Tag Archives: us airways

Quick Update and a Tip on Booking Your Last US Airways Star Alliance Awards

I’m not dead. I’m just not updating. I will eventually get around to finishing up this trip report, but for a variety of reasons which I might delve into at some point, this blog has taken a back seat to the rest of the things going on in my life. I might also have a guest trip reporter! That would be exciting.

Anyway, to be more helpful, if you’re like me and looking to spend some US Airways miles while they’re still in Star Alliance, you need to book your awards this weekend. As in today or tomorrow, since they’re transitioning to oneworld on Monday, March 31st. But if you call the US Airways number (1-800-428-4322) and say that you want to book award travel, you might get a pre-recorded message telling you to call back later since they’ve been receiving too many calls and not even get the option to wait on hold (this happened to me this morning).

This can happen when there’s extreme weather, in which case I definitely think that you shouldn’t tie up an agent’s time with a premium cabin award booking when they really should be trying to help the thousands of people who have been affected. But a quick search reveals no real inclement weather anywhere today, so the lines are just tied up because lots of people are booking awards this weekend.

What to do? Well, instead of saying that you want to talk to an agent about award travel, tell the voice tree that you want to talk about an existing reservation. I was able to get an agent essentially immediately using this strategy.

Caveat #1: Some agents obviously don’t like this, and you’ll have to explain why you don’t have an existing reservation that you want to talk about and instead are trying to book a new award reservation. Since so much of the US Airways award booking process is based on the agent that you get, this could be problematic if you get started off on the wrong foot.

Caveat #2: Don’t abuse this! If there are actually lots of people who need to get rebooked because of weather delays and such, you shouldn’t be a dick and tie up 40 minutes of an agent’s time so you can fly first class to Bangkok through Europe for only 120k miles because you confused the agent into thinking that Bangkok is in North Asia, especially if your booking isn’t urgent. In this case, since the “weather” that the voice recording is talking about is really just lots of other award bookers, I don’t feel so bad, especially since the bookings do have to be done this weekend.

Quick Thoughts on 2/26/2014

1) Delta devaluation. Should I feel good about flying American? Or should I be scared for the future because these changes are inevitable? Why do people fly Delta again? Oh wait, good in-flight product and well-run airline. Supposedly this will make Delta miles more valuable in the future since earning rates are going to be cut so much?

Inane aside: I used to fly Delta, but then I had a terrible experience and switched to US Airways (The first airline I ever got status on! And it was unintentional. And I actually got upgraded as a Silver. For these reasons, US holds a special place in my heart). Since I figured I’d never fly Delta again, I tried to spend all of my miles down, even redeeming for a non-low-level award and redeeming miles for magazines. Magazines! But the flight that was supposed to be my last Delta flight ever went mechanical, and I ended up getting a handful of miles as compensation, so I still have a small number of Delta miles that might actually end up being redeemable for a flight now that Delta will introduce one-way awards.

2) Why don’t people talk more about JAL? Given how many travel bloggers are AA fanboys, you’d think that there’d be more miles redeemed on them. Had the chance to visit the JAL First Class Lounge at Narita the other day and was very pleasantly surprised. That lounge had some of the best food I’ve had at an airport (granted, I like Japanese food).

3) I’ve got 90k US Airways miles burning a hole in my pocket. What should I do with them? I’m thinking I want to redeem prior to US Airways leaving Star Alliance. My current fleeting thought is to redeem a trip to Taipei or Hong Kong on EVA J (hopefully getting a segment or two on a Hello Kitty plane), then embedding a trip to Australia using UA miles on the outbound for Thai F and AA miles on the return for Qantas F.

Should You (Or I) Take Advantage of the US Airways Share Miles Promo?

US Airways is selling miles for 1.135 cents each again. This has been one of the best/craziest miles deals around for the past couple of years. At only 90k for a business class ticket to North Asia (which generously includes Hong Kong and Taipei), you’re looking at paying around $1100 for a business class ticket to North Asia (taking into account the $50 US Airways fee and some taxes). That’s less than many coach tickets would cost you in cash. Plus you get a stopover or open jaw and can route via Europe if you’d like. Australia and New Zealand are similarly a good deal at 110k miles for business class.

