The company announced that "elite" frequent fliers - those who fly at least 25,000 to 100,000 miles in a calendar year - will get reciprocal benefits, including first- and business-class check-in, priority boarding, preferred seats, and free first bag check-in on either airline, consistent with each airline's current policies.
The combined carrier is also giving members of their airport lounge clubs access to each other's clubs, 35 American Admiral Clubs, and 19 US Airways Clubs.
US Airways and American will continue to operate separately for 18 to 24 months, with their own reservation systems and websites. The company will announce other changes aimed at eventually combining fleets, ticketing, and flight crews under a single Federal Aviation Administration-approved operating certificate, probably in late 2015.
"Right now, it's just earning and redeeming miles," said Brian Kelly, founder of ThePointsGuy.com, a blog and website for maximizing airline frequent-flier miles and credit-card points. "Elite benefit upgrades and combining miles, those are some of the real juicy things that people are waiting for. I was actually impressed with today's announcement, that on usairways.com and aa.com, they have each other's ability to book online."
"Especially for US Airways fliers, it opens up a lot more routes," Kelly said. "US Airways miles right now," which include international partners in the Star Alliance and soon Oneworld, "are among the most valuable."
US Airways will leave the Star Alliance, a global partnership with 28 member airlines that share passengers and revenue, on March 30 and enter American's Oneworld alliance the next day. Oneworld partners include British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Japan Airlines, Qantas, and Qatar Airways.
Kelly expects by late spring "and definitely this year," passengers will have the ability to upgrade miles and combine miles between US Airways and American frequent flier accounts.
Frequent fliers can use miles or cash to upgrade to Business of First Class on flights. Eventually, the two carriers frequent-flier benefits will roll into one account at the new American.