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American AAdvantage and US Airways Dividend Miles made it official that their programs are combining next Spring, and unveiled the details of changes to expect next year. The big news is that not much is changing for American AAdvantage members, other than getting more benefits on US Airways flights, which will be a relief to many given changes Delta and United recently imposed for 2015, such as earning miles based on the fare paid rather than miles flown.
Some of US Airways’ most frequent fliers may be less enthused, with most of the changes favoring the existing American policies over US Airways policies.
All-in, it feels that AAdvantage is trying to minimize risk while it puts systems together and more radical changes may be saved for 2016 or beyond.
Some of the bigger changes (or lack thereof) include:
Your miles combine in 2Q 2015.
No firm date has been set, but your mile balances in both programs will combine during the 2nd quarter of next year.
Still earn miles based on miles flown, not fare paid.
American is not yet adopting United and Delta’s new model of earning miles based on the fare you pay rather than miles flown. For 2015 at least American is keeping the old-fashioned way of earning miles and this is an opportunity for Delta and United fliers who are unhappy with changes to move their business and send a message to American. But all bets are off for 2016 and American can choose to change course then if it’s not satisfied with results.
No award chart changes for American.
For now, there are no more changes to the American AAdvantage award redemption chart, which is good news, though last April some negative changes were rolled out that made the American and US Airways charts similar. Some awards remain cheaper when using US Airways miles, and those are likely to disappear this Spring as American’s prices are used.
US Airways goes from 4 to 3 elite tiers.
In a move counter to the rest of the industry, American will retain just 3 elite level tiers, versus the 4 US Airways had. Delta and United each have 4 tiers. US Airways will drop its second-highest Platinum Preferred tier for fliers who fly 75,000 – 100,000 miles per year. They will be mixed in at American’s existing Platinum level for fliers who fly just 50,000 miles a year, which reduces former US Airways Platinum Preferred member’s chances of scoring an upgrade.
To compensate, they will receive a 100% bonus on miles flown, versus the 75% bonus they currently receive, but US Airways Platinum fliers will be very disappointed with the lower upgrade priority, and eventually losing a shot at fully unlimited upgrades.
Free upgrades for all elites on flights shorter than 500 miles
American AAdvantage elite level members gain free upgrades on American Airlines flights shorter than 500 miles next year. That compares to having to use upgrade credits which cost $30 per 500 miles under the current system. This is mixed news for US Airways elite level fliers, who are used to free upgrades on domestic flights of all distances, and when the two airlines fully merge late next year, all but US Airways top-tier Chairman’s Preferred members will be forced into the credit system American uses for flights longer than 500 miles.
Top tier elites get free flight same-day flight changes
American’s top tier Executive Platinum members, who used to pay $75 to change a flight the day of departure, will get this fee waived starting next year. US Airways Chairman’s Preferred members also get this on American flights.
US Airways top-tier Chairmans members get more upgrades.
They will join American’s Executive Platinum members in receiving 8 free upgrades good anywhere either airline flies in 2015, even international routes. This is a well-liked benefit of American’s most frequent fliers and compares to 4 upgrades for Delta’s top elites and 6 upgrades for United’s top elites (though United puts a restriction on which fare can be used).
Eventually, no more unlimited upgrades for US Airways elites on longer flights
Until American and US Airways fully combine systems in late 2015, the airlines will have separate upgrade policies. US Airways will continue to offer unlimited free upgrades to all elite levels from both airlines. American will continue its policy of limiting unlimited free upgrades to top tier 100,000 mile plus fliers (American’s Executive Platinum and US Airways’ Chairmans Preferred), but requiring all other elite level fliers to use upgrade credits that cost $30 per 500 miles. Elites will be given an allotment of free credits to use, and any upgrades beyond those credits will require purchasing new credits.
This policy means when the systems combine, the US Airways policy will disappear, and the American policy will prevail.
More miles for Business Class.
