US Airways is introducing sweeping changes to its award structure starting Jan. 6, 2010, which includes introducing four award levels. Currently, there are Saver (including off-peak Saver awards) and Standard awards. With the change, there will be Off-Peak, Low, Medium and High. Off-Peak and Low will be available on days when travel demand is lower, while Medium or High will be offered for days when travel demand is high–there will never be Medium and High awards available for the same day–these awards are not capacity controlled and are determined by how high the demand for travel is on a given day. Dividend Miles says that these new “GoAwards” will “make booking travel more convenient with fewer restrictions” and will “provide more flexibility and options when redeeming miles for award travel.”
The new structure resembles the award structure that Delta adopted in 2008. Customers will have “last-seat availability” and for flexibility when using miles for award tickets, you can combine coach, first and Envoy cabins or Off-Peak, Low, Medium or High when booking your award flights. A domestic roundtrip coach award ticket will now be 25,000 (Low), 40,000 (Medium) or 60,000 (High). Low award tickets will have more limited availability and Preferred members will no longer be exempt from blackout dates. With the change, it will now require more miles to catch some sun in the Caribbean or Hawaii when flying coach. The cost to the Caribbean is going up 5,000 miles to 35,000 miles while to get to Hawaii, it will cost you 40,000 miles, also 5,000 more miles than before. Business class rates for these flights remain the same. Another area where the awards will cost more miles is business class between North America and Europe, which will now be 100,000 miles, up from 80,000 miles. In comparison, United Mileage Plus offers business class to Europe for 110,000 miles, so even with the big 20,000-mile jump, US Airways is still cheaper. There are other areas where award flights will cost you more including between North America and Europe or South America for Low coach awards–both will now be 60,000 miles, up from 50,000. But to balance this out a bit, off-peak awards to South America will be introduced for 35,000 miles.
Furthermore, off-peak awards to Europe will continue to be offered at a bargain 35,000 miles. Off-peak awards are available from North America to Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean Sept. 1-30; to South America May 1-31 and Oct. 1-31 and to Europe Jan. 15-Feb. 28.
A new online award calendar will be introduced that will allow you to quickly assess the awards available by date with their corresponding mileage redemption. You can learn more at http://www.usairways.com/goawards
Bottom line: Although members cringe when they read the word “enhancement”, these “enhancements” depend on how award availability plays out in reality. In general, members appreciate being able to mix award levels to get an award, but Delta’s foray into a similar muli-level award redemption chart has certainly been met with great dismay by many SkyMiles members who claim that they can never find awards available at the lower redemption levels. And we don’t like to see US Airways once again taking away a perk from its elite members (no longer being exempt from award blackout dates). We’ve been on this road with US Airways before. (Read Randy Petersen’s take on this change by US Airways in this month’s Opening Remarks.)