But the day I’m least looking forward to in the next couple of months is the announcement of the AA/US award chart devaluation (I guess my life is pretty great considering that this is the worst thing I have to look forward to). And it seems kinda fishy that US Airways is running another one of these promos so soon after the last Share Miles promo, especially when we know a devaluation HAS to be coming soon, right?

Obviously, if you have trips that you’re ready to book now and could use the miles, go for this promo. I think I’m in for 50k so I can book my dad his first international business class trip ever. But book ASAP, because it’s entirely possible that US Airways could pull a Delta and devalue overnight and not give advance warning (although I think the more likely scenario is that we will get at least a little bit of advance notice and time to book under old rates).

If you don’t have any trips in mind, should you buy speculatively? In the past, I think the answer was almost assuredly yes, assuming that you like to travel at all, as it’s a no brainer to use miles to book a business class award when a coach cash ticket will cost you the same price (e.g. I booked an off-peak Envoy class award to Europe for cheaper than a coach ticket, although that specific award is no longer available). But what happens if AA/US guts their award chart next month?

I’m pretty risk averse, but I think the answer is still probably yes, unless you’re already sitting on a ton of US Airways and American miles. Even if AA/US pulls a United and nearly doubles the award rates for premium travel on partners, let’s say to 160k miles roundtrip to North Asia as United’s will be, you’re still looking at the equivalent of a ~$1900 business class ticket to North Asia, which isn’t terrible. Of course, it’s harder to scrounge up 160k miles than 90k, but you should be able to combine miles between American and US in the near future, which will help.

Delta’s SkyMiles are perhaps the most maligned major airline mileage program out there, but even then, people value SkyPesos at more than 1.1 cents per mile. And AA/US probably won’t touch 25k miles for a domestic roundtrip, so that’s less than $300 for a domestic roundtrip ticket (although you do need to find award availability). All in all, even if it does feel a little bit like playing with fire, I think it’s pretty unlikely that you won’t be able to get at least 1.135 cents per mile of value out of the miles, so I think it’s safe to buy them at that rate.

Now, the real kicker would be if AA/US both doubled award rates AND added fuel surcharges…

Booking a 90k US Airways Business Class Award to North Asia via Europe

With the offer of a 25% rebate on award redemptions for bookings made before November 30, 2013 for travel before March 31, 2014 and the current share miles promo where miles can essentially be bought for ~1.13 cents, I couldn’t turn down the chance to burn some miles and book an award trip to Asia. While a business class award to North Asia on US Airways is already a good deal since it’s only 90k roundtrip (a similar itinerary would cost 120k United miles roundtrip or 100k American miles roundtrip), you get an open jaw or stopover, and you can route via Europe if you’d like, it’s an even better deal with the 25% rebate as then it’s only 67.5k miles. If I were to buy those miles via the share miles promo, that’s essentially a business class ticket to North Asia for ~$750 for the miles + $50 US Airways award processing fee + ~$100 taxes and fees (variable depending on the routing). All told less than $1000 for business class to North Asia when it’s common to pay at least that much for coach tickets.

I already have quite a bit of travel booked for the next 6 months, so I wasn’t quite sure when I might take this trip, but I didn’t yet have any plans around new years, so I started looking at flights to Japan around then. I’ve never actually been to Japan (I’ve only transited through Narita), and since I was originating in Seattle for this itinerary, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to fly ANA’s 787 from Seattle to Tokyo Narita. For the return, I briefly thought about flying ANA’s other 787 route to the US of Narita to San Jose as I needed to end up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but ended up considering the long way to try some new products of Narita to Zurich on Swiss, and Frankfurt to Chicago on Lufthansa for the long segments.

With this itinerary in mind, I started calling US Airways (1-800-428-4322). I knew about the problems of US Airways agents seeing Lufthansa space, but I soon found out that none of the agents could see the ANA space either. After talking to roughly 10 different agents and finding none who was willing to long sell the seats, I gave up for the night.

I then went about trying to construct an itinerary to Tokyo without using ANA or Lufthansa. Asiana, Air China, EVA, Thai, United, and Air Canada all fly from North America to Asia (Singapore does as well, but you generally can’t book premium cabins on long-haul Singapore flights), but I wasn’t able to find any award space that would work with my dates. So it was off to considering going the long way via Europe.

