Because US Airways’ Routes send people straight across the country, it makes upgrading with miles a great value.
US Airways has a generous upgrade chart for domestic travel. Upgrading flights over 2,000 miles are only 10,000 miles. For special occasions or long flights where it looks like I won’t clear on status, I’ll use the miles to upgrade myself.
I recently flew United and wanted to upgrade myself in one direction. To get to the other side of the country, it would be 20,000 miles. I did not like this amount of miles, but I really wanted to be in First Class. So I swallowed my mile-pride and booked.
I couldn’t help obsessing over how much more expensive that was than flying on US Airways. And then it hit me. It wasn’t the miles that really made US Airways upgrades worth it. It was the route.
US Airways upgrades work on a per-flight upgrade. So if I had three jumps, I would have to pay the upgrades for all three jumps (if I wanted to be in first for all). You can just upgrade one leg.
My flight on United looked like this:
If I had booked the same flight on US Airways, it would have looked like this:
I wouldn’t upgrade the DCA-CLT route since it is so short, but then I would for my long flight from Charlotte to Seattle. That would be only 10,000 miles to make it all the way across the country.
If I had a stop in the middle on US Airways the way I would on United, the cost would be 16,500 miles for the two legs–very close to United’s cost. Granted, I could choose not to upgrade my flight to Houston (if that were actually what US Airways flew–which it isn’t), but that’s a long enough flight where someone want want to be in first. Flights on the East Coast to get to Charlotte and Philly–the hubs which will shoot you across the country–are really short and don’t really need upgrading. (Plus the shuttle flights on the east coast have wine in coach!)
But to put it in context, here’s a route map of US Airways. It is outdated but it is the clearest map that shows the advantage to flying US Airways.
Look at how you fly across the country by shooting up or down the east/west coast, then all the way across. This creates really long routes that you can upgrade for cheap (and long routes–the ones over 3 hours and 20 minutes–actually get you a meal on US Airways).
So all I need to do is take a short hop to Philly or Charlotte, and I can get all the way across the country in First Class for 10,000 miles. Not a bad deal at all.
This isn’t so good for people who live in the middle of the country–but because of the routes US Airways flies, it probably isn’t the best option in general for those fliers–not just for first class.
Edit from Reader Brian: You might want to mention that there is a copay of $25-150 for the upgrade unless you pay for a full-fare (Y or B class) ticket or are an elite member.