As the days go by, American and US Airways make more and more progress on bringing the two airlines together. Yesterday there were a few more changes made, including upgrades across carriers, minor increases in award redemption prices, and small improvements in carry-on rules. The changes were relatively insignificant enough to the broader traveling public that I didn’t even see a press release. Details were just sent via email to frequent fliers at both carriers. Despite that, the airlines made sure to do a huge amount of outreach here. Why? Because they were bitten pretty hard by how they handled the last announcement, and they want to make sure everyone knows that they’ve taken the feedback to heart.
The last time American made changes, they were roasted for them. While some of the criticism was around the news itself, most was focused on how it was delivered. In particular, there were two glaring issues with how this was handled.
American increased the number of miles required for some awards without giving any advance notice. Proper etiquette suggest that airlines should give a little warning so people can have the opportunity to still work under the old rules for a short period of time.
American didn’t clearly lay out all the changes that were being made. Some, like the discontinuation of the oneworld Explorer redemption option, wasn’t listed anywhere that I looked. Give us full and complete details, please.
American made sure to address both of those issues this time around. I received an advance copy of the news along with a call from Suzanne Rubin, President of the AAdvantage program (and, while it still exists, Dividend Miles at US Airways). They laid the details out and made sure to point out that the changes wouldn’t go into effect immediately.
Mileage Redemption Rates Increase in a Couple Cases So what exactly are all these changes? Well, the only negative ones are the minor increases in mileage redemption rates in the US Airways program in order to match American’s. One is for 3-cabin First Class redemptions within the US. This was leaked previously by accident, but nobody can be surprised by this. It used to be that US Airways charged the same for Business or First on domestic flights with 3 cabins. With American’s transcon product, that’s crazy. So it goes up to what American charges. Also, in Canada, AAnytime rates go up to match what they’re doing in the US. No biggie there.
What is a big deal is that these don’t go into effect for redemptions until August 1. So regardless of when you travel, the old rates will apply if you ticket prior to August 1. That was one of the biggest complaints about how changes were handled last time. Suzanne and Casey Norton, Director of Corp Comm, reiterated on the call that a lesson was learned. Suzanne added, “we heard a lot of feedback last time.” Yeah, I bet. These changes are clearly shown on the US Airways award chart.
Upgrades Across Carriers The biggest actual news here, however, is the fact that elite members on one airline can now upgrade on the other airline when traveling. This is a very temporary fix since the programs will be merging next year (which I guess is also technically news – that Dividend Miles will be folded into AAdvantage in 2015), but it’s one that elites should appreciate.
American elites will be able to get upgraded without charge when flying US Airways (where US Airways elites are eligible for free upgrades, so not to places like Hawai’i and Europe) only on the day of departure. That will come after US Airways traditional elite upgrades, which clear long before that time. It will be first-checked-in, first-served for those American elites. What they’re actually doing is offering the US Airways GoFirst paid program to elites for free, so if someone wants to pay for an upgrade before an American elite checks in, they get it.
Meanwhile, US Airways elites will be able to upgrade on American only on the day of departure as well (where American elites can use their 500 mile upgrades, including Hawai’i). For the top tier elites (Chairman’s Preferred) they’re free, but for the other elites, it costs $30 per 500 miles on the flight. Again, this mirrors the way American’s upgrade program works today.
This all begins June 11. This seems like a very good and quick way to allow upgrades across carriers. No reason to spend a ton of money on this since the need will go away once everything is merged. But if you’re trying to get an upgrade on the other airline, then I would highly suggest checking in exactly 24 hours in advance so you can get in line.
Carry-on Bag Rule Improvements What else is changing? Well, it’s time to standardize the carry-on policy a little bit more. Travelers can now bring on a diaper bag or duty free liquor as an exception to the carry-on policy. Oh, and wardrobes can now technically be brought on as a carry-on bag which apparently may not have been the case before on both airlines.