In general, finding trans-oceanic award space is the hard part. Once you’ve crossed an ocean, it’s much easier to find award space, be that intra-Asia space, intra-Europe space, or even space between Europe and Asia. For trans-Atlantic crossings, I could choose from Austrian, Brussels, LOT, SAS, TAP Portugal, Turkish, United, US Airways, and Air Canada. Note that Brussels award space doesn’t appear on United.com, so use ANA to check space, and I specifically excluded Swiss as I haven’t seen much premium cabin availability on Swiss for flights to/from the US (but I could be mistaken).

Here’s a listing of these airlines and their US destinations (excluding the North American airlines):

  • Austrian: Chicago O’Hare, New York JFK, Toronto, Washington Dulles
  • Brussels: New York JFK, Washington Dulles
  • LOT: Chicago O’Hare, New York JFK, Toronto
  • SAS: Chicago O’Hare, Newark, San Francisco, Washington Dulles
  • TAP Portugal: Miami, Newark
  • Turkish: Boston (beings May 12, 2014), Chicago O’Hare, Houston, Los Angeles, New York JFK,  Toronto, Washington Dulles

There was a smattering of award space on each of these airlines, and I ended up choosing Austrian out of Chicago for both US-Europe segments as the timing worked the best and the product is supposed to be quite good. For Europe-Asia segments, I chose Turkish one way and Swiss the other, as even though neither airline seems to release much premium cabin space to/from the US, they release some award space to/from Asia.

After my searches, my general framework of flights was SEA – ORD – VIE – IST – NRT on the way there and NRT – ZRH (overnight layover) – VIE – ORD – SFO on the way back. I found the specific flights that I wanted with award space confirmed via the ANA search tool, and then I called US Airways and fed the flights to the phone agent one by one. This time around, since I avoided Lufthansa and ANA flights, the first agent I talked to had no trouble seeing any of the space and was happy to piece together this long itinerary. She quoted me $164.40 in taxes and fees, plus the $50 US Airways award processing fee, and 90,000 miles, of which 22,500 will be rebated.

My routing (approximately) for only 67,500 US Airways miles with the 25% rebate

My routing (approximately) for only 67,500 US Airways miles with the 25% rebate

Ultimately, after finding space for all of the long segments and specifically avoiding Lufthansa or ANA, I’m most frustrated by the lack of domestic award space available on United. Most domestic flights around new years seem to only have availability on the first flight out or last flight out on any given day, which makes finding good positioning flights extremely difficult. I can understand blocking out economy award availability as there are probably lots of travelers who have already booked up coach cabins for holiday travel, but I find it unlikely that they’ll sell much premium cabin domestic space right around new years. As it stands, I’ll have an additional forced layover in Chicago on the way back.

Overall, even though it took a lot more leg work and research to book my itinerary, I’m happy with what I ended up with. I’ll get to visit two new cities, I’ll fly three new business class products, and I’ll have the chance to spend my two free night certificates from my recently approved Chase Hyatt card at category 6 properties in either Tokyo or Zurich. I hope this post is helpful if you’re looking to book a US Airways (or other Star Alliance) award to North Asia.

Problems Booking Lufthansa and ANA Flights Using US Airways Miles

REVISION: This post was done slightly in haste, so I’m not sure if other people will necessarily encounter the same problems as I did trying to book ANA space. I have a theory that I would like to test some more and I will follow up once I’ve gathered some more data.

As far as I can tell, it’s very, very challenging to book flights on Lufthansa or ANA if you’re using US Airways miles, which is a shame since US Airways miles are some of the easiest to accumulate via the Barclays US Airways credit card or their buy miles promos or the current share miles promo.

Matthew at Upgrd.com does a great job explaining what the problem actually is, but I figured that I’d add that it’s not just Lufthansa, as I’ve had major troubles trying to get US Airways agents to see space on ANA as well. And even though Matthew says that it’s not against policy to try to long sell flights, I spent over an hour one night calling US Airways about ten times, and I wasn’t able to find an agent who both knew how to do it and was willing to do it. Some of the agents were cognizant of the Lufthansa blocking as one of them told me that she hadn’t seen Lufthansa award space in months, and some of the agents seemed to know what a long sell was, but I was unable to get someone to long sell the ANA flight that I wanted.

