Elite Status Series: US Airways Unique Features and Benefits
So far in our Elite Status Series, we’ve covered American, Delta, Southwest and United. Last week, TPG contributor Nick Ewen went through the four tiers of elite status in the Dividend Miles program: Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Chairman’s Preferred. Today, he finishes up with US Airways by tackling the unique aspects of the program to help flyers fully maximize their benefits.
We’ve already taken a look at the various tiers of elite status in the US Airways Dividend Miles program, including how to qualify for each level and how to maximize the published benefits of each. However, the program also has some unique features that provide even greater potential for travelers, so in this final wrap-up post, I will highlight these things, including alternate ways to earn status (trial, buy-up, and lifetime), the Special Dividends program, and the US Airways credit card.
Alternate Status Qualification
We all know that airlines offer many ways to earn and/or maintain status beyond simply flying. However, US Airways is somewhat unique in that they offer two different (published) ways to do so: Trial Preferred and Buy-Up to Preferred. Here’s a closer look at each option:
1. Trial Preferred: This method, unlike status challenges that require proof of a certain level of elite status on another airline, simply allows flyers to try out US Airways’ three lowest level of elite status with a small copay: Silver ($200), Gold ($400), and Platinum ($600). This automatically grants you status for 90 days, and if you fly enough during the trial and are able to hit certain elite-qualifying thresholds, you will maintain your status beyond the 90-day period (through February 2015). Here’s what it takes to maintain each level (regardless of the initial trial):
- Silver: Fly 7,500 miles or 10 segments
- Gold: Fly 15,000 miles or 20 segments
- Platinum: Fly 22,500 miles or 30 segments
- Chairman’s: Fly 30,000 miles or 40 segments
As you can see, this is definitely a “fast track” to status on US Airways, as the thresholds only require 30% of the normal elite-qualifying miles or 33% of the usual elite-qualifying segments. However, there are several things to keep in mind:
1) Only those without status can take advantage of this program (so if you are already Silver, this isn’t a quick way to jump to Chairman’s!).
2) It also isn’t open to those who didn’t qualify for the current year (so if you just dropped from Silver, you can’t use this to get status back on March.
3) Only flights on US Airways and US Airways Express will apply towards the above thresholds.
4) Only flights booked after the status is recognized in the member’s profile will actually reflect the new status.
Even with those restrictions, this can still be a nice way to jump to status early, especially if you have a lot of upcoming travel. However, with the upcoming merger with American, this may disappear, but if you act fast and can fly enough to attain Chairman’s Preferred status, that might translate into American Executive Platinum in the newly combined program, though that's likely a long way off.
2. Buy-up to Preferred: This one is a bit more complicated, but at the same time, it doesn’t require any actual flying to take advantage of. The US Airways program currently offers any Dividend Miles member (including current elites) to buy-up to the next (or higher) level of status based on their current number of elite-qualifying miles or segments. In essence, this is similar to Delta’s MQM purchase program, and can be a handy way to extend your current status (for those dropping a level or two) without taking a mileage run or to simply outright buy status.
Here’s how it works. First, figure out how many elite-qualifying miles/segments you currently have. From January to May, US Airways allows you to use either your previous year’s balance or your current year’s balance. However, from June on, you are required to use the current year’s numbers. Obviously in January, last year’s activity will almost certainly be higher than this year’s balance, but in May, it may not be so cut-and-dry.
Then, compare your current elite-qualifying balances to the regular thresholds needed to attain higher levels of status. Simply subtract your number from each tier’s threshold to see how many additional miles/segments would be needed to more to a higher level. As a reminder, those current thresholds are:
- Silver Preferred: 25,000 miles or 30 segments
- Gold Preferred: 50,000 miles or 60 segments
- Platinum: 75,000 miles or 90 segments
- Chairman’s Preferred: 100,000 miles or 120 segments.
As an example, let’s say that last year you flew 30,000 elite-qualifying miles on 35 segments. You are currently Silver. Based on your balance from last year, you would’ve needed to fly the following amounts to earn a higher level of status the “traditional” way:
- Gold: 20,000 miles or 25 segments
- Platinum: 45,000 miles or 55 segments
- Chairman’s Preferred: 70,000 miles or 85 segments
Therefore, using the above table, it would cost you $989 to buy-up to Gold Preferred, $1,499 to buy-up to Platinum Preferred, or $2,499 to buy-up to Chairman’s Preferred.
There’s no doubt that this would be a pricey proposition, especially since a mileage run can oftentimes net you as many (or more) qualifying miles/segments at a much lower price. However, if you plan on traveling a bunch on US Airways (or even American after March 30) this year, it can be a nice way to immediately begin enjoying status prior to earning it the hard way. It can also be a great way for that last little bump if you are really close to a given threshold, especially because you have until the end of May to decide whether or not you want to do it based on last year’s flying.
However, keep in mind that buying up only applies to this year’s status (which ends in February 2015). In order to maintain your status beyond that point, you would need to fly the normally required miles/segments this year (or plan on buying-up to the status again next year). In addition, this is all up in the air after March 30, so I would recommend doing this sooner rather than later.
