Is a USAirways Mastercard worth it?
November 3, 2011 4:22 PM   Subscribe

I have a lot of flying to do in the next 18 months. I need help evaluating the offer of a usairways premier world mastercard. I'm wanting to see what the hivemind thinks about this being a good thing or a bad thing.

-30k bonus miles at first use
-1 bonus mile per dollar transferred, up to 10k more miles
-Special intro APR on balance transfers for 12 months
-$99 companion certificates - one per year that the account is open
-First class check-in and Zone 2 boarding

I was typing them out, but I see the terms and conditions, aprs, fees are here.

Is this card worth it, for the savings on flights, the boarding perks, and for the club pass?

There are no balances to transfer.
There will be no cash advances.
There are likely to be few purchases on it - perhaps a rental car once a year.

Hoping to hear from people who use this card now or have used it in the past.
posted by cashman to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (I have already looked at flyertalk)
posted by cashman at 4:25 PM on November 3, 2011

Can you tell us more about your flying patterns? Factors relevant to your decision include:

1, How often is "a lot"?
2, Will it all be on US Airways?
3, Do you currently have status on any other airlines?
4, Will you be checking bags?
5, Will you be carrying on bags that need to go in the overhead?
6, Will you be able to check in online and print your boarding pass ahead of time?

(4 & 6 help determine the value of first-class check-in; 5 helps determine the value of Zone 2 boarding.) I have Silver status on US Airways, and by far the most important perk is access to the elite security line, which your card doesn't seem to give you.
posted by willbaude at 4:32 PM on November 3, 2011

If you are going to fly frequently on US Airways it's sort of worth it. It's only REALLY worth it if you are both going to fly US Air and get the perks offered through the card AND if you actually use the card.

The way you get status on US Air is related to what are called "Preferred Miles," which are typically just the actual miles that your butt is in the seat on the plane. You will see all kinds of offers related to "bonus miles," but what really matters in terms of the perks to you as a traveller are the preferred miles. Last year US Air ran a lot of crazy specials where you had the ability to gain extra preferred miles (i.e. every flight was worth double preferred miles), meaning a ton of people got status beyond what they actually would have normally earned.

This year they have a lot of bonus mile specials, but to me those aren't very exciting as they don't translate into what really matters to me as an airline passenger - I want elite check-in and security, free bag checking, and first-class upgrades as often as possible. And I get those things, because I am loyal to US Air. It helps that I also use the heck out of that credit card - if you put a certain dollar amount on it per year, you are award an extra 10K in preferred miles.

In short - if it makes sense for you to fly US Airways for all your travel, great. If not, choose whatever airline you think you'll fly most often and sign up for their loyalty program. You can read more than you care to about the differences between them on FlyerTalk, and FWIW I don't think US Airways is the best....for me it works based on my destinations.

Have fun! It's pretty nice to get status on an airline.
posted by DuckGirl at 5:07 PM on November 3, 2011

Response by poster: [About once a month the next year] 1, How often is "a lot"?
[If I get this card it sure will be] 2, Will it all be on US Airways?
[nope] 3, Do you currently have status on any other airlines?
[sometimes] 4, Will you be checking bags?
[definitely] 5, Will you be carrying on bags that need to go in the overhead?
[definitely] 6, Will you be able to check in online and print your boarding pass ahead of time?
posted by cashman at 7:26 PM on November 3, 2011

The Chase Presidential Plus card has a fairly steep ($300 or $400 a year) annual fee, but gets you status at Hyatt and Avis (President's Club with Avis is freakin' great, BTW), in addition to EQMs for elite qualification on Continental, and the usual no-bag-fee, priority checkin, and other benefits. Who knows what will happen to it when the merger with UA is complete, but for now the perks are great.

I think airline cards in general are on the lower end of the scale in rewards, except when they run great promos like Amex did on their SkyMiles cards after they prepaid for a billion or so miles when Delta was having their last bout of financial trouble. Back when airline miles could be redeemed for two or three cents of travel, airline cards were a much better deal. Now they're just fair to middling unless you're really going to use them to travel to Mauritius or some other far flung place in first class. If you're just going to blow the miles on peak-season Hawaii or Western Europe travel or travel within the US, you're not getting as much as you could with a couple of cash back cards with bonus categories.
posted by wierdo at 7:50 PM on November 3, 2011

Your goal should be to attain some kind of elite status with US Airways or whichever other airline you could fly from your home airport. You normally need 25k or so elite qualifying miles (EQMs, also mentioned by wierdo) not the same as regular miles) to qualify. Most airlines offer space-available upgrades to their elites, and also access to preferred seating like exit rows, and in my opinion that is what makes frequent flying worthwhile.

I can't tell if the US airways card offers EQMs (or "preferred miles" in US Airways lingo) but frankly I think you should only get the card that does give you some of these for whichever airline you can fly. In addition, you should carefully time when you get the card, so that you can take maximum advantage of these miles. For example, in most programs, if you earned 10,000 EQMs this year but don't make elite status, you start over again on January 1 with 0 EQMs. It would be a waste to get a bunch of preferred miles now if you can't make it over the threshold this year, but you could put it off until January and then get a jumpstart on elite status.

So, this is a long way to say, look carefully at the elite program and whether or not you can get yourself to elite status somehow.
posted by cabingirl at 8:58 PM on November 3, 2011

You need to start this from selecting the right airline. Me personally? I wouldn't fly USAir if there were any other option. I have never had a good experience on that airline.

If they work for your location and the places you'll be flying then great. If not, find the one that does. Once you know which airline you should ring up their FF program and ask them about a status challenge. Generally they'll give you a period of time to reach a certain number of miles. If you reach that you'll gain status. If not, no harm - no foul.

Before you fly, or even by a ticket you'll want to consider the best card on that airline. And I'd go back to FlyerTalk to chat them up about that - they really do know what they are talking about there.

I went with United and have a MileagePlus Visa that snags me 3x miles on all United purchases, 10x for inflight buys, 2x on groceries, gas, etc. and 1x on everything else. I get 5k in EQM per year. I currently have Premier Executive status and generally clear upgrades at a rate of 3/4 flights.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:39 PM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

As others have pointed out, if this is not your primary charging card, you will be using it primarily for the fringe benefits. Given that you will be flying on US a lot, however, I'd encourage you to charge as much as you can to the card: if you charge $25k in a single year, 10k of the miles you earn will be converted into elite-qualifying miles, potentially pushing you to a higher status bracket.

If you're flying a lot, status does matter - on USAir, it can earn you automatic free upgrades (don't get too excited - on USAir, it's just a wider seat and a free drink); in Star Alliance you will get some benefit when flying partner airlines (e.g. United/Continental, Lufthansa, Air Canada, Singapore...). But even more importantly - it will put you higher up the list when the sh*t hits the fan and your flight gets cancelled and you need to be on the next flight out of Dodge. Your elite status is a factor in the standby queue, and you have access to a dedicated elite telephone line that you can use while all others are standing at the rebooking desk.

I'd recommend charging as hard as you can on that one card.
posted by scolbath at 7:37 AM on November 4, 2011

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