By Mitch Lipka
NEW YORK, April 25 If you've spent the last
several years loyally flying American Airlines or US Airways,
you're probably wondering what would happen to the frequent
flyer miles you have built up if the airlines were to merge.
Consumers likely won't lose the miles they've already
accumulated if a merger does come to pass. However, when other
airlines have merged, consumers have lost some popular perks
such as free upgrades and the chance to accumulate points while
flying other carriers.
"All things being equal, I would expect a merged American-US
Airways frequent flier program to be somewhat less generous than
the two airlines' programs today," said Seth Kaplan, managing
partner of Airline Weekly in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "Maybe
you'll need more miles for free tickets to certain regions, or
maybe award seats will be more scarce, or maybe it'll be harder
for elite fliers to get first-class upgrades."
Nothing about a merger is firm, and neither US Airways
nor American, a unit of AMR Corp, would
Because of the sheer size of American's AAdvantage program,
some experts say it would likely survive and the US Airways'
Dividend Miles program would be folded into it. American's
program claims 69 million members and US Airways has more than
30 million in its program, according to Colorado Springs,
Colorado-based Frequent Flyer Services.
Those who hold credit cards linked to US Airways
could expect an opportunity to convert their cards to one
connected to American, says airline industry analyst Bob Mann of
R.W. Mann & Company Inc.
Seth Kaplan, managing partner of Airline Weekly in Fort
Lauderdale, Florida, and others who have watched frequent flyer
programs change through mergers -- such as the United Airlines
combination with Continental -- say the tendency is
tighten up program rules just a bit. That's partly because when
there's a merger, there are more people in the programs and
fewer available seats for upgrades.
A complicating factor for airline loyalists is that the two
airlines are part of different frequent flyer alliances.
US Airways is part of the Star Alliance and American is part
of oneworld. Many airlines participate in these alliances, which
allow frequent flyers to earn and use miles on other carriers,
typically those based on other countries.
If oneworld wins out, it could be a bit of a jolt to US
Airways loyalists who have enjoyed the benefits of a partnership
that includes United, the world's largest carrier.
Still, a US Airways loyalist set on converting a pile of
miles into a trip on one of the Star Alliance's European
carriers would have plenty of time to make that happen before
any merger would take place, Kaplan says.
Though a merger is by no means certain, here are some
strategies frequent flyers of the two airlines could consider:
- Start using up your miles, particularly if you're
interested in flying on a carrier in an alliance that might not
be available to you when the deal is done.
- Shop around to see whether another airline would meet your
needs. But make sure the carrier flies the routes you most
travel. This way when one of them starts dangling offers to lure
you, you'll know if it's a smart move to shift your loyalties.
- Take advantage of deals still being offered in the current
programs, such as free upgrades.