Merged airlines now merging frequent-flier rules

Air passengers will have to log more miles in their seats to get free tickets on busy dates. The merged airlines are tightening the rules.
Air passengers will have to log more miles in their seats to get free tickets on busy dates. The merged airlines are tightening the rules. (MIKE FUENTES / Bloomberg)
Posted: April 10, 2014

American Airlines and US Airways announced changes Tuesday in frequent-flier awards programs, and in some cases travelers will have to use more miles to book free tickets.

One big change: US Airways Dividend Miles members can redeem miles for free flights without blackout dates, for travel starting June 1. American had no blackout dates.

The newly merged American and US Airways came up with the policy changes to be "more consistent across our combined network," the company said.

About 110 million frequent fliers in both airlines are affected, "and there is some overlap with customers who are members in both programs," said Suzanne Rubin, an American Airlines vice president.

The moves reflect a tightening of restrictions on frequent-flier miles and points rewards, in line with what Delta, United, and Southwest have done.

The changes focus on four areas - checked bags and fees, award redemption, ticketing fees, and certain in-flight options for business and first-class passengers.

American frequent fliers can now book some travel at lower redemption levels, in keeping with US Airways' point system in some categories.

Instead of having to log 25,000 miles for one-way tickets, passengers can redeem miles for an unrestricted award starting at 20,000