Reader Question: Should I Buy US Air Miles for Business Class to India?

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Million Mile Secrets reader Amit writes in:

My parents live in India and they wanted to utilize the US Airways 100% bonus offer by buying 50,000 miles + 50,000 bonus for approx $1,800. They like to travel business. Do you think with the merger in the future with American Airlines 100,000 miles will help them redeem business class return ticket from India to US? Thanks

P.S.  They have option to fly into Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington DC or Chicago. 

US Air 100% BONUS

Now through August 31, 2013, US Airways is offering a 100% mileage bonus for purchasing or gifting miles.

Should I buy US Air miles for business class to India

Buy US Air Miles for 1.88 Cents per Mile

Amit’s parents can buy a maximum of 50,000 miles (per US Air account) and get a 100% bonus, so they will get 100,000 miles for the cost of only 50,000 miles.

Buying 100,000 miles (including the 50,00 mile bonus) will cost $1,881, including the 7.5% excise tax each or ~1.88 cents per mile ($1,881 ÷ 100,000 US Air Miles).

US Air Leaving Star Alliance

US Airways will soon be leaving the Star Alliance - which includes airlines like Lufthansa, Swiss, United, etc.

When US Airways leaves the Star Alliance and joins the Oneworld alliance (after the merger with American Airlines), US Air miles will become American Airline miles.  And Amit’s parents can redeem for flights on Oneworld partner airlines such as British Airways or non-partner airlines such as Etihad.

Should I buy US Air miles for business class to India

US Air Will be Joining the Oneworld Alliance

Amit’s parents should be able to book a return trip for 120,000 US Air miles, on Star Alliance airlines, up to around November or December of 2013, before the merger with American Airlines is complete.

However, American Airlines charges 135,000 miles for a round-trip business class flight to India which is 15,000 more miles than what US Air charges (120,000 miles)

American Airlines’ main partner airline to India, British Airways, charges high fuel surcharges.  For example, we paid ~$350 in fuel surcharges for the British Airways First Class flight from London to Mumbai with Emily’s mom.  The taxes and fees would be higher if we had flown on British Airways from the US to London as well!

Amit’s parents will pay 67,500 miles + $642 each for a 1-way flight – in addition to the cost of the miles!

Should I buy US Air miles for business class to India

67,500 Miles + $642 In Taxes For a 1-Way Award if You Fly on British Airways Using American Airlines Miles!

That said, American Airlines also partners with Etihad Airways which flies to Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, & Toronto and doesn’t charge expensive fuel surcharges.  Amit’s parents could then connect on American Airlines flights to other cities in the US.

There are also a few more ways to get to the US without paying expensive fuel surcharges when using American Airlines miles, but they involve extra connections or are on Jet Airways which doesn’t have very good award availability.

Using Miles To Get To the US From India

US Air doesn’t allow one-way awards, so Amit’s parents would need to get 20,000 extra US Air miles to book the return business class trip for 120,000 US Air miles.  You also have to pay the taxes and fees, which should be less than $150 if you use a US Air Star alliance partner like Lufthansa or United.

Link:  US Airways Award Chart

You are limited to only 100,000 miles through the US Air promotion, but US Air has been running similar offers every few months, so Amit’s parents may be able to buy the extra miles needed for a business class trip the next time US Air has a similar offer.

If Amit’s parents used US Airways miles to travel from India to the US (and vice versa) it would cost:

  • 80,000 miles roundtrip in coach (~$1,504 @1.88 cents per mile)
  • 120,000 miles roundtrip in Business class  (~$2,256 @1.88 cents per mile)
  • 160,000 miles roundtrip in First class  (~$3,008 @1.88 cents per mile)

Link:  American Award Chart

However, if Amit’s parents bought US Air miles, but waited for them to become American Airlines miles to travel from India to the US (and vice versa) it would cost:

  • 90,000 miles roundtrip in coach ($1,692 @1.88 cents per mile)
  • 135,000 miles roundtrip in Business class (~$2,538 @1.88 cents per mile)
  • 180,000 miles roundtrip in First class  (~$3,384 @1.88 cents per mile)

But be careful of the high fuel surcharges on British Airways Flights which, for a round-trip, could run from ~$600 if you fly only from London to India on British Airways or ~$1,200 if you fly from the US to London and London to India on British Airways.

