When American Airlines and US Airways merge, they will be jointly owned and for the most part jointly managed at least at the top. But they will remain separate airlines for some time.
Airlines Combine Gradually
US Airways pilots will fly US Airways planes for the most part along US Airways routes, and American pilots and planes will do the same.
There will still be an American AAdvantage frequent flyer program and a separate US Airways Dividend Miles frequent flyer program.
We don’t know how long these will remain separate, exactly, but a lot of behind the scenes work will have to happen before a single “operating certifiate” is issued an they begin to fly just as American.
This is how mergers usually work. Even after Delta and Northwest merged, the two airlines continued to operate. Same for United and Continental.
The airlines began working together, of course. Delta began to recognize Northwest frequent flyer status (so Northwest elite members were beginning to get upgrades when flying Delta) and vice versa. The same is true with Continental and United.
Opportunities to Use Each Airline’s Miles Through the Other Airline’s Frequent Flyer Program
And indeed, US Airways/America West, Delta/Northwest, and United/Continental all made it possible to move frequent flyer miles back and forth between their programs. If you wanted to use your United miles on Continental’s frequent flyer award chart, fly on airlines that were partners of Continental but not United, or take advantage of Continental’s more flexible rules for combining different airlines on your award or where you could fly between two cities, you could do that.
So folks have long expected that the American-US Airways merger would proceed in much the same way between the time the merger closes and the time the two airlines are actually combined.
There was even some hope for a period of time that the ability to move miles back and forth between American and US Airways would be implemented and members could thus choose to use their miles either on oneworld airlines (American) or Star Alliance airlines (US Airways).
That’s not looking likely to be in the cards, because US Airways is expected to exit Star Alliance quickly upon merging with American.
US Airways Will Join American’s Alliance — oneworld — on a Fast Track
Since they don’t want US Airways to be without an alliance — alliances provide quite a bit of connecting traffic and encourage quite a bit of business — they want to get US Airways into oneworld quickly.
Indeed there was speculation this week that US Airways could join oneworld as soon as November 1. That seemed too aggressive to me, mostly because the process of joining an alliance isn’t just flipping a switch or signing some documents.
Even positing the ability to get through the bureaucratic hurdles quickly (which I assume should be quite doable), there’s tons of IT work that has to be done to get systems talking to each other. And US Airways has never been known for its rapid, seamless deployment of IT resources (not that any airline can be expected to transition alliances quickly, joining an alliance from scratch usually takes about 18 months and the process already assumes having a ‘sponsor’ — so that US Airways has American isn’t that unique to the timeline although in this case the sponsor will be well-integrated).
Still, they’re publicly shooting for a very quick transition. US Airways President Scott Kirby says it will happen by the beginning of the year.
In the course of its second-quarter earnings call, US Airways said that it will leave Star Alliance and have joined the oneworld alliance by 2014.
“We plan to be fully transitioned to oneworld by the beginning of next year,” said J. Scott Kirby, the airline’s president.
Star Alliance Options for US Airways Will Close Off Quickly
So if you’re looking to use US Airways miles for Star Alliance award tickets, that booking for 2014 travel will need to be made this year (already there are reports of difficulty using US Airways miles on some partners, though I believe that is a US Airways issue rather than restrictions imposed by the partners).
It also means that if you book US Airways award tickets for 2014 travel you will need to fly those tickets as-booked. Or if you need to make any changes, you will have to change to oneworld airlines. If you want to change the date of a US Airways award ticket on Thai in 2014, US Airways will not be able to book alternate Thai Airways flights.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to use US Airways miles for travel on oneworld airlines, that opportunity should come quite quickly.
There Will Still Be Lots of Opportunities — and Lots to Do
Even when US Airways and American are members of oneworld together, the airlines and mileage programs will remain separate although I would guess they’ll introduce the ability to move miles between the programs and also introduce reciprocal recognition of elite status and lounge access.
US Airways Dividend Miles will have its own partners, and American AAdvantage will have its separate partners — until the airlines get a single operating certificate and actually merge operations, calling themselves American.
You’ll be able to get the US Airways Mastercard from Barclays and the American Airlines co-branded credit cards as well and continue to earn miles through each for some time.
The only thing that’s been announced to be on a fast track is the alliance that US Airways will be a part of shortly after the merger of the two airlines closes.
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