US Airways has been one of the more generous airlines when it comes to offering a chance to buy your way into elite status. Other programs may have had challenges and matches with some kind of co-pay, but you usually can’t just buy the status for the entire year. Now this program is changing for the worse. (HT to Heels First Travel)
There are two clear opportunities to the Dividend Miles “Buy up to Preferred” program. First, you are not buying miles. You are buying elite status and paying a price determined by the number of miles you are short. By looking at the chart below you can see that someone short by 10,000 miles will pay $789 to move up to the next elite tier — whatever that tier is. But if he or she needed 5,000 miles, then the cost would be $579. You don’t need to have any existing miles, and even the top tier, Chairman’s Preferred, can be purchased at the price of $3,999.
Second, there is clear opportunity to save money at the margin. Someone short by 100,000 miles would need to pay $3,999, but anyone could fly a single mile and save a thousand dollars. Talk about the best mileage run ever! The cost to buy up when short by 99,999 miles is only $2,999.
Unfortunately these opportunities will no longer be available beginning March 1, when “Buy up to Preferred” will be harmonized with American Airlines’ new “Boost and Renew” strategy of making people pay when they come up short (already implemented for AAdvantage members, previously accustomed to soft landings).
Dividend Miles members will only be able to purchase status when they are short by 24,999 miles or less.
You will need to fly at least once to buy elite status from US Airways. Not too bad since I would have recommended it anyway to save money. But more significantly you will only be able to buy up to the next tier.
The price will rise significantly by 100-150%.
Stuff gets more expensive. Not much to say here except that you should be used to it by now. United’s Premier Accelerator program has become much more expensive in recent years, even after adjusting for seasonal variation.
The differential between mileage amounts will increase in a much more exponential fashion.
This means the penalty for buying up now increases the further you are from the next tier rather than offering a discount for “buying” more and more miles. Looking at the five categories that will still be offered, the increase from one to the next used to drop. 2,000 miles cost 60% more than 1,999 while 15,000 miles cost only 25% more than 14,999. Soon the situation will reverse. The difference between 1,999 and 2,000 miles will be a 40% increase, and the difference between 14,999 and 15,000 miles will be a 67% increase.
(Imagine driving a car. The velocity is still increasing, but acceleration — the rate at which velocity increases — is decreasing.)
I find this interesting because United’s Premier Accelerator is not just more expensive than when first announced but also more expensive still when you are close to the next elite tier and only need a few miles. The reasoning is that you are close to obtaining many new benefits. Here, US Airways seems to be saying that they would rather you fly to earn your elite status than buy your way up, which is contrary to the nature of running such a program.
Amol speculated last year that the ability to buy up to Chairman’s Preferred status could create a unique opportunity to buy Executive Platinum status with American Airlines once the programs merged. There are definitely some reciprocal benefits already, but I don’t think it will pan out quite as we had hoped. He doubted that the program would last until June, and now we see it will change radically just two months into the year.
More recent rumors from American Airlines indicate that status in both programs will be assessed in some way to determine elite status in 2015. What this tells me is that Dividend Miles and AAdvantage will continue to operate separately through 2014 with their own benefits. You can buy elite status with US Airways now, but that won’t help you come 2015 when the two programs merge into one. Any reciprocal benefits offered between now and then may include free checked bags, bonus miles, and complimentary domestic upgrades. I doubt they will extend to offering AAdvantage systemwide upgrades to Dividend Miles customers.
Having any kind of elite status with US Airways could soften the blow if transitioning to American Airlines this year from another carrier like United or Delta. However, I think most readers would be better off requesting a status match or trial directly from AAdvantage. Don’t go through Dividend Miles unless you actually plan on flying US Airways while the Dividend Miles program continues to operate.
Don’t forget, you can compare the benefits of elite status between American Airlines and US Airways, as well as benefits between elite tiers by checking out my Airline Elite Status Comparison Tables.