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March 31st has come and gone – and that means that US Airways (and TAM) has transitioned from Star Alliance to Oneworld. However, the airline has retained several Star Alliance partners as well, including some popular ones like Singapore Airlines, South African Airways and EVA. All told, you can now redeem US Airways miles on 26 airlines!
The other great news is that for the time being, US Airways’ award chart remains in effect both for its Star Alliance partners and its new Oneworld partners until the airline’s merger with American progresses far enough that they can align their award charts and combine their frequent flyer programs. That means the airline’s extremely generous routing options are still around (i.e., you can basically book some round-the-world awards as roundtrips, including routing to Asia via Europe or vice versa) as well as award chart sweet spots with relatively low mileage requirements and no fuel surcharges. That’s compared to American Airlines, where you can’t exceed an itinerary by more than 25% mileage or it will price out higher than the standard level.
However, keep in mind that certain types of awards and partner combinations are not allowed. You can book awards on US and its Oneworld partners, or US and its Star Alliance partners, but you cannot combine Oneworld and Star Alliance carriers on the same award. Another thing to note is that certain Star Alliance partners will end their relationships with US in the coming months including Air New Zealand (book by June 29th), Avianca (book by May 31st), EVA (book by May 14th) and Singapore (book by July 31st, and note that you can’t book premium cabins on A380, A350, 777-300ER).
With all this in mind, I thought it was time to update my list of the top US Airways awards to book, taking into account the airline’s new partners and its award chart sweet spots. If you’ve got any of your own, please feel free to add your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below.
1. American Airlines Transcontinental First Class: One of the sweetest spots in US Airways’ award chart is the fact that because the airline does not really offer domestic business class in its partner award chart, it priced out domestic US business and first class awards at 50,000 miles roundtrip. Whereas other airlines will charge you more for first class than business (32,500 miles each way instead of 25,000 miles on American), US Airways will charge you the same relatively low amount of miles in either cabin! Where this really comes in handy is with American’s new A321 Transcontinental service. You can book a first class award (a very nice product in my experience, with the airline’s new flagship international business class seat in the first class cabin) for just 50,000 miles roundtrip, like in the example below:
American would charge you 65,000 miles for the same trip. While it’s still worthwhile to use AA miles in order to maximize their international gateway stopover routing rules, if you’re simply flying a roundtrip and have a choice between business and first, why not book first for the same amount of miles?
2. Cathay Pacific Business Class: Another US Airways award chart sweet spot is North Asia (zoned to include Hong Kong and Taiwan), for which the airline only requires 60,000 miles roundtrip in economy, 90,000 miles roundtrip in business class and 120,000 miles in first class. For the same routes, American would respectively charge you 70,000, 110,000 and 135,000 miles. By booking with US Airways miles, then, you’ll spend 10,000 fewer miles in economy, 15,000 in first class, and 20,000 fewer miles in business class. One airline on which this will really come in handy is Cathay Pacific, which has one of the best business class products out there, in my opinion (and many others’). US Airways’ Oneworld entrance opens up great awards on the airline’s routes from various US hubs, including LAX, SFO and JFK to Asia.
3. South African Airways Business Class: South Africa is one of my all-time favorite destinations, but getting there can be a truly long haul. You can either fly the 15+ hours from the east coast to Johannesburg, or route via Europe with an 8-9-hour flight to a hub like London or Amsterdam, then another 10-11-hour flight down to Cape Town. My favorite option is to take South African Airways business class, since it flies non-stop from Washington Dulles and New York JFK to Johannesburg (though some JNB-IAD flights do stop in Senegal). True, it’s not the nicest business class around, but it’s comfortable and the fastest way to get there. In any case, it’s also a steal, since US Airways charges just 110,000 miles roundtrip for a business class redemption to South Africa from North America – one of the lowest existing award redemptions between the two regions.
4. EVA Royal Laurel Class to Taipei and Beyond: EVA joined Star Alliance last year and I actually got the chance to fly its JFK-TPE and TPE-Singapore flights en route to the Maldives. I booked the award because I wanted to experience its much-touted Royal Laurel business class, and I really loved my experience. More than that, I love that Taiwan counts as North Asia, meaning you’re paying just 90,000 miles roundtrip in business class, much like on Cathay Pacific. Just be sure you’re on a 777-300ER to experience the new Royal Laurel Business Class. Dom Perignon, anyone?
5. TAM First Class: Along with US Airways, this Brazilian carrier (and LAN merger partner) also joined Oneworld this week. It has an incredible first class product aboard the 777-300ER, with plenty of award space currently available on various routes including JFK-GRU (Sao Paulo). I’m dying to try it myself, but as it requires either 125,000 American or US Airways miles roundtrip, it’s something I’ll keep in mind for my US Airways miles. By contrast, British Airways would charge me a whopping 150,000 miles total, so that’s a non-starter.
6. Qantas Business Class to Australia: I know, I know, finding a Qantas business class award can be darn near impossible, but they do exist! I found four different dates in November and December with award availability bookable on AA.com aboard Qantas A380s to/from LAX-Sydney and 747-400s to/from LAX-Brisbane; these might be the holy grail of Oneworld awards, but every so often you can actually find them. It’s a better value to book through US Airways instead of AA because AA would charge you 125,000 miles roundtrip while US Airways charges just 110,000 miles roundtrip. If you can’t snag a Qantas award, you could always fly to Australia via Asia instead and even plan a stopover there for the same amount of miles – gotta love those lax routing rules!
