There's no telling how much longer co-branded US Airways credit cards will be around, given the carrier's merger with American. If you're planning to take advantage of the US Airways Premier World MasterCard while it's available, read our review before applying. The card has some nice benefits, but also a couple drawbacks.
What to know about the US Airways MasterCard in 2014?
For starters, you should know that Barclaycard acquired a majority ownership stake in the U.S. Airways Dividend Miles card program from Bank of America a couple years back. The current promotion from Barclaycard is better than before.
When CreditCardForum.com reported this news on the blog, a record number of complaints from existing cardmembers were posted about high fees, unfair terms, difficult mileage redemption, and difficulty dealing with customer service.
However in defense of Barclaycard, despite the rocky transition of ownership, that flood of complaints has stopped.
The biggest drawback: Low reward ticket availability
The card gives 1 Dividend mile per dollar, with the exception purchases on the airline which earn double. This is pretty typical of an airline credit card. But eventually you're going to want to turn those miles into flights, and that's where another factor comes into play: rewards seat availability. If you have miles and can't use them, what's the point in getting an airline card to get more miles?
Unfortunately, US Airways doesn't fare to well in reward seat availability, according to an October 2013 survey from the travel software company Switchfly. Researchers made 7,560 booking queries with 25 carriers and tracked the percentage of queries that yielded two available economy reward seats at the lowest mileage redemption level. In the four years Switchfly has done the survey, US Airways has come out at the bottom (or near the bottom) every time. Here are the 2013 results:
Based on this data, fewer than half of the booking queries yielded available reward flights on US Airways. So be sure to check out this list of blackout dates before you get the card.
Update: In April 2014, US Airways announced that it would be doing away with blackout dates starting June 1, 2014. This means that, as long as a seat is available on the flight you want, you'll be able to use your miles to buy it. However, as with other frequent flier programs, that doesn't guarantee that you'll get a rewards ticket at the lowest redemption level. On popular travel days and itineraries, you can expect to shell out more miles.
If you're worried about the lack of reward flight availability, consider a generic travel rewards card, such as the Barclaycard Arrival, which, like the US Airways card, has an $89 annual fee. Another possibility would be the Chase Sapphire Preferred and its promotion for up to $500 worth of free airfare (which has a slightly higher annual fee -- $95). You can use your rewards on any airline, without restrictions or blackout dates, which unfortunately are common with this carrier.
The biggest selling point: Good benefits
This card does offer some respectable benefits and perks.
Previously, there was one thing noticeably missing from the list of benefits: free checked bags. This is a very common benefit among major carriers' airline cards. For example, the Delta Airline's American Express lets cardholders check a bag for free and throws in a free bag for a traveling companion. With the typical $25 charge each way per bag, that saves a traveling couple $100 per roundtrip. So, to see this benefit missing from US Airways' card was disappointing.
- Easy-to-reach sign-up bonus: A lot of airline cards make you spend a certain amount (generally $1,000 and up) by a certain deadline (generally three months after opening the card) to get the sign-up bonus. This card gives you 30,000 miles after your first purchases (and 10,000 more if you transfer a balance within 90 days of opening your account).
- Priority boarding: Unfortunately it's not Zone 1, but cardholders still get to board during Zone 2. During check-in the first class line can also be used.
- 1 Club pass per year (valid for a one-day visit). Getting to use the lounge only once per year isn't ideal, but it's better than nothing. Normally that would cost you $29 if purchased online in advance or $50 if purchased at the Club.
- $99 companion ticket certificates: As far as companion ticket benefits go, US Airways is pretty generous. Other airline cards with comparable annual fees generally give a discount on companion tickets, or make them available only after a certain amount of yearly spending. But US Airways caps the price of a companion ticket at $99 and gives you TWO of these $99 companion tickets per year. Please note that black-out restrictions will still apply, your trip must be within the continental U.S. or Canada, and you will have to pay any applicable taxes and fees on the companion tickets.
- Lower redemption levels for business flights to Asia: US Airways is renowned for its famously low redemption level for business flights to Asia -- 90,000 miles for a round trip. Its rules are also pretty generous when it comes to allowing stopovers on reward flights, so you can book yourself quite the world tour for 90,000 miles. There's no telling how long you'll be able to book this kind of deal, given the merger.
Well there's good news: Starting April 30, those with the US Airways MasterCard will get one free checked bag.
Barclaycard also has a more basic version of the US Airways card for a $49 fee. The rewards are the same but it doesn't include the Zone 2 boarding, first-class check-in, or the one-day Club pass. You get one companion ticket per year and it costs $149 + taxes/fees if used. Its sign-up bonus is smaller, too (25,000 miles instead of up to 40,000 with premier). Plus, once the free-checked-bag benefit kicks in, it won't apply to those with this basic version of the card.
The rates and other fees?
Most credit cards have three or four interest rate tiers but there are only two with this:
If you travel internationally, be aware that both of these credit cards will charge you a 3 percent foreign transaction fee.
Is it the right choice for you in 2014?
The benefits (especially the companion airfare perk) will make sense for a lot of people, but you might find your travel restricted by blackout dates if you're traveling before June.
Yet, if you're planning a trip to Asia and have flexible travel dates, US Airways has some of the lowest redemption levels out there (in business class, no less).
Get the card only to find out it's being phased out in the merger? Not to worry -- you can just transfer any remaining miles into an AAdvantage account (combining them with AAdvantage miles you already have).