How to use US Airways miles as merger unfolds

Airline is combining rewards program with American's in the next few months


Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for

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Question Dear Cashing In,
I got the US Airways Dividend Miles MasterCard for the 50,000 bonus miles. To use those miles on an American flight to Hawaii or Europe, do I use the US Airways award chart or the American award chart? -- Dan

Answer Dear Dan,
Signing up for the US Airways card sounds like a smart move on your part, as 50,000 frequent flier miles is a respectable sign-up bonus. The card, offered by Barclaycard in conjunction with US Airways, has an $89 annual fee. The 50,000 miles post to your account after using the card once and paying that annual fee. 

That means you're paying $89 for 50,000 US Airways miles. For now, you're still going to use the US Airways award chart. US Airways and American have started merging some aspects of their operations, but they are not combining their frequent flier programs until the second quarter of 2015 -- sometime between April 1 and June 30.

When that happens, any US Airways Dividend Miles that you have will be transferred into your American Airlines AAdvantage account and become AAdvantage miles on a 1-to-1 basis. Right now, when you log in to either US Airways' or American's website, you are prompted to enter your frequent flier number with the other airline, so that the computers can match your accounts and make that transfer when the time comes. 

Until the programs are combined, you will have to use the US Airways award chart and book through US Airways to redeem Dividend Miles. The US Airways site will show availability on American flights.

With 50,000 US Airways Dividend Miles, you have enough in theory to fly in coach round-trip to Hawaii (40,000 miles) or to Europe if you travel between now and Feb. 28 (35,000 miles during "off-peak" season). You don't have the 60,000 miles you need for Europe during busier seasons (March through December), but maybe you already have some US Airways miles stashed away that help you meet this threshold. (Actually, you'll need slightly fewer than these figures, since one of the benefits of the card is a 10 percent discount on the number of miles needed for award tickets.) 

I say you have enough miles in theory for Hawaii and off-peak Europe because in practice, US Airways is known as one of the stingiest airlines for award availability at the lowest levels. A 2014 study ranked US Airways 24th out of 25 airlines worldwide for lowest-level award availability, and found that award flights on US Airways required more miles on average than any other major U.S. or Canadian airline.

Also note that US Airways is one of the few airlines to charge an "award processing fee" -- regardless of when you make the reservation -- of $25 for domestic flights and $50 for flights to Hawaii and Europe. The fee is waived for certain elite frequent fliers.

When the frequent flier programs combine in the second quarter, the US Airways Dividend Miles MasterCard will become an American Airlines AAdvantage MasterCard. Then, all redemptions will go through American's website using American's award chart.

If you don't have one already, you might also consider applying for a Citi AAdvantage Gold or Citi AAdvantage Platinum card. The Gold has a $50 annual fee, waived for the first year, and gives you 25,000 American miles after you spend $750 in three months. The Platinum has a $95 annual fee, waived for the first year, and gives you 50,000 American miles after you spend $3,000 in three months.

It's rare to have multiple credit cards from different banks connected to a single airline, but that happens when airlines merge. Here, it would be an opportunity to amass a lot of miles in American's AAdvantage program. 

I hope you're able to find the award flights you want. Safe travels!

See related: As airlines merge, frequent flier miles decline in value, Strategies for unlocking airline award seats, Rankings for frequent flier programs: 2 surveys, similar results

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Published: January 27, 2015

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