Members of both airlines will earn a higher 50% bonus rather than 25% on Business Class fares, an important bump for high value fliers.
No word on award fee changes.
US Airways charges a fee just to book an award ticket, even online. American has not yet announced whether that will be introduced when the programs combine.
100,000 mile fliers on both airlines.
American’s top tier Executive Platinum fliers get to keep the industry-leading 8 upgrades good on any flight they already enjoy. And they get the added benefit of free same day flight changes on American and US Airways flights, which matches the policy of Delta and United. Prior to this changes on American flights incurred a fee of $75.
In addition, all of American’s elite fliers who fly at least 25,000 miles per year will get free upgrades on flights of 500 miles or less, versus having to use upgrade credits that cost $30 for each 500 mile flight segment you want to upgrade.
With 8 upgrades that will be good on all American or US Airways flights, even international, US Airways’ top Chairmans Preferred level members come out ahead. They also get to keep the unlimited complimentary upgrades they are used to on both American and US Airways flights. US Airways Chairman’s Preferred members do lose a raft of smaller ‘Special Dividend’ perks like free lounge access though.
Fliers who don’t pay big fares.
Unlike Delta, United, and Southwest, American is not yet adopting a system where miles are earned based on the dollar fare paid rather than miles flown. It’s good news for fliers who felt alienated by these changes and an opportunity for fliers to send American a message that the model in place for 30+ years is still viable.
For leisure fliers, almost nothing changes next year, which is good news since you still earn miles based on how far you fly, not how much you pay.
In addition, for more frequent fliers, elite status qualification will also remain based on the old American system, rather than requiring a minimum dollar spending amount that United and Delta have imposed.
But for 2016 and beyond all bets are off, and American can choose to adopt the system Delta and United are introducing, especially if there are no tangible signs of fliers abandoning them for American.
US Airways low to mid level elites.
The new American is moving toward adopting the old American’s model of limiting complimentary upgrades on most flights to just its top tier elites. Other elite level fliers will have to use credits that cost $30 per 500 miles you want upgraded.
US Airways elite level fliers will be given an allotment of free upgrade credits to use, but will have to pay for upgrades on American flights once those are exhausted. Currently, all US Airways elites get unlimited free space available upgrades, and will continue to do so on US Airways operated flights until the airlines fully merge. Once they do, the American system will prevail, and credits will be needed for upgrades on flights of more than 500 miles for elites who aren’t at the top 100,000 mile tier.
These low to mid level elites will also lose fee-free same day flight changes. Those will be restricted to top-tier 100,000 mile elites next year
US Airways fliers who flew between 75,000 and 100,000 miles a year, its Platinum level, take the biggest hit.
They will lose upgrade priority, getting mixed in with 50,000 mile fliers, and eventually not receive complimentary upgrades on flights longer than 500 miles. They also lose some ‘Special Dividend‘ perks like the option to gift elite status to a friend or family member.
Segment based AAdvantage road warriors.
American lets fliers qualify for its coveted top tier Executive Platinum status three ways – by flying 100,000 miles, earning 100,000 points (which lets people who buy expensive fares earn by flying less than 100,000 miles), or by flying a certain number of flight segments per year (which lets people who don’t fly far, but fly very often get rewarded).
Those who qualify based on segments will now have to fly 120 rather than 100 segments to qualify for 2016 status. This matches US Airways’ existing policy for its top Chairman’s Preferred level.
Why are the AAdvantage policies trumping US Airways?
With over 70 million members, AAdvantage has over 2x as many members as US Airways Dividend Miles. Moreover, AAdvantage is a winner in satisfaction.
In our survey of 1,600 members of frequent flier programs, American AAdvantage scored significantly higher on satisfaction than US Airways Dividend Miles, with 55% of its members likely to recommend AAdvantage, versus just 43% for Dividend Miles.
So preserving things AAdvantage members liked at the expense of things US Airways members are used to is a safe play for 2015 according to the numbers.
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