So you could pay up to $1,200 in fuel surcharges PLUS the cost of the miles!

Worth it or Not?

Should Amit’s parents use 120,000 US Air miles or 135,000 American Airlines miles (after the merger) to fly Business Class from India to the United States? Or should they just pay for the ticket?

Let’s look at a few examples:

1.   Cost of a Paid Business Class Ticket

Amit’s parents should compare the cost of buying miles to the price of the cheapest paid business class ticket.  I did a random search for the cheapest business class ticket from Bombay to Chicago on May 27, 2014 and returning on June 12, 2014.  The cheapest business class ticket costs $2,929.

This journey is ~17,000 miles and depending on the fare class, Amit’s parents could earn 17,000 to 34,000 miles.  17,000 miles at a conservative value of 1 cent per mile is worth ~ $170.  So the total cost of a paid business class ticket is ~$2,759 ($2,929 for the business class ticket less $170 for the value of the miles earned).

Should I buy US Air miles for business class to India

Cheapest Return Business Class Ticket From Mumbai To Chicago Is $2,929

You also get MUCH more flexibility with a paid ticket since you don’t have to hunt for award availability and can fly whenever you want!

2.   British Airways Business Class Ticket from Bombay to Chicago

It costs ~$3,819 to buy a British Airways ticket on the same dates from Mumbai to Chicago.  But Amit’s parents should compare the cost of the cheapest paid ticket (from #1) above to the cost of using miles for the British Airways flights.

Should I buy US Air miles for business class to India

It Costs $3,819 for a Paid British Airways Ticket

Amit’s parents would pay 135,000 American Airlines miles PLUS $600 to $1,200 in fuel surcharge

So they’d pay $2,538 for the 135,000 miles (assuming they buy US Air miles which later becomes American Airlines miles) plus an extra $600 to $1,200 in fuel surcharges.  So their total cost is ~$3,138 to $ 3,738 with the British Airways fuel surcharges.

This isn’t worth it when they can buy a paid business class ticket on British Airways with much more flexibility for $3,819 (which will also earn them miles) and because the cheapest paid business class ticket costs $2,759 (from #1) above.

3.  Lufthansa Business Class Bombay to Chicago

It costs $4,745 for a roundtrip ticket in Business Class from Bombay to Chicago on Lufthansa.

But Amit’s parents should compare the cost of the cheapest paid ticket (from #1) above to the cost of using miles for the Lufthansa flights.

Should I buy US Air miles for business class to India

It Costs $4,745 for a Paid Lufthansa Business Class Ticket

Buying US Air miles at 1.88 cents per mile and later using them to redeem for flights on Lufthansa (before the US Air and American Airlines merger) will cost~$2,256 (120,000 miles X 1.88 cents per mile).  They will also have to pay ~$150 in taxes and fees, so their total cost of using US Air miles is $2,406.

But the cheapest cash ticket can be bought for $2,759 (from #1), so Amit’s parents should compare the money saved by using miles to the cheapest cash price. In this case, they would save $503 ($2,759 – $2,256).  But they have more flexibility when they pay cash for a business class ticket than when they buy miles.

Bottom Line

It could make sense for Amit’s parents to buy US Air miles and use them for a business class trip from India to the US.  But they shouldn’t buy miles and then redeem them for business class flights on British Airways, because they’d pay high fuel surcharges.  It would be cheaper to just pay cash for a business class ticket!

They won’t have enough miles to book a round-trip flight with only 100,000 miles, but they could wait for a similar promotion in a few months to get the additional miles.

As always, they should do the math for their specific travel dates to see if it makes sense to buy US Air miles or not.

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19 Responses to Reader Question: Should I Buy US Air Miles for Business Class to India?

