,000 Miles/ 240 Segments
- Nominate a Gold Preferred member
Note that Special Dividends are exclusively available online, so you have to log in to your Dividend Miles profile at usairways.com, go to the ‘Toolbox’ under ‘Quick links’ and select ‘Special Dividends.’
How does Special Dividends compare to AA Elite Rewards?
In the past, you would just get your Elite Rewards at the end of the qualifying year based on the number of elite qualifying points you earned (more on that below), but American announced in April that it will now be offering Elite Rewards throughout the year as flyers hit four successive thresholds, and more importantly, you can now qualify for Elite Rewards based on elite qualifying points, miles and segments, not just elite qualifying points as in the past.
The changes for AA members mainly seem to be trying to engage the ultra-frequent flyer (125,000+) and not a 3rd 75,000 tier level, as the benefits get incrementally more valuable – such as Admirals Club membership or 20% discounts – from Milestone 3 and up.
Elite Rewards also has flexible options, which US Airways Special Dividends does not. For example, once you hit 40,000 miles/ 45 segments you can choose one of the following – 10,000 bonus miles OR three 500-mile upgrades OR 2 Admirals Club Day Passes OR Free Bags VIP luggage delivery OR 10% aa.com discount.
Moving upwards, at the Milestone 4 (150,000 points or miles or 160 segments), you can choose one of the following – 40,000 bonus miles OR 4 Systemwide Upgrades OR Gift of Platinum Status for a friend (good through February 28, 2015) OR Admirals Club membership OR Global Entry Fee sponsorship.
The wide choice of options is certainly a bonus, as if you don’t drink or ever send flowers, then some of the US Airways perks will be wasted on you.
Here is a comparison of the different tiers to see how the to two airlines match up over-all.
Lower Level – 35,000 US Airways Special Dividends or 40,000 Elite Rewards miles: You need 5,000 less miles to reach the initial Silver level for Special Dividends, which of course is always a bonus, as opposed to the equivalent Milestone one with Elite Rewards. But the payouts from American are higher with 2 Admirals Club passes rather than one US Airways Club day pass, the gift of Gold Status valid until February 28, 2015 rather than Silver Preferred for 90 days for a friend. There is also the choice of 10,000 bonus miles or three 500-mile upgrades with Elite Rewards, neither of which is an option for Special Dividends. Winner: American Elite Rewards.
Mid Level – 60,000-85,000 US Airways Special Dividends or 75,000 Elite Rewards miles: US has two options at the mid range of Gold or Platinum over American’s single Milestone 2, offering more opportunities to reach the next level. While the US Airways Club Membership for your spouse/domestic partner – moving up to Silver Preferred gift for a friend at the next level – is useful if you travel for pleasure a lot, as a business traveler I value the five 500-mile upgrades, 4 Admirals Club Day Passes, or 5 single segment WiFi passes (always a great flight perk) more highly over wine discounts and roses. Special Dividends does offer First Class upgrades on award travel, but not until the 85,000/105 segment tier. Winner (by a nose): American Elite Rewards.
High Level – 150,000 US Airways Special Dividends or 150,000 Elite Rewards miles: At this point, Special Dividends offers Gold Preferred for a family member, free US Airways Club membership, plus incentives and discounts on their vacation packages. While you still have to choose between American’s offerings, they include 40,000 bonus miles or 4 Systemwide Upgrades, as well as Global Entry Fee sponsorship, which I deem to be a lifesaver and one of the best international travel tools you can get. Winner: American Elite Rewards – with the cumulative perks you have earned so far and valuable bonuses like 40,000 miles or Systemwide Upgrades, you get a lot more bang for your flying here.
What Will Happen Post Merger?
It is not yet known exactly how the US Airways and American Airlines merger will affect either AAdvantage or Dividend Miles holders, however, I would predict that the new airline will take US Airways’ model for elite status and expand its program to include four tiers (25,000/50,000/75,000/100,000) instead of the three (25,000/50,000/100,000) that American currently has.
I don’t think we’d see a complete merger of AAdvantage and Dividend Miles until about 12-18 months after the formal announcement (probably toward the longer end of that time frame), so there would be no immediate changes to the mileage programs, although perhaps the two would let members transfer miles between their accounts like United and Continental did.
In terms of these special elite awards, I suspect that we’ll see a little bit taken from each program. If a new 4-tier system goes into place, I suspect the milestones will be at the current US Airways levels, but since American just rolled out these new Elite Rewards, I am hoping that they’ll keep many of them in place – especially mileage bonuses and systemwide upgrades – since for the most part they blow US Airways’ offerings out of the water.
For more information, see these posts: