Those who read my blog know that I’ve been loyal to US Airways for a long, long time. Up until now, this has been the best program for me based upon my travel needs. Here’s why I made US Airways my program of choice
- The two main airlines that fly to my hometown are US and Delta. Flights are cancelled regularly – especially late night flights. If I have a cancelled flight in Atlanta, it means a 5 hour drive home. If I have a cancelled flight in Charlotte it means a 2.5 -3 hour drive home.
- I don’t really fly much domestically, so the fact that US Air doesn’t have the best planes, doesn’t really matter to me – though I have to say, they’re starting to improve that. And, in fact, I actually like the planes that US Airways flies to London (where I go most often in Europe.) Their Envoy product can rival any other domestic airlines’ business class and in my opinion, is better than many.
- I have primarily used my miles to travel to Asia and the Pacific region. US Airways has been, for me, has been the best option. They don’t hassle you about what airline you want to book on (if it’s available to them, they’ll book it) and the mileage required to fly to Asia via US Airways is one of the best redemption values.
Being a Chairman on US Airways has also been good for me. When I was flying domestically, I was upgraded to first class 90% of the time. Now, I am upgraded 100% of the time on regional jets that fly out of Charleston – I haven’t missed an upgrade on an RJ yet. I primarily fly to Charlotte or Philly (on RJs) or to New York (and then I go Jet Blue to JFK.) From those cities, I fly on another Star Alliance Partner and I’ve used miles or cash to upgrade to business when needed (flights over 8 hours.)
As a Chairman, you get two upgrade certificates each year that can be used for flights from US to Europe, the Middle East and South America. Two certificates is not great, and I hope that improves when US and AA merge, but for now, I try to use them strategically.
Did you know that your two certificates can actually mean 4 upgrades? Each certificate is good for 1-way travel upgrade for you AND a companion on the same itinerary.
For travel to Europe, South America & the Middle East, you can book your upgrade (subject to availability) at any time and up to 4 hours before departure. In addition, if an upgrade using your Chairman preferred certificate isn’t available at the time you book, they’ll add you to a wait list and email if an upgrade becomes available.
I have a business trip to London in October. One of the downsides of flying via London are the luxury taxes on first class/business class fares and that even applies to mileage and award seats. So to avoid those fees, which can be pretty significant especially if you’re flying on an award ticket, I try to fly to nearby locations and use the train to get to London. In many cases this can also increase your chances of finding upgrade space. So for this trip, instead of flying to London, I’m flying to Amsterdam. I have the ability to take the train on Sunday to London for a fraction of what the luxury tax on first class air fare would have cost.
I was able to upgrade on my return flight immediately upon booking. The outbound flight didn’t have any availability, but there are 7 seats open in Envoy so I’m hopeful something will change. We’ll also see how well this wait list works (though I’ll probably still call here and there to check.)
It seems to me, that the US Airways automated phone systems have improved lately. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started seeing the changes, but they’re noticeable. If you register you phone number, and call from the phone, the automated system will recognize you and provide some basic information. When the system asks you what you’re calling about, it actually does a pretty good job now of automatically fulfilling that request or connecting you to someone who can. When I called yesterday it matched my phone number to my account and acknowledged me. When it asked what I was calling about, I said, “upgrade.” The system said, “I’ve matched your phone number to a flight from Philadelphia to Amsterdam, is that the flight you’re calling about?” I said yes, and was connected to a Chairman liaison.
Last year I remember ranting about how horrible the US Airways automated phone system was. It barely recognized any verbal prompts and would frequently say “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. Let’s try again.” To the point where I’d literally be screaming at the phone in frustration. So the fact that the system understands me and can get me to the right person is a huge step forward. The fact that I can say “upgrade” and it will successfully find my next flight, that’s even better.
In summary, to make the most of your upgrades, travel in off-peak times, choose destinations that don’t have luxury taxes and consider using trains to connect, and fly with a companion to get the most the value. If you’re like me, and using the upgrades for business travel without a companion, you forego the companion upgrade.