Should You Buy US Airways Miles With The Merger On Hold?
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
The short answer is:
YES, if you are planning to use them for a US Airways/Star Alliance award, but NO if you are banking on them being combined with your American miles anytime soon.
Back in July, US Airways launched a targeted 100% buy miles bonus and then opened it up to everyone for the month of August. The promo is still live and running until August 31, 2013, but now that the Department of Justice has announced a lawsuit that has thrown the US Airways/American Airlines merger into doubt, many readers have been asking whether buying miles - even at half price - is worth it. Note: to get the bonus your Dividend Miles account needs to be open for at least 12 days, so if you don't have one sign-up now for free.
As a reminder, you can buy up to 50,000 miles for a total of 100,000 with the bonus. Miles usually cost 3.5 cents each plus a 7.5% tax and a $30 per-transaction processing fee, so with this promo, you could get miles for as low as 1.88 cents each if you bought the maximum. For 90,000 miles you can get a roundtrip business class trip to North Asia, and for 110,000 miles you can get a roundtrip business class ticket to South Africa, which is what I recently did or the South Pacific including Australia and New Zealand. Spending under $2,000 for an $8,000+ flight is a pretty great deal. Economy redemptions are generally not as good an idea, but US Airways does have some flexible routing options which might make it worth it for you.
While this new merger news hasn't changed any of that right this very moment, it could mean a few things for those looking ahead.
First, US Airways announced it would be leaving Star Alliance by the end of the year, so buying the miles now for a redemption beyond that time frame on a Star Alliance carrier, or in one of the award chart "sweet spots" I mentioned above would be a viable and smart strategy. Keep in mind that you can also buy US Airways miles for cheap using the Mileage Multiplier.
I know a lot of people were interested in buying miles specifically in case the merger proceeded according to plan on the assumption that these miles would be merged into their AAdvantage accounts - a potentially good strategy until this DOJ announcement and possible derailment of the merger because American rarely sells points for under 2 cents each, and their buy miles promotions are usually incremental, meaning you have to buy a lot of miles to earn the full bonus.
If the merger proceeds, you should also be able to switch miles in between programs until they are finally merged or even later since it will take a while before both frequent flyer programs are brought under one roof - so that you might have been able to take advantage of some of American's award routing rules including a domestic stopover at a gateway city and the fact that you can use AAdvantage miles to book one-way awards.
However, now that circumstances have changed and the merger timing has been thrown into doubt, I wouldn't bank my buy miles strategy on any sort of American angle for the time being.
The takeaway as I see it is that you should only buy miles if you are going to use these for an imminent US Airways award either on the airline itself or on its Star Alliance partners while the airline remains in the alliance. The same holds true of buying up to US Airways' Chairman Preferred top-tier elite level in the hopes that you'll be made an AA Executive Platinum after the merger. Nothing about that arrangement is for sure, and now that the merger is presumably going to be delayed (a little, if not indefinitely), there's no telling whether you'd ever get a status match with American.
I would also hold off on applying for the US Airways World Mastercard speculatively for now if you were just going to do so for the current sign-up bonus of 35,000 miles after your first purchase with the annual fee waived the first year. While you can still put those miles to use, and the card comes with various other perks including 5,000-mile award redemption discounts, unless you have a specific plan of what you're going to do with those miles in the short term, you might as well get in on better credit card offers out there like the current Starwood Preferred Guest Amex personal and business cards, which are offering 30,000 points when you spend $5,000 in 6 months as their sign-up bonus until September 3, and which you can then transfer to US Airways (among 30 other airline partners) with a 5,000-mile bonus when you transfer in increments of 20,000 miles.