US Airways Increases Award Redemption Pricing January 6

Yesterday US Airways announced big changes to their award chart going into effect January 6.

They say they’re moving from two award levels to four, in fact that’s wrong they’re moving from three to four.

Currently awards on US Airways flights come at the off-peak, regular, and last seat availability pricing. The new system will retain off-peak and regular pricing and split last seat availability into “medium” and “high” pricing.

Whether last seat availability comes at the medium or high price is a function of dates rather than flight loads, so they aren’t exactly following the Delta model. They say there “will be approximately 14 days a year when it’s not possible to book award travel at any level” for each region. (Blackout dates are here. Elite members will no longer be exempt from blackout dates.)

Award pricing is determined for each direction of a trip, it will be possible to combine low and high awards, averaging the pricing between the two.

My read is that there are a few changes to the mileage price of ‘regular’ awards, but that the biggest change is to the ‘rule-buster’ style awards that offer last seat availability.

For the traditional standard or low award level, business class to Europe goes up from 80,000 to 100,000 miles (still competitive with United and Continental). And their “high” level without capacity controls goes to an eye-popping 350,000 miles. Middle East doesn’t change. North American to South America in coach goes up 10,000 miles (20%), but doesn’t change in business class. Both North American to Carribean and to Hawaii in coach goes up 5,000 miles, no change in first.

Off-peak awards are new to South America. From the FAQ, “Off-peak awards are available from North America to Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean September 1 – 30; to South America May 1- 31 and October 1 – 31; and to Europe January 15 – February 28.” These are US Airways metal awards only and at a lower price than low. This isn’t a new category, of course, despite what the website and press release claim.

There is always an open question as to whether they will they reduce availability in the ‘low’ bucket compared to current saver offerings.

The question is whether any of this actually matters. I don’t redeem US Airways miles for US Airways flights, I redeem them for Star Alliance partner awards in premium classes. There hasn’t been any change yet announced to Star Alliance awards. Normally I would have expected there to be no change in those — after all, there’s only one bucket that US Airways has access to for those awards, it’s the capacity-controlled ‘low’ bucket. And US Airways says that medium and high awards have no capacity controls. Those clearly can’t apply to Star Alliance awards.

But the press release was a bit scary when it said “With GoAwards, our frequent flyers will be able to book more travel when they want to more than 1,000 destinations in 171 countries on US Airways or our Star Alliance partners.”

That seemed to suggest the change would apply to partner awards! But I read it as claiming the (mostly bad) changes will make it easier to redeem on US Airways for an extortionate number of miles, which means that the overall ease of booking awards across US Airways and its partners is greater, even though there’s no change to bookings with their partners.

Of course, I fully expect a change to the Star Alliance award chart — they’ll certainly update their partner award pricing so that it isn’t cheaper to book Star Alliance partners than US Airways flights for the same itinerary. (Oddly enough, Air Canada Aeroplan never resolved this — it is often cheaper to book Star Alliance awards than Air Canada awards, and Aeroplan only imposes fuel surcharges on Air Canada awards, not awards on their partners.)

And it’s possible that they will make draconian changes to their partner awards as well. But for now this change really just appears to be a gutting of awards on their own metal. If that’s the case it’ll be much ado about nothing for me at least, because I’m not interested in those awads to begin with.

We’ll know more over the coming days.

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. I am furious that US Airways is making these huge changes to their award chart! They seem to be heading in the direction of what Delta is doing. My fear is that the other airlines (would AA?) might follow suit and create a new completely watered-down value of miles! This doesn’t say anything about how many miles they will charge to Asia in Business or First…

    Part of me asks if US Airways can just finally go bankrupt and stop running!?!

  2. No doubt they will be introducing some credit cards with hefty bonuses. This airline doesn’t value its frequent fliers, they have repeatedly shown that.

  3. I really don’t see why you feel US is now more likely to change their partner chart than before…

    Going back to the AC comparison, Aeroplan offers a parallel, up-to-the-last-seat “ClassicPlus” award system for AC metal that actually gets into more eye-watering territory than the new US system – there is no real cap, rather the mileage level is tied to the real-time market price of the seat. I have seen trans-Atlantic biz awards in the 600,000 mile range.

    AC’s Star chart remained unchanged after the intoduction of ClassicPlus. CP serves a purpose – if you are hard up at the last minute and NEED a particular AC filght, you can bend over and get it. Everyone else can play the “plan around the availability” game. One does not affect the other.

    If someone is stupid enough to give US 360K miles for ANY US flight, it behooves US to take that deal, but I am not convinced AT ALL there will be a Star chart change… and I am keeping a close watch on this situation as I am ready to dump 40K SPG into US and then transfer it under their 100% match promo.

  4. @Jeff, i do not think US Airways will do anything like gutting their Star chart. What I projected is that they would increase their Star chart along the lines of increases in the ‘low’ award level redemption rates — e.g. making business class North America to Europe 100k on the Star chart to match the new cost on US metal.

  5. I haven’t set foot on a US plane since I was in school in upstate NY… but they have proved a very good place to dump and launder miles for *A awards.
    Their chart has in my opinion been one of the oddest ones in *A, and if they bump the current award levels up it will be a further loss. When we lived in Asia they had two great awards from Asia that must have been set by someone who had never left CLT and had no sense of geography. The west coast- europe business award is still a solid value, we really don’t want to lose that one.

  6. I’ve been trying to get more info from US Airways to see if I can book an international flight before this goes into effect and all I get is the run-around.

    This past year they were so good about booking a flight. I got a US Airways Master Card so I could build up my miles to use to pay for a flight in 2010.

    I am very upset with US Airways and if they keep giving me the run-around I’m going to transfer my miles to an airline that has better awards options and customer service (does one exist?) and will tell everyone I know about the slap in the face I received from US Airways.

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