American and US Airways announced reciprocal elite upgrade benefits this week — at checkin within 24 hours of flight.
And they let us know the next step is integrating the programs themselves, rather than taking a next step to treat each others’ elites equally while they’re still separate airlines.
Upgrades are built on top of existing processes, available only at check-in when they’re offered to anyone elite or not. They’re free for American elites flying US Airways (all US Airways domestic upgrades are free) and they will come at a cost for US Airways Silvers, Golds, and Platinums on American (since American charges elites below top tier for upgrades).
This is a positive step, one I expect to see benefits from flying US Airways out of Washington National. I often get offered upgrades at check-in, now those will be free for me.
I would have done things differently… better, I think, but there are obviously smart people considering tradeoffs here at the airline and they’ve come to a different conclusion.
So is this upgrade process good enough? How could it have been done better?
Good Enough, For Now
This half-step of first-come first-serve upgrades if available at check-in is absolutely better than what we had before (no reciprocal upgrades). I expect to find this very useful, personally.
But it’s only a half measure, and it’s likely all we’ll see before the two programs actually merge. All they’ve told us is that will happen ‘in 2015’ but they haven’t pegged a specific date.
If they merge the programs early in 2015, this is fine. I wouldn’t spend more on IT resources than I had to either on a temporary solution. We could be 7 or 8 months away from no longer needing a band aid.
But if the process drags on and the airlines don’t combine until late 2015, then the occasional hard to get upgrade within 24 hours of flight doesn’t cut it as a solution for 18 months.
They need to make these airlines the same sooner rather than later, they need to realize the benefits of having each airline’s customers choosing both airline’s flights as soon as possible. And customers need that, too.
What I Would Have Done Instead
There’s no question the challenges in what American is driving towards are myriad. Getting the American and US Airways systems talking to each other from scratch, when the two airlines didn’t even start out as partners, is hard.
But they’re going to have a huge data challenge when they do combine airlines and frequent flyer programs. One of the hurdles is data matching — they have to figure out whose AAdvantage account ties to which US Airways Dividend Miles account when an member has one of each. People have the same names, sometimes the addresses are different (a non-current address or a separate home and business address). Sometimes addresses are even the same (parent and child with the same name).
They could have helped their data challenge while doing more for member upgrades by letting elite members link their accounts and status match. An AAdvantage Executive Platinum could link their Dividend Miles account and become a US Airways Chairmans Preferred member.
A member would just give their Chairmans Preferred number when flying US Airways, and their Executive Platinum when flying American. And then they’d simply combine elite qualifying miles earned during 2014 to determine 2015 status (and combine elite qualifying miles earned in 2015 to determine 2016 status when the integration of the airlines doesn’t happen immediately upon the start of 2015).
This isn’t an original idea, past mergers have let members link accounts and status match. So no doubt the AAdvantage folks had this idea too and decided not to pursue it — I’m sure they had reasons.