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As the year winds down and the scramble for elite status revs up, many frequent flyers are having to decide just how much they value elite benefits. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele looks at US Airways Dividend Miles Preferred status, and sets out to quantify each benefit in order to make those decisions easier.
Over the last week, TPG looked at the value of American Airlines elite status, while I examined the value of elite status with Delta and United. Today, we’re finishing this series with an assessment of what US Airways Dividend Miles Preferred status is worth.
Since the merger of US Airways and American Airlines is well underway, the US Airways frequent flyer program has changed somewhat to match the qualifications for American Airlines AAdvantage status. The two programs are expected to be fully merged in the second quarter of 2015, but for the time being they remain separate, and there is no spending requirement to earn status (unlike the Delta and United elite status programs).
Why these values are important to know right now
Through Wednesday, December 31, 2014, US Airways will still be offering the chance to buy up to Preferred status—kind of like taking a mileage run without having to go anywhere. For some frequent flyers, this offer will be less expensive than a mileage run, although the price per mile rises substantially with each status level. In addition, you can choose to credit your miles to either American Airlines or US Airways in order to achieve status in whichever one you prefer.
As we did with the other airlines, I’ll base the values of each status level on flying 20% more miles than the minimum, I’ll use TPG’s latest valuation of US Airways miles (currently 1.9 cents each), and I’ll round the value of each elite status level down to the nearest $50.
This status level requires 25,000 miles or points, or 30 segments, just like AAdvantage Gold.
- 25% mileage bonus for all paid, qualifying flights ($142). Includes flights on US Airways, American Airlines, regional carriers and all OneWorld member airlines. The value assumes 30,000 miles flown, so the 25% bonus yields 7,500 extra miles.
- First class upgrades granted up to two days in advance ($300). Excludes flights to and from Hawaii, Europe, South America, and the Middle East. This is a better value than the complimentary upgrades of 500 miles or less offered to AAdvantage Gold members.
- Upgrades from full-fare tickets (Y or B class) ($100). Economy tickets may be upgraded anytime after ticketing, including companions. Nevertheless, the value of this benefit is limited unless you actually book full fare tickets.
- Upgrade American Airlines flights ($100). This costs $30 per 500 miles of travel (based on American’s existing upgrade policy) at check-in. This benefit is of limited value since you still have to pay for it, but it’s nice to have the option.
- First bag checked free on US Airways and American flights ($100). This benefit extends to all passengers on the same reservation, making it slightly more valuable than the benefit offered by entry level credit cards from US Airways and American.
- 500-mile segment minimums ($25). Preferred members earn a minimum of 500 miles on all US Airways, American Airlines, and most Oneworld flights. This could result in a few extra miles earned if you take a lot of shorter trips.
- Reserve Preferred seats ($150). Although US Airways doesn’t offer a premium economy product, Silver Preferred members can reserve preferred seats on US Airways and American Airlines (excluding exit rows) and get 50% off advance reservations for Main Cabin Extra seats on American Airlines, or get them free at check-in (if available).
- Preferred Reservations Desk ($25). Preferred members get priority reservations assistance. This is worth more if you frequently book complicated itineraries that can’t be put together online.
- Preferred Access ($50). This benefit includes priority check-in, security lanes, and boarding, including companions.
- Priority standby ($50). This includes flights on US Airways, American Airlines and Oneworld alliance airlines.
- MoveUp fee waived ($300). MoveUp is what US Airways calls standby for flights within 6 hours of your originally scheduled departure; the airline normally charges $75 for flights within North America, and $150 for overseas flights. Preferred Silver members can stand by for a same-day flight at no charge on American Airlines.
- Admirals Club membership discount ($25). This is worth nothing unless you purchase a membership.
Gold Preferred requires 50,000 miles or points, or 60 segments, the same as AAdvantage Platinum.
Additional Benefits: $1,550 (total $2,900)
- 50% mileage bonus for all paid, qualifying flights ($285). The value assumes 60,000 miles flown, so the 50% bonus yields 30,000 extra miles. That’s 15,000 more than you would earn with the 25% Silver Preferred bonus.
- First class upgrades granted up to three days in advance ($600).
- Reserve preferred seats on US Airways and Main Cabin Extra on American ($300). As a Gold Preferred member, you also receive access to Main Cabin Extra seats when the flight is operated by American. As more flights become operated by American, this benefit will increase in value.
- Two free checked bags ($200). Gold status gets you two free checked bags for both you and your companions.
- Award processing and quick ticketing fees waived ($150). The award processing fee is normally $25 for flights in the US (excluding Hawaii) and Canada, $35 for Mexico and the Caribbean, and $50 for Hawaii and all other destinations. The quick ticketing fee is $75 for award tickets booked within 21 days of departure.
- Guaranteed seating ($25). US Airways will overbook economy class seats on US Airways flights (except US Airways Shuttle) when you purchase an unrestricted fare (Y class).
Platinum Preferred requires 75,000 miles or points, or 90 segments, but it doesn’t have a corresponding status with American, so US Airways isn’t offering much more than an elevated mileage bonus and increased upgrade priority.
Additional Benefits: $1,000 (total $3,900)
- 75% mileage bonus for all paid, qualifying flights ($428). The value assumes 90,000 miles flown, so the 75% bonus yields 67,500 extra miles. That’s 22,500 more than you would earn with the 50% Gold Preferred bonus.
- First class upgrades granted up to four days in advance, including companions ($600).
Requires 100,000 miles or points, or 100 segments, just like AAdvantage Executive Platinum
Additional Benefits: $2,150 (total $6,050)
- 100% mileage bonus for all paid, qualifying flights ($570). The value assumes 120,000 miles flown, so the 100% bonus yields 120,000 extra miles. That’s 30,000 more than you would earn with the 75% Platinum Preferred bonus.
- First class upgrades within North America, Latin America and the Caribbean (not including Hawaii) on US Airways granted up to seven days in advance ($600).
- Upgrades on flights to or from Hawaii, Europe, South America, and the Middle East on US Airways ($800). Chairman’s Preferred members receive two electronic certificates each year for one-way First/Business Class upgrades that can be used for travel on US Airways flights, excluding codeshares. While this benefit is valuable, it pales in comparison to the eight Executive VIP Systemwide Upgrades that American offers its Executive Platinum members.
- Three free bags in coach, four free bags in first class for everyone ($200). I’m not sure how a family would even get all this stuff to the airport if everyone packed three or four bags, but if you made it, US Airways will check all of it for free if one of you holds Chairman’s Preferred status.
I think there’s real value in Silver status, including getting the MoveUp fees waived and being able to reserve preferred seats. Stepping up to Gold is also extremely valuable, as it gets rid of the useless award booking and redeposit fees, and gives you access to American’s Main Cabin Extra seats for free. I wouldn’t consider putting a lot of effort into reaching Platinum Preferred, which offers little beyond Gold. Naturally, the best benefits come with Chairman Preferred status, which offers the two upgrade certificates, although even those decline in value as US Airways offers fewer flights.
I would strongly consider buying up to Silver, Gold, and perhaps even Chairman’s Preferred status. You might also consider crediting miles to American if you’re going to fly a combined total of 50,000 to 100,000 miles on the two carriers in 2015. That way, you would have access to a greater number of systemwide upgrades (as American calls them). On the other hand, you’d be giving up the unlimited upgrades that US Airways offers in favor of the 500 mile upgrade “stickers” from American. Either way, expect 2015 to be the last year to qualify for Preferred status on US Airways as the Dividend Miles program disappears.
I would love to hear from other US Airways elites about how you value your status. Please offer your thoughts in the comments below!