7. Turkish Airlines Business Class to Europe: Turkish Airlines is both updating its fleet and expanding its global reach with flights to more destinations than ever and the aim of making Istanbul into a global hub and a natural stopping point between Europe (and beyond) and Asia. Their 777-300ERs and A330-300s all have the new business class and it looks really nice. I’d suggest using US Airways miles on Turkish for two main reasons: it’s a good way to avoid fuel surcharges through London on new partners like British Airways and American, and award availability on US Airways’ own routes in business class can be fairly limited. US will charge you 100,000 miles roundtrip and taxes and fees tend to be under $200 – all in all a great bargain on a business class fare to Europe these days.
8. Qatar Airways Business Class to North Asia via Doha: While US Airways and American will charge you the same 180,000 miles roundtrip to fly Qatar Airways first class from North America to the Middle East, US will only charge you 120,000 miles to fly roundtrip business class (compared to American’s 135,000 miles). Since business class aboard Qatar’s new 787s already looks pretty spectacular, why not make the experience even better by saving 15,000 miles as you fly? Like AA, US tends to not charge the same hefty fuel surcharges as British Airways, which make using Avios an unpalatable option. But it’s not just flying overseas on Qatar that could be a real bargain. AA would charge you 35,000/50,000/70,000 miles to fly Qatar in economy/business/first within the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent, so if you’re flying to India or the Maldives from Doha, you’re better off with AA miles. However, if you’re sticking within the Middle East, US Airways is a better choice at just 30,000/35,000/45,000 miles roundtrip. And even better, thanks to US Airways’ routing rules, you could catch Qatar’s flights from New York or Washington DC to Doha, have a stopover there and continue on to North Asia – including China and Japan. This means you could continue on to Beijing or Tokyo as your final destination and spend only 90,000 miles roundtrip, bringing your mileage layout even lower. I’d take spending 90,000 miles over 135,000 miles any day!
9. Economy/Business Between Southeast Asia and India: American and US Airways do things a little differently when it comes to categorizing regions. For the purpose of partner awards, American separates Asia Zone 2 (which is Southeast Asia for the most part but also includes Hong Kong and Taiwan) from India and the Maldives, which it classifies in the same zone as the Middle East. US Airways includes Hong Kong and Taiwan in their zoning of North Asia, and classifies South & Central Asia together, including typical SE Asia destinations like Thailand and Singapore, as well as India and the Maldives. Keep in mind that AA will charge you 45,000/60,000 miles to fly from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore to India or the Maldives, while US will only charge you 25,000/30,000 miles respectively; if you’re already in Asia ,this can be a great way to get to the Maldives aboard partners like Singapore Airlines or Malaysia Airlines.
10. Avianca/TACA to Central America: Avianca/TACA is a Star Alliance carrier based in Colombia and El Salvador that flies direct from New York JFK, Newark, Washington Dulles, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami to Bogota – an increasingly popular destination and a good jumping off point for Northern South America or Central America – as well as from Miami to Cartagena. But that’s not where the bargain lies. Instead, if you go to/through their hub in San Salvador, US Airways will charge you 35,000/60,000 miles in coach or first, while American counts the region as Central America/Northern South America and charges 35,000/60,000/80,000 miles for coach/business/first. Granted, you can catch a direct flight on AA to many Central American destinations, but you might get stuck paying a premium for “first” class on an old, old plane, whereas with US Airways, if you don’t mind hopping through San Salvador (where you can catch direct flights to LA, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Toronto, New York JFK, Newark and Washington DC), you can end up saving 20,000 miles and having more access to the region with Avianca/TACA’s extensive home network, which you do not have access to using AA or BA miles. Keep in mind, you have to avoid going even to northern South America or US Airways will charge you more – 60,000/100,000 for economy/business.
11. Off-Peak Awards: Like American Airlines, US Airways has off-peak awards where you can score surprisingly low-level awards to various other regions. American’s off-peak awards are much more widely available and for longer periods of time, but US Airways’ do have some redeeming qualities – including the fact that you can get to Europe for 35,000 miles roundtrip from North America and Hawaii. You can find the whole award chart here, but here are the mileage numbers and dates for roundtrip off peak awards:
- Between the continental US or Canada and the Caribbean: 25,000 Coach, 50,000 First (ranges from 35,000-80,000 for coach and 60,000-140,000 for first at other times). Off-peak dates are September 1-30 (just one month!).
- Between North America or Hawaii and South America: 35,000 coach, 60,000 business (ranges from 60,000-125,000 coach, and 100,000-350,000 business otherwise). Off-peak dates so far for 2014 were February 3-13 and March 17-April 3.
- Between North America or Hawaii and Europe: 35,000 Coach (ranges from 60,000-125,000 Coach). Off-peak dates are January 15-February 28.
While it remains to be seen whether these will persist after the merger, or whether (hopefully!) US will take on AA’s off-peak awards (and assuming those stick around too), they’re something to keep in mind.
For more information see these posts:
- Official US Airways Oneworld Join Date – March 31, 2014
- US Airways to Retain Some Star Alliance Partners After Joining Oneworld
- How Will US Airways’ Star Alliance Departure Affect Future Award Bookings?
- Tips For Searching Star Alliance Availability
- Shifting Alliances: Which Is Best – Oneworld, SkyTeam or Star Alliance?
And feel free to comment with any questions or great award ideas of your own!