In addition to these two “shortcuts” to earning (or moving to a higher level of) status, US Airways also currently offers its Million Mile flyers lifetime status. One you have flown 1 million elite-qualifying miles on US Airways, US Airways Express, and US Airways Shuttle, you will automatically enjoy lifetime Silver Preferred status as long as you remain an active Dividend Miles member. In other words, all you have to do is earn or redeem miles for/from your account once every three years. Unfortunately, partner flights and bonus miles from past promos do not count towards lifetime status, and as of now, there isn’t any way to earn higher levels of lifetime status. However, it’s nice to know that this is an option.
Another unique aspect of the Dividend Miles program is the “Special Dividends” benefit, similar to American’s Elite Rewards program and somewhat similar (though much more generous) than Delta’s Choice Benefits program. TPG covered this in depth this past July (including a comparison with American’s offerings), but it basically offers tiered bonuses for hitting incremental thresholds between their different levels of status. Here’s a complete breakdown of the offers:
- 35,000 miles/45 segments (between Silver & Gold): 90-day trial Silver Preferred for a friend/family member, one-day US Airways Club pass, Dividend Miles Dining VIP Status, $75/$150 off US Airways domestic/international vacation packages
- 60,000 miles/75 segments (between Gold & Platinum): US Airways Club membership for your spouse/domestic partner, wine club discount, $100/$200 off US Airways vacation packages
- 85,000 miles/105 segments (between Platinum & Chairman’s): Silver Preferred for a friend/family member, upgrades on award travel, $50 restaurant.com gift certificate, $125/$250 off US Airways vacation packages
- 125,000 miles/150 segments: Free US Airways Club membership, Gold Preferred for a friend/family member, $150/$300 off US Airways vacation packages
- 150,000 miles/180 segments: Gold Preferred for another friend/family member
- 175,000 miles/210 segments: Gold Preferred for another friend/family member
- 200,000 miles/240 segments: Gold Preferred for another friend/family member
Definitely some interesting incentives to keep flying US Airways in between (and above) different status levels. Keep in mind that these are not available to those who purchase (or gain trial) status; it is solely based off your elite-qualifying activity in a given program year.
The US Airways Credit Card
One final way to allow your miles to go even further with US Airways is through their current credit card: the US Airways Mastercard. While things are still being ironed out with the merger, it appears likely that this card will eventually be phased out, as American has already selected Citi as its credit card issuer going forward. However, it is still active and likely will be for some time, though I would definitely recommend getting in on it sooner rather than later. The current offer is 35,000 bonus miles after the first purchase, and cardmembers earn 2 miles per $1 spent directly with US Airways and 1 mile per $1 spent everywhere else. There is an annual fee of $89, but it is waived for the first year with this offer of a 35,000-mile sign-up bonus, but not this one with a 40,000-mile sign-up bonus.
In addition to the bonus miles, this card offers many lucrative benefits for cardholders that frequently earn and redeem miles on US Airways:
1. 10,000 bonus miles on the account’s anniversary: This can definitely help ease the pain (or cover completely) the $89 annual fee. Those 10,000 miles are almost enough to cover half of a round-trip domestic award ticket.
2. Two annual $99 companion tickets: Two times each year, the cardholder is able to bring along a companion for just $99 on a round-trip coach flight within the continental U.S. and Canada, provided that he/she spent at least $250 on his/her ticket. This is even included during the first year (when the annual fee is waived), so this offers yet another valuable savings opportunity for US Airways travelers. The certificates are valid for a year, but reservations must be booked within 9 months of the issue date. As with all similar offerings on other airlines, this is capacity controlled and will include some additional taxes and fees.
3. US Airways Club pass and discounts: When you first open the card, you will receive a one-day US Airways club pass (valid for one year from the date of account opening) plus a $75 discount voucher towards a new club membership, essentially giving non-Preferred members the same discount offered to Silver, Gold, and Platinum Preferred flyers.
4. 5,000 mile award discount: This is probably one of my favorite benefits of the US Airways Mastercard. For every round-trip or open-jaw award ticket booked on US Airways/US Airways Express flights from the primary cardholder’s account and paid for using the card, you will receive a 5,000 mile discount. For example, if you wanted to redeem your miles for a round-trip flight from West Palm Beach to Phoenix (and you are able to find low-level space), instead of 25,000 miles, you would only need 20,000 miles. This discount will be automatically reflected after you select your desired flights online.
This applies to all award tickets booked with the cardholder’s miles and is unlimited, so definitely a nice perk to stretch those miles even further. Remember that partner flights aren’t eligible.
5. Additional elite-qualifying miles and award processing fee waiver: Each calendar year, when the cardholder spends at least $25,000, 10,000 of the miles earned will be converted into elite-qualifying miles, and they will also enjoy waived award processing fees (just like those enjoyed by Gold, Platinum, and Chairman’s Preferred members). This results in a valuable step towards elite qualification and also allows members to save an additional $25-$50 on award tickets in addition to the 5,000-mile discount mentioned above.
6. First class check-in and Zone 2 boarding: For every reservation with the cardholder’s Dividend Miles account number, he/she will be able to use First Class check-in lines and also board with Zone 2, allowing early access to the overhead bin and a chance to get settled on the plane before the rush of other passengers.
As you can see, the US Airways Dividend Miles program provides some unique benefits and additional ways to maximize the miles that you earn. Of course, all of these things are subject to change (and likely will change) at some point during 2014 as the program is merged with American AAdvantage, so if you are waiting to jump on any of these, now is the time to do so!
Feel free to share any final comments below!