US Airways is an Unloved Airline, but Deservedly So?
US Airways is arguably the most unloved major domestic airline. US Airways ranked last in JD Power’s 2012 rankings (614/1000 points; 2 out of 5 stars). When America West acquired US Airways in 2005 and saved it from liquidation, I thought it curious to retain the US Airways name. At the time, America West said studies showed that US Airways had wider global name recognition than America West. Unfortunately for the newly merged airline, much of this “recognition” was not positive. I don’t think I was alone in associating the US Airways name with poor customer service, nor had many of us forgotten that US Airways was simply a re-branded USAir– an airline so unloved that it was forced to re-name itself.
Personally, I have mixed feeling about this airline. I fly US Airways quite frequently—primarily because US Airways has the most flights from DCA. I find the airline to be reasonably punctual and competently managed. I’ve never had a memorable customer service interaction (for good or bad). Perhaps the biggest mistake US Airways made in recent years—charging for non-alcoholic beverages like sodas and juices—had since been corrected. The US Airways website meets basic requirements, but is totally outclassed by most other airlines (I find it most aggravating that you still can’t book Star Alliance travel on the website). There’s nothing very memorable about the US Airways experience, which to me feels like a dull, discount airline with seat assignments (AirTran).
US Airways is still smallish (ranked 5th among domestic airlines), but lately it’s been scrappy and profitable. Its management is aggressively trying to acquire much larger American out of bankruptcy. Acquiring American would be a great coup for US Airways. Should US Airways succeed, it’s a near certainly the merged airline would adopt the more valuable American Airlines name and AAdvantage name for its loyalty program (American ranked 4th by JD Power; 656 points, 3 out of 5 stars). Harder to predict is what form the new AAdvantage program would take—would it model itself after Dividend Miles or AAdvantage?
US Airways Dividend Miles Basics
Elite Status Levels. US Airways has four elite status levels (called “Preferred”): Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Chairman’s.
Earning Status. Dividend Miles members earn elite status based on miles or segments flown as follows:
- Silver: 25,000 miles or 30 segments
- Gold: 50,000 miles or 60 segments
- Platinum: 75,000 miles or 75 segments
- Chairman’s: 100,000 miles or 120 segments
US Airways is unique among the major US airlines in offering to sell elite status outright. Depending on the segments or miles you need to qualify for status, US Airways lets you “buy up.” If you start without any qualifying miles or segments, you can still “buy up” to Chairman’s status for $3,999.
- Generous unlimited free upgrade policy (that includes companion upgrades flying on nearly paid ticket) with upgrade clearance as far as 7 days out.
- Nice benefits for Chairman’s members including free club membership at 125,000 miles and 4 free one-way upgrade certificates on flights to Europe, Hawaii, South America and the Middle East.
- Some attractive Star Alliance miles redemption opportunities, particularly in business class. You can fly round-trip to North Asia in Business class for 90,000 miles.
- Between the award blackout dates, skimpy availability of Off-Peak and Low awards, and the fees, redeeming US Airways miles can be maddening.
- Poor award seat availability. US Airways ranked near the bottom in a recent study comparing award seat availability on major airlines. Of the flights surveyed, only 34% of US Airways flights had award seats available at the standard level (25,000 miles domestic round-trip). By comparison, basic award seats (25,000 miles round-trip) were available on 87% of United flights and 100% of Southwest flights.
- For non-elites and Silver Preferred members, awards tickets can incur two fees: both a processing fee of $25 to $50 and a quick-ticketing fee of $75 if you book less than 21 days from departure. Potentially you can be hit with fees of $125 for an award ticket.
- Travel on US Airways is often a dull and uninteresting experience. This airline needs a life.
Dividend Miles Program Details
Elite Status Benefits (apply to all status levels, except where specified otherwise):
Three checked bags free (except only 1 free for Silver).
Priority check-in at Preferred counters.
Access to priority security lanes (where available).
Access to Preferred seats (including exit row seats).
Preferred reservations phone line.
Same day standby at no charge.
Awards Processing/ Quick ticketing fees waived (except for Silver).