So what’s the solution? If you’re ultra patient and willing to play phone agent roulette, by all means, follow Matthew’s advice and try to find an agent who both knows how to and is willing to long sell the flights to you. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Alternately, to save yourself from some head banging against a wall, you can try to avoid flights on Lufthansa and ANA. This can be extraordinarily challenging depending on where you want to go. I’m currently in the midst of planning a business class award to Tokyo around new years, and the most straightforward flights would be on ANA on their 787 to/from Seattle or San Jose. But since that’s not easily accessible and other trans-Pacific space seems dried up (e.g. EVA through Taipei, Asiana through Seoul, or even on United or Air Canada metal), I’m looking at the long way and crossing the Atlantic. This is also challenging since I need to avoid Lufthansa crossing the Atlantic, but I’ve seen some availability on Austrian through Vienna, LOT through Warsaw, SAS through Copenhagen, and even TAP Portugal through Lisbon. A future post will dive deeper into my booking process.

More Reasons to Love the Barclays US Airways Credit Card

One of my favorite credit cards is the Barclays US Airways credit card (Flyertalk link), which is one reason why I’m considering adding (another) one to my next round of credit card applications.

The sign-up bonus is decent (most recently at 35k miles), but it’s great because it’s a bonus after first use, so there’s no minimum spend requirement. In addition, you get a 5k discount on redemptions solely on US Airways metal, which can make some of the off-peak redemptions ridiculously affordable (it’s sad that the off-peak Envoy class redemption to Europe is gone). And the credit card is churnable, albeit not as easily as in the past, but it’s definitely possible to get multiple versions of the same card without having to wait a year in between applications.

But what I really love about the Barclays US Airways credit card is the periodic promotions that they run. It’s relatively common for cardholders to get a promo of 15,000 bonus miles after spending $750 for each of three consecutive months, so it’s almost like the sign-up bonus is really 50k miles after spending $750 in each of three months. And people have just reported getting a targeted bonus for spending in certain categories for Q4.

Today, I received yet another promotional offer that’s quite generous: a 25% rebate on award redemptions made by November 30, 2013 for travel before March 31, 2014. Some people on Flyertalk are reporting receiving offers of rebates of 50%, which is downright crazy.

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 6.54.24 PM

Email of offer

This means that a roundtrip business class award to North Asia is effectively only 67,500 miles, and if I were to buy all of those miles via the Share Miles promo, that means that I could essentially buy a roundtrip business class ticket to North Asia for only $750. This seems like an offer that’s too tempting to refuse.

How to Maximize the US Airways Share Miles Promotion

As has already been plastered all over the travel blogosphere, US Airways is running their share miles promo, which is effectively one of the best ways to buy airlines miles out there. While US Airways normally runs buy miles promos where you can buy US Airways miles for roughly 1.8 cents per mile, with the share miles promo, you can buy US Airways miles for about 1.13 cents per mile, assuming that you or someone you know has a base of US Airways miles to start.

Many people suggest that it’s worthwhile to buy miles speculatively at this price, since this means that a roundtrip flight to North Asia (which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan) in business class is a little over $1000, which is a steal considering that it’s hard to find coach airfares lower than that to some cities. And you get a stopover or an open jaw, which you often have to pay extra for on a cash fare.

So how should you maximize this promotion? Most blogs suggest something like finding another person and transferring 50k miles from person A to person B, who then has 100k miles, and then transferring 50k miles from person B back to person A, so person A gets their 50k miles back plus an additional 50k miles. So in total, person A has bought 50k miles at the price of 1.13 cents per mile, and person B has bough 50k miles at the price of 1.13 cents per mile.

But 50k miles isn’t enough for the 90k needed for a roundtrip business class ticket, and US Airways doesn’t have one-way redemptions, so there’s not too much of a point in going half way. And if 1.13 cents per mile is a price to buy speculatively, then you should want to try to buy as many miles as possible, right?

If you have access to another account where the owner of said account doesn’t care about the promo, then you can do better. Person A starts with 50k miles and transfers 50k to person B, so person B now has 100k miles. Then, person B transfers 50k miles to person A and 50k miles to person C. Person A is in the same situation as the typical blog recommendation (having received an extra 50k miles at 1.13 cents per mile), but now person C has 100k miles, as they’ve effectively bought 100k miles at the price of 1.13 cents per mile. Person B is left with no gain, as the miles that they were bonused are now in person C’s account.

But if you’re starting from zero, person C is in a much better position, as 50k miles won’t get you to Asia in business class, but 100k miles will. So this seems to be a more optimal way to use the promo. Rather than making a “circle” trade of sorts, it’s better to have one account as a dead end where all the miles are going out. This enables other accounts to go from 0 to 100k miles, rather than just 0 to 50k miles.

