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Can I Transfer Miles Between United and US Airways Accounts?

Frequent Flyer Q&A
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Editor's Note: This story was originally published on May 19, 2003. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: frequent flyer, Frequent Flyer Q&A, ground transfer, Tim Winship, United, US Airways.

Dear Tim,

Now that US Airways is a partner of United, can miles in my United account be transferred to the US Airways program? If yes, how?

Sudha

Dear Sudha,

The relationship between United and US Airways is what's known as bilateral or reciprocal frequent-flyer program participation. Such agreements as a rule do not permit the sort of mileage transfer you're envisioning.

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In fact, as a historical note, there's been only one instance when major airline programs allowed direct mileage transfer. That was between American and US Airways, in the late 1990s, and the ability to shift miles was rather restricted.

There's a compelling marketing rationale for not permitting mileage transfer, which follows from the fundamental nature of frequent flyer programs. If miles were transferable, there would be no real incentive for consumers to channel their activity with any one airline. That would defeat the primary purpose of frequent flyer programs: building customer loyalty.

While we're on the subject, it's worth summarizing the key features of the United-US Airways reciprocal frequent flyer program relationship (which are similar to those associated with other such agreements):

  • Members of both programs can earn miles for flights on either airline. However, miles for any given flight may be earned in only one program (with the exception of the US Airways-operated shuttle flights that allow you to earn both Dividend Miles and Mileage Plus miles.
  • Members of both programs can use their miles for award flights on either airline. Award itineraries can combine flights on both airlines.
  • Miles earned for flights on either airline count toward elite status in either program.
  • Elite members of both programs receive elite benefits when traveling on either airline (preferential check-in and boarding, priority waitlist, etc.).

Eventually, through United's membership in the Star Alliance group, US Airways is expected to join the Star team. That will automatically give US Airways bilateral relationships with all other Star airlines (Air Canada, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana, Austrian, bmi british midland, Lauda Air, Lufthansa, Mexicana, SAS, Singapore, Spanair, Thai, Tyrolean, and VARIG). And last week, US Airways announced plans for a long-term strategic alliance with Lufthansa, which promises "new destinations and additional customer service benefits" to be detailed soon.

Finally, while you can't transfer your miles directly, there are creative ways of moving miles between some airline programs (for details, read The Joy of Miles). But only one of those options applies to a United-US Airways transfer.

Through Diners Club Rewards, you can transfer United miles into a US Airways account, but not vice versa. To do so, you would have to pay the $95 annual fee for a basic Diners Club card, to gain entry into the Diners Club Rewards program. And you would lose half your miles in the conversion, i.e., 10,000 United miles would net only 5,000 US Airways miles. So it's not a strategy that makes sense for a lot of travelers.

Because miles aren't transferable between United and US Airways, before you fly, you should choose the airline with which you plan to accumulate miles. If you split your earnings between two accounts, you're less likely to be able to achieve the benefits of frequent-flyer program participation.

For more information, read SmarterTravel.com's advice on picking the program that's right for you.

 
 
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