It’s all over the main news channels and the travel blogosphere, AA and US have announced their imminent merger on Valentine’s Day no less! FlyerTalk and other travel blogs are buzzing madly with speculation on what this all means for them. Both airlines are on my list of top 8 airlines for eco-travelers. So far, all we know officially from AA in regards to the frequent flyer programs:
Enjoy a more rewarding travel experience with American Airlines AAdvantage® and US Airways Dividend Miles.
At this time, American and US Airways will remain separate companies and each company will maintain its current loyalty program. Your AAdvantage miles are secure and existing miles will continue to be honored. Likewise, your elite qualifying miles and your elite status, including lifetime status granted under the Million MilerSM are secure and remain intact. In addition, you will continue to earn miles through existing AAdvantage participating companies, including the Citi®/ AAdvantage credit cards and will be able to redeem those miles for the same great awards – flights, upgrades, car rentals and hotels, just to name a few.
You will continue to have options for travel and benefits both domestically and internationally through our continued membership in the oneworld® Alliance. As they do today, our oneworld® partners will offer you access to a range of destinations, airline choices, and mileage earning and redemption opportunities.
You can continue to book, track and manage flights and your AAdvantage account on AA.com.
Ultimately, the combined company is expected to offer members more opportunities to earn and burn miles from an expanded global network of routes and partnerships, unmatched redemption options — including flights, hotels, car rentals, vacation packages, one-way awards and lounge memberships – and much more.
And from the US Airways site:
Enjoy a more rewarding travel experience with US Airways Dividend Miles® and American Airlines AAdvantage®. Both programs are among the most popular loyalty programs in the world and will continue to offer best-in-class elite programs, unmatched redemption options and more ways to earn miles from an expanded global network of routes and partnerships.
Until the merger is complete, US Airways and American Airlines will remain separate companies and each company will maintain its current loyalty programs (US Airways – Dividend Miles and American Airlines – AAdvantage). Existing miles will be honored, and there will be no impact to your US Airways MasterCard® or US Airways Visa® card. You can continue to earn and redeem mileage for travel awards with us and our Star Alliance partners. You can also continue to book, track and manage flights on usairways.com.
THE EFFECT ON ECO-TRAVELERS
It’s going to be tough to assess the effect on eco-travelers because both alliances have their strengths. Right away, I can see that people traveling between North America and the South Pacific are going to have to fork out more miles in the AA program. These awards currently cost 75k in Y and 125k in J using AAdvantage vs 80k in Y and 110k in J on US Airways. If a trip to Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands and other Pacific Islands is on your wish list and you want to travel in business class, you might want to consider bringing it forward to take advantage of the bargains on US Airways. Economy travelers will find AA’s award cheaper.
Once US Airways leaves Star Alliance for One World, you won’t be able to access some airports like Rarotonga. If you have a trip planned and had earmarked US miles to pay for it, check to see if it will be accessible using One World carriers. Star Alliance/US Airways also had an edge on awards from North America to Africa, North-east Asia and Central Asia.
WHICH STAR ALLIANCE CARRIER TO USE?
Americans will probably be better off with United since there are several credit cards that can be used to either direct sweep to UA or transfer via Ultimate Rewards. If you are not an American and can’t get the Chase credit cards, first check what kind of credit cards you CAN get. Chances are, you may be able to transfer them to another Star Alliance partner such as Thai, Singapore, Lufthansa, ANA, Asiana or Avianca-Taca.
If you can’t get any credit cards, Avianca-Taca LifeMiles will be the main source of buying miles cheaply to redeem on Star Alliance carriers. They currently have a share miles 100% bonus promo until the end of Feb but you must have been a member prior to the promo being released. People who want premium cabin awards may be frustrated if they can’t find the same cabin class all the way through. You can’t mix classes such as Y from MCI-LAX and J from LAX-BKK for example. If you only want an economy award, you’d be fine with LifeMiles.
ONE-WORLD IS GOOD FOR ECO-TRAVELERS
Assuming you don’t have other issues such as elite benefits, hub airports and upgrade certificates, the change can be positive for most eco-travelers. One World does cover most of the places we want to go. LAN and new partner TAM (soon to be One-World) have South America pretty well covered and can even get you directly from Australia to South America without having to transit the USA. Qantas can get you to anywhere in Australia, several places in New Zealand and many Pacific Islands. New partner Malaysian and original One-World member Cathay Pacific can get you between Europe and Asia/Pacific. Qatar and Sri Lankan are joining soon. AA also has non-alliance partners of interest such as Air Tahiti Nui, Air Pacific and Etihad. PLUS, once the miles are merged, you will be able to use your hard-earned US miles for one-way awards!
THE BAD NEWS
The merger puts the last nail in the coffin of the US Grand Slam promo that netted some of us huge amounts of miles at a very low cost between 2008-2011. They didn’t have it last year but we could only hope for 2013 – well hope no more!
US has traditionally had 100% bonus miles on buying miles several times a year. AA has been more conservative with only 30-50% bonus on buying miles and they have it tiered so if you only need a few to top up to an award level, it could be as low as 10% bonus. If you want to top up your US account now, there is a targeted promo to US Mastercard holders for 100% bonus and 50% bonus to everyone else.
If you want the US Mastercard, better get it now. The current best offer is this one. The Chairman’s offer which had the 10,000 anniversary bonus miles was pulled today. We don’t know if this card will be churnable going forward so will have to monitor the FlyerTalk thread for new data.
If you have upcoming hotel bookings and/or car rentals you plan on crediting to an airline, check the offers on both AA and US for the best deal.
Sharebuilder is currently offering 2500 US miles for new accounts. Most of us already did this one for the last Grand Slam in 2011 but if you haven’t done it yet, might as well grab some cheap miles. Use the portal from the US page.
TIME TO ASSESS YOUR TRAVEL PLANS
The likely timeline for full integration has been posted by several people, this one on FlyerTalk sounds pretty logical to me. Star Alliance awards will be more expensive on United Mileage Plus or Avianca-Taca LifeMiles than they are in US Dividend Miles. Size up your travel plans and see if it’s worth doing them sooner rather than later or if it would work better in your favour to wait until the phase where they let you move miles back and forth between the two programs for a few months. Miles To The Wild will be keeping you updated with any new developments as they are released.