Trip Report: US Airways Envoy Class PHL to CDG

Earlier this year, I booked a roundtrip business class ticket to Europe for only 60,000 US Airways miles. This award no longer exists, unfortunately, but you can still book off-peak economy class tickets to Europe on US Airways for only 35,000 miles (only 30k if you have a US Airways credit card). The only catch is that you have to fly US Airways flights, and most people don’t think of US Airways as a great airline, but their updated aircraft to Europe are pretty decent.

The actual routing was SFO to PHL to CDG. Since I was flying in Envoy, I had access to the US Airways lounges at Philadelphia. You can also get access to all US Airways lounges through the American Express Platinum card regardless of my class of service or airline, and with the Amex Plat, you can also bring in 2 guests for free.

The former Envoy lounge at PHL

The former Envoy lounge at PHL

The lounge was relatively crowded when I arrived, but that was likely due to the timing of many of the transatlantic flights out of PHL. I also made the mistake of turning to the right instead of the left in the lounge: the right side is considerably more crowded because that’s where the bar is, but if you’re okay with walking a little further to get your alcohol, then I recommend heading to the less-crowded left side.

Food spread at US Airways lounge

Food spread at US Airways lounge

The lounge was pretty decent for a domestic lounge, so overall pretty unremarkable/somewhat poor for a lounge in general. The food and beverage offerings were a little lacking, but it was spacious with fast wifi and a fair number of power outlets, so it was a decent place to wait a couple of hours.

Pretty soon, it was time to board my flight to Paris. The cabin was relatively full in business class with only a couple of empty seats, but economy class was only half full or so.

My seat

Envoy class seat

The Envoy class seats are nice. It’s a reverse herringbone design, which is the same design that Cathay Pacific uses in their updated business class. There’s plenty of room, they convert to fully flat beds, each seat has aisle access, and they’re pretty comfortable for sitting and lounging as well.

Lots of leg room

Lots of leg room

On the other hand, it’s clear that the seats on US Airways could be better maintained. There appeared to be particles of food stuck between the seat and the compartment, the cubby for storing a small bag was a bit dirty, and it generally seemed a little run-down for such a nice seat.

Entertainment options are pretty good for transatlantic flights. Even in economy, there’s video on demand and power ports at seats, and there were a number of recent movies that I wanted to see like Argo and Lincoln (not that I chose to watch such well-made movies). In Envoy class, they distribute headphones, but they’re not noise canceling. They also only turn on the entertainment system once the flight is airborne.

Basic amenity kit

Basic amenity kit

The amenity kits distributed contained an eye mask, ear plugs, socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion, lip balm, and a pen.

And here’s the dinner menu:

Envoy dinner menu Envoy dinner menu continued

The food was overall okay. Definitely better than a coach meal, but overall a pretty forgettable meal. The food was better heading to Paris than it was coming back.

Salmon appetizer and salad

Salmon appetizer and salad

Pasta. I think it was supposed to come with a cream sauce?

Pasta. I think it was supposed to come with a cream sauce?

Flourless chocolate cake for dessert

Flourless chocolate cake for dessert

Breakfast before landing

Breakfast before landing

The service was friendly, if slightly incompetent. Maybe it’s because I’m Asian, but I don’t think the flight attendant expected me to speak fluent English and would talk to me very slowly and loudly. In addition, when I asked for prosecco to go with my dinner (since that’s what was on the menu), he just stared at me blankly. So instead I asked him for champagne, and he served me the prosecco.

I enjoyed sitting in 2H given that it has 3 windows compared to 2 for many other window seats. In addition, on both transatlantic flights I took, meal orders were taken from front to back. For a couple traveling together, I would probably recommend getting two seats across the aisle (e.g. 3A and 3D) rather than the two center seats since the divide between the center seats means that you’d have to lean forward to talk to each other instead of just turning your head to see each other.

Overall, it was a good flight, even if I didn’t get much sleep due to the timing of the flight (it departed at roughly 3:30pm Pacific and landed in Paris at 11pm Pacific). The seat and hard product were awesome, while the service was what’s to be expected from US Airways. It’s a pity that the off-peak Envoy class awards to Europe are no longer available since 60k miles is a steal (coach tickets for the dates I was looking at were over $1100).