As part of the integration, American and US Airways have announced some additional changes for AAdvantage and Dividend Miles members which are coming soon. First of all, you can let out a sigh of relief, this is a mixed bag and truly nothing major, and doesn’t compare to the changes they made to award rates, Explorer awards, and award stopovers (mostly without notice) several weeks back. They’re in the process of emailing AAdvantage and Dividend Miles members about the changes right now.
I had the chance to speak to American’s Director of Corporate Communications and Suzanne Rubin, President of AAdvantage, regarding these changes, so will share what I learned regarding their perspective on the changes.
The three major updates here involve:
- Reciprocal upgrades for AAdvantage and Dividend Miles elite members
- Minor Dividend Miles award chart devaluation as of August 1, 2014
- Timeline for frequent flyer program integration
So here are the changes:
Reciprocal upgrades coming to American & US Airways
Starting June 11, 2014, American and US Airways will be offering reciprocal upgrades to elite members. In both cases they’re trying to align as closely to the operating carrier’s policy as possible, within the realm of the technological limitations they’re facing (which I’ll discuss below). It’s also worth noting that with both airlines, upgrades are being offered on a first come first serve basis, so a top tier elite member doesn’t have priority over an entry level elite member.
First of all, here’s a chart covering the basics of the upgrade policies:
|Upgrade Benefits||AAdvantage Upgrades On US Airways||Dividend Miles Upgrades On American|
|Upgrade window||Up to 24 hours before departure||Up to 24 hours before departure|
|Eligible regions||Travel within and between the U.S. (excluding Hawaii) and Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central America||Within and between the U.S. (including Hawaii) and Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central America|
|Companion upgrades||Yes, up to one companion on same record||No|
|Ability to waitlist||Yes, if upgrade not immediately available, option to waitlist||No, but you can check with agent at the gate and let them know you'd like to be considered for upgrade|
|Cost to upgrade||Complimentary for all elite members||Complimentary for Chairman's Preferred members; $30 per 500 miles for all other members|
AAdvantage members upgrading on US Airways
AAdvantage members can be upgraded on US Airways flights up to 24 hours in advance. At the time of check-in you can request an upgrade. If there’s upgrade space available it will confirm immediately, while otherwise it will be waitlisted.
Upgrades on US Airways will be complimentary for AAdvantage members (while American charges their own Gold & Platinum members $30 per 500 mile upgrade “sticker”). Up to one other passenger traveling on the same reservation is also eligible for an upgrade.
Upgrades on US Airways will be valid for travel within and between the U.S. (excluding Hawaii) and Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central America.
Dividend Miles members upgrading on American
At the time of check-in, Dividend Miles members will be given the option to upgrade on American, assuming there’s upgrade space available. If there’s no upgrade space available, there’s not a mechanism by which one can waitlist. That being said, you should make it known to the gate agent that you’d like to be upgraded, and if the upgrade list is otherwise cleared and there is space available you’ll be upgraded.
Upgrades on American will be available within and between the U.S. (including Hawaii) and Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central America. There’s no option for companion upgrades, however.
The upgrade program is far from ideal
There’s no doubt that this upgrade program is far from ideal. As a matter of fact I would guess that upgrades will only come through a small percentage of the time, given that they’re just offered within 24 hours of departure.
But the good thing is that American understands that, and they realize this isn’t the ideal solution. Their focus was on getting reciprocal benefits out there as quickly as possible and as much as possible, and this is the best they can do for now.
The merger between American and US Airways is really different than the ones between Delta/Northwest and United/Continental. American and US Airways had no pre-existing partnership or codeshare agreement, and due to anti-trust regulations couldn’t really get started with “aligning” things until the merger was complete. Beyond that, the airlines operate on two different reservations systems. So I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of work being done behind the scenes to align systems. They explained that they could have waited longer to offer reciprocal upgrades under more ideal circumstances, but would rather get something out there as soon as possible.
What’s comforting to me here is that American realizes this solution isn’t ideal, and they’d like to see a better upgrade system as well. This will probably be as much of a pain for them as it is for us, given that American gate agents will be dealing with US Airways elites trying to get on upgrade lists at the gate, and vice versa.
But technologically this is the best they can do for now, and it’s certainly better than nothing, so I do appreciate that.
(Minor) Dividend Miles award chart devaluation coming August 1, 2014
The US Airways Dividend Miles program is making some minor changes to their award chart for travel booked as of August 1, 2014. There will be no changes to the American AAdvantage award chart at this time.
My biggest beef with their last changes was that they provided no advance notice, so kudos to them for providing almost two months notice here.
The changes are quite minor:
- Redemption rate for three cabin first class awards within the US/Canada are going up from 50,000 miles to 65,000 miles (they accidentally uploaded this new award chart a few weeks back)
- Redemption rates for medium and high level awards within the continental U.S. and Canada are going up to align with American’s
Award redemption rates going up for American’s A321T first class
These changes are in my opinion minor, and simply US Airways aligning more closely with American’s award pricing. When I saw the “Using your miles” header under changes I nearly crapped myself and was prepared for the worst, so had a sigh of relief when I saw that these were the changes.
AAdvantage and Dividend Miles integration
Their plan is to integrate the AAdvantage and Dividend Miles programs in 2015. That means as of now:
- Elite qualifying mileage totals won’t be combined for the 2014 program year; you need to qualify for status entirely with one program or the other
- Elite qualifying, redeemable, and million miler balances should be combined in 2015, though
- There are no plans to make redeemable miles transferable between programs prior to 2015
So at least now we know for sure what we should expect. They made it clear that they weren’t ruling out possibilities in the sense that if they can move some things along more quickly they’d certainly consider it, but I appreciate that they’re trying to manage expectations here.
When I read the headline “AAdvantage/Dividend Miles changes,” my heart stopped for a second. My vested interest in this isn’t just the extent to which I cover loyalty programs, but I’m also loyal to American, love the airline, and have lots of miles with them.
In the airline industry nowadays we have two things working against us as consumers:
- With the economy recovering and reduced capacity along with increased demand, we’re seeing airfare as high as it has been in a long time
- Consolidation ultimately hurts consumers, because the less competition there is, the fewer benefits airlines have to provide to entice passengers
I was tough on AAdvantage during the last round of changes without notice, though this time around I genuinely got the sense that they “get us.”
They’re offering reciprocal upgrades, though realize they’re not ideal, but it’s the best they can do for now due to technological limitations. They’ll hopefully offer a better program soon, but they wanted to implement something as soon as possible, which I appreciate.
The minor adjustments to the US Airways Dividend Miles award chart is simply Dividend Miles aligning with AAdvantage, which makes sense as well. And they’re giving a good amount of advance notice, which I appreciate.
So hopefully everyone feels better now than they did when they read the headline regarding “changes” to frequent flyer programs during a merger, which are almost never good.
What do you think of these changes to AAdvantage and Dividend Miles?