US Airways Buy Miles Promos Are (Sort of) Back

US Airways has been the leader in monetizing their frequent flyer program, offering more and bigger promotions than pretty much anyone else including to straight up buy miles. They offered something along the lines of a 100% bonus on purchased miles for nearly 10 months in a 12 month period beginning November, 2009.

And then they went silent. After a monster holiday shopping promotion at the end of 2009, the 2010 version was a thud. And they haven’t had buy miles promos for the past couple of months.

While US Airways had developed a reputation as the ‘consolidator for Star Alliance premium cabin seats’ (they were selling miles cheap, those miles then would be used for premium cabin awards on their partners, effectively selling excess inventory — those seats released as awards — for a deep discount, since you can hold an award without the miles in the account, it was a sure thing, reserve the seats and then buy the miles).

But more recently it’s become increasingly difficult to redeem with US Airways. Their systems were ‘unable’ to see Lufthansa first class award space between the US and Europe, and much speculation ensued that they were ‘blocking’ that space so that members couldn’t redeem for it, much like United has done at times when Mileage Plus didn’t want to pay their partners for the award seats that were being offered.

That became more or less a non-issue, as at least on Lufthansa’s 747s they’ve stopped offering award seats in first class most days into the future, as they reconfigure their first class product on the aircraft with new seats but only 8 rather than 16 seats. Of course, inventory on the Airbus routes remained. And there have still been occasional odd dates with first class award space even on 747s.

And then there were reports that US Airways was having problems booking available award seats on other partners as well, prompting much consternation and speculation.

The worry of a full Starnet Blocking system as has existed with United, coupled with a lack of promotions like the 100% bonus on purchased miles coming back, has generated some speculation that US Airways finally decided that while they generated some cash, in the long run it was too costly to do so in the way they had been going about it.

Except now they’re back but only for some members. I just received an email as follows:

Get 40% off your purchase of Dividend Miles

Thank you for buying, sharing or gifting Dividend Miles in 2010!

We’d like to help you earn more miles this year. Enjoy 40% savings
when you buy Dividend Miles before January 31, 2011.

This exclusive offer is just for you* and you can only get it here:
Buy up to 50,000 Dividend Miles and Save 40%

P.S. Your discount will appear on Step 2 once we have validated your account.

The 40% discount doesn’t show up on US Apparently it’s only available to email recipients, and only by using the email link. The offer lasts through January 31 and applies only to the first 50,000 miles purchased. Instead of a bonus of additional miles, it’s a discount on the purchase of 50,000 — encouraging you to purchase 50,000 miles, rather than encouraging you to acquire 100,000.

Put another way, they’re angling to get you to buy miles to save towards future awards, not to buy and cash in in the same transaction for premium cabin international seats on their partners. (You can of course top off an account to do so, but they’re not giving you a bonus that lets you do it solely on the back of the offer itself.)

So perhaps they really are tightening, even as they continue to push their bonuses and monetize the program. Not surprising at all, the gravy train couldn’t last forever.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. If it helped you reach a certain points balance to redeem premium cabin awards, then it could appear to be a reasonable offer.

  2. Sitting on 170k of Div miles right now (gained from a variety of promos). My currently balance is not really useful since I’ll want to redeem them for 2 premium class tickets to somewhere so I know I need to get to the 220-250k range to have options.

    If you were me would you go ahead and purchase 30-50k more so I have them available when needed (albeit at a higher cost than any promos in recent memory). Or should I just wait for either a better offer or next years Grand Slam promo (got about 120k for $900 in 2010). Won’t need to burn them until at least 6 months from now.

    Any advice from the master would be appreciated. Thanks.

  3. Giving that US now restricts the usage for premium seats on LH/LX/UA very heavily (TATL is nearly impossible to get in F) and has started to block LH/LX towards Asia too it’s nearly impossible to redem for premium travel.

    For several dates I tried they said now despite awardnexus/expertflyer clearly showing available redemtion class bookings and BD for example being able to get that seats.

  4. I recently had no problems redeeming premium class on JJ, TK, and MS, so there are still options other than LH/LX.

  5. Does premium cabin award inventory tend to open up closer to your desired departure dates (question to Gary given he’s probably most qualified to answer) – for example, if I decide today I want to travel LAX-FRA on LH F, or LAX-NRT on SQ F within the next 5 days, how does the inventory look right now? Or, is it simply, we live in a new world now and availability is generally becoming rare as hen’s teeth?

  6. @Simon yes – inventory is always in flux and provided flights are not sold out some of the best inventory will often be available in the days before departure, sometimes only say 2 days, but SQ F and NH F definitely become possibilities. No guarantee, because seats do get held or even sold, but it often works out that way.

  7. @Mac if it’s me I play it conservative, reasonable promo I’d lock in the miles I needed, though this is likely not your last change to acquire US miles cheaply and if you’re willing to be creative not your last chance if you’re willing to transfer miles in from hotel programs.

  8. @Sven: I’m not so sure about US generally blocking access to LH/LX seats towards Asia – I was able to book two seats to HKG in LH F last week.

  9. I still have 40k from the 100% bonus promo and will top it up with 50k for a cheaper rate in this promo. Controls are bound to relax if they stop handing out miles for cash. 😉

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