US Airways Club Membership discount. (Free Club membership is offered to members who fly 125,000 (or more) miles or 150 segments in a calendar year)
Star Alliance status.
Priority baggage handling. (except for Silver).
No fee when using miles to upgrade to First Class (there is a free to use miles to upgrade to Business Class (Envoy)).
Mileage Bonuses. All elite statuses earn a minimum of 500 miles per segment. Based on your status, your will earn bonus miles as follows:
Silver: 25% bonus
Gold: 50% bonus
Platinum: 75% bonus
- Chairman’s: 100% bonus
US Airways offers an attractive co-branded credit card with Barclays Bank– our review is here. If you reach $25,000 in annual spending, 10,000 of your earned base miles convert to qualifying miles boosting your progress toward elite status.
Upgrades. For all Preferred members, US Airways offers unlimited complimentary upgrades to First Class within the contiguous U.S., Alaska, Canada, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean area subject to availability.
- Domestically, US Airways operates a two-class (coach and First) fleet. On most international flights, US Airways also offers business class (called Envoy).
- Award tickets are not eligible for upgrade.
- Chairman’s members receive 4 one-way upgrade e-Certificates for travel to/from Europe, Hawaii, South America and the Middle East (2 for each member, 2 for companions).
- You can also choose to upgrade with miles. Miles redemption chart here. However, non-elite members will have to also pay a fee of $25 to $150, depending on distance.
- Full fare (Y or B class) economy tickets are eligible for an instant upgrade to First Class. Upgrades are automatic and will occur as soon as a seat becomes available. Full fare economy tickets are prioritized over all other fares.
- Upgrade priority for discount fares is based on Preferred Status Level, and then within each Preferred Level, by the number of qualifying miles the member has.
Upgrade window. Upgrades are subject to availability. The upgrade request is automatic. Upgrades are automatically processed based on the upgrade (or “clearance”) window, availability, Fare class, and time of request (in that order). The upgrade window (from departure) is as follows:
Chairmans’s: 7 days prior.
Platinum: 4 days prior.
Gold: 3 days prior.
Silver: 2 days prior.
If your upgrade is still not confirmed when you check in, you can choose to be added to the airport standby list.
Companion Upgrades: One traveling companion per Preferred member is eligible to upgrade when traveling in the same reservation with a paid ticket. Companions will be upgraded at the same time as the Preferred member.
- Same-day changes (day of departure): You can change to an earlier flight for a $50 fee (within the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada). You can only make these changes at the airport. If there are no open seats available on an earlier flight, you can attempt to stand-by at no charge.
- Other changes: $200 fee applies (domestic, including Hawaii, Caribbean, Canada, Central America) in addition to the difference in fare. Flights to/from Europe and the Middle East will incur a $250 fee while flights to/from Brazil will incur a $300 fee, in addition to the difference in fare.
Awards: There are four redemption value for award tickets: Off-peak, Low, Medium, and High.
- Off-peak and Low awards are very limited and can be difficult to find/book.
I’ve been checking award availability to Rio De Janiero route for several months. Off-peak fares to South America are supposed to be available from May 1 to the 31st for just 17,500 miles one-way; great if you can get it!. On March 6, from IAD, JFK, ORD, and LAX, I was unable to find any Off-Peak fares to Rio De Janiero during the entire month. Today, I did discover one Off-peak return award from IAD/PHL/CLT/LAS but zero Off-peak or Low awards to Rio during the entire month. The single available return is a last minute award returning 4 days from today.
- Awards are subject to a processing fee of $25 (domestic), $35 (Caribbean, Latin America), and $50 (Hawaii, Europe, Middle East, South America). Fee is waived for Gold, Platinum, and Chairman’s.
- Award tickets booked less than 21 days from departure also incur a late booking fee of $75 (waived for Gold, Platinum and Chairman’s)
- There are blackout dates.
- You can redeem your miles for an award ticket for any person you designate.
- $150 fee for redepositing a canceled award ticket.
- For travel awards outside the U.S., you are permitted one stopover at a Star Alliance or US Airways partner hub, or US Airways hub; stopovers are only permitted in the most direct route of travel.