American and US Airways Rolling Out Interim Reciprocal Upgrades For Elite Members, Effective June 11th

American Airlines and US Airways are rolling out an interim policy to provide reciprocal upgrades for elite members of both programs.

This was rumored not too long ago and will be rolling out June 11th.  American Airlines elites definitely seem to get the better end of the deal here versus US Airways elites.

Details on American Airlines operated flights:

  • For American Airlines operated flights, the interim process will use the existing framework for load-factor based upgrades.  This means that US Airways elites will be eligible for upgrades, but only in those instances where all American Airlines elites have already been accommodated.
  • This process will not allow US Airways members to waitlist for an upgrade.  Rather, they’ll have to check at the airport or upon check-in to see if an upgrade is available.
  • US Airways Chairmans Preferred members will receive complimentary upgrades.  All other elites will need to buy 500-mile upgrades (I still nostalgically refer to them as “stickers”).

Details on US Airways operated flights:

  • For US Airways operated flights, American Airlines elites will be able to waitlist for upgrades on their day of departure if one isn’t available at check-in.
  • The plan is for AA elites to be folded in at the appropriate status levels.  That is, AA gold with US Silver, AA Plat with US Gold and AA Executive Platinum with US Chairman Preferred.
  • Upgrades at check-in will be done on a first-come, first-serve basis.  US Airways essentially offers any unpurchased first class seats as a buy-up opportunity at check-in, whereas American generally holds some inventory on certain routes.  In this case, all the inventory US Airways used to offer for a buy-up will be complimentary for American Airlines elite members.

In an odd quirk, you can’t upgrade to Hawaii on US Airways but you can on American.

There is no plan to further integrate the upgrade process until the Dividend Miles program merges into AAdvantage in 2015.  This plan also forecloses any status match across the two airlines.  So, this is what we’re stuck  with, for better or worse.  Since this process really just builds on the existing systems in place, we can’t really read the tea leaves to get a hint as to which way the combined airline will go in the future on domestic upgrades.  The decision to go with either the American Airlines system (free upgrades for EXP, 500-mile upgrades for all other elites) or the US Airways system (free upgrades for all, clear based on status) is one that will likely please and disappoint a large number of folks at once.

I’m still on the side of wanting the American Airlines system and I really do think it benefits all elites.  Top-tier fliers get complimentary upgrade on all flights.  And, because not all lower-tier elites qualify for upgrades for all flights, you can generally score the upgrade you want at a much higher rate by saving your 500-mile upgrades (or buying more) for a specific flight.

They’re also announcing some award price changes, but I view these mostly as normalizing the chart.  I wouldn’t call them horrible, but they do reduce some of the value you might have found cherry-picking US Airways flight options with AAdvantage miles:

  • US Airways will adjust their medium and high level domestic award pricing to match the pricing American announced earlier this year.  I sort of expected them to do this when they made the American announcement.  Could have been an oversight?
  • US Airways will also raise prices on 3-cabin routes to the US and Canada.  Right now, they charge 50,000 miles for both a business class and first class award.  I don’t think they actually have any 3-cabin service of their own in the domestic US.  But American does, specifically the new transcons from JFK to LAX and SFO on the new Airbus A321s they’ve received.  The new price is 65,000 miles, matching American.  Again, this just feels like something they should have cleaned up last time.

Just because these changes weren’t expected doesn’t make them positive, but the vast majority of folks redeeming miles aren’t doing it on first class from JFK to LAX.

And, this time we’ve been given much more notice than the last round of changes.  These changes go into effect on August 1st, just about 90 days notice.

This announcement has left me wondering if we have to wait until full integration before we see the walls come down in regards to some onerous restrictions on redeeming miles for US Airways flights (or worse, the combined airline adopts those policies).  Specifically, I’m thinking of the ability to book non-saver inventory

Gary of View From The Wing had a chance to talk to Suzanne Rubin, the head of the AAdvantage program about these changes.  That’s a positive sign they’re listening to their members  and trying to learn from previous reactions to changes.  The 90-day notice on the tweaks to the US Airways award chart are much more reasonable.  It reinforces for me that the conversation I had with Suzanne at the Freddie Awards was genuine and that AAdvantage is trying to navigate this transition while keeping their customers informed.  As I said before, I don’t expect every decision they make to be a positive one for me, but I do think the hasty announcement earlier this year is more the exception than the rule.

We’re all entitled to our opinions.  Today was a (mostly) positive day for the New American, especially in the way it communicated to its members.

HT: View From The Wing

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