  1. Well, we know that Amits parents won’t have any problem booking a hotel in the US. :)

  2. Couldn’t they get 100,000 miles for $1800 plus somebody could gift them the remaining miles?

  3. Or just tell the brilliant US Airways agent “Yes”, when asked if India falls in “North Asia” and go round trip Business Class for 90,000 miles. ;) Alternatively, get them to Hong Kong, have them enjoy their vacation to HK and Macau and buy a cheap business class round-trip on Cathay Pacific. I did the same for my parents and found tickets for under $500 for my parents on their trip to India. Lastly, even though US Airways is switching alliances and will fall out of Star, you can still book award tickets into Star alliance partners like Lufthansa etc for next year, but be very careful and make sure your plans are firm or changing them will be a pain, otherwise if the dates are set, go for them. Good Luck Amit.

  4. @Grant, Gifting miles cost money too.. No?!

  5. Wow, although this route is irrelevant to me, but it is really thorough. However, you kept mentioning that Biz class is 135,000 on AA. are we talking BIZ=fisrt?

  6. There’re two minor arithmetic mistakes (but they don’t affect the general idea):

    - 160,000 * $0.0188 = $3008 (not $3384 as in the article)
    - 180,000 * $0.0188 = $3384 (not $2538 as in the article)

  7. @best_daddy – I shouldn’t do math late on Saturday night. Thanks for letting me know!

  8. “But Amit’s parents should compare the cost of the cheapest paid ticket (from #1) above to the cost of using miles for the British Airways flights.”

    This needs to be tweaked: “But Amit’s parents should compare the cost of the cheapest paid ticket *they would otherwise have paid face value for* to the cost of using miles for the British Airways flights.”

    The article presupposes all routings/business class seats are created equally.

  9. What about Etihad or Jet ariways

  10. Wouldn’t it make more sense to buy avianca miles (referring to your recent post) at 100 percent bonus if they are going to use on star alliance?

  11. If they hope to fly in 2014, they may not be allowed to book with US Air miles at all. Yesterday I was told by US Air that they were no longer booking award tickets on United or Air Canada if the flight was for 2014. So we have to wait five months to use the US Air miles in our accounts.

  12. @Shon – Jet Airways awards are harder to come by, but Etihad is much easier to find. I mention that it is worth it on Etihad since the don’t charge the fuel surcharges.

    @Vansh – Actually Avianca would be much worse because you have to fly all segments in the same class of service and it is hard to find award flights in one class when you’re flying a long route like from India to the US.

  13. What about flying east on Cathay Pacific (not to mention Malysian or JAL)? Also, once Qatar joins oneword, there will be a ton of one stop itineraries to the US. I’m not saying it makes sense to buy the miles, just that it seems there are some other routing options out there.

  14. How do you know for a fact that US Airways miles will convert 1:1 to AA miles? I haven’t been able to find this information anywhere

  15. @jonr - You will have to get 2 awards if you use AA miles to fly to India via the Pacific.

    @Tom – It isn’t public information, but it almost certainly will be a 1:1 transfer based on history with other airline mergers.

  16. I just purchased my US miles, having these extra miles will go a long way for our RTW trip next year and the $1881 I just paid for them is a MUCH cheaper then what our tickets would have cost. As what other bloggers have stated, there are times when purchasing miles isn’t worth it, but there are times when it’s better to do it. I’m still betting that US and AA merger will happen these extra miles will go a long way for us.

  17. Thanks Daraius and others…Amit and his parents are very happy now with all your suggestions!!!

  18. Pingback: Best of Million Mile Secrets - August 2013 | Million Mile Secrets

  19. Personal report on my first class usairways trip LAX-Montreal. (YUL)
    No free usairways lounge at LAX unless flight is first class all the way. Since second leg is PHL-YUL, only a regional jet was available. Unfriendly, dare I say uppity ladies at front desk. So, I ended up using pass from usairways credit card but I thought first class would do it. So far, not impressed. Lounge has very limited snacks and I was told not to eat any personal food that I might have brought in. Go outside and eat. Wonder if they’ll tell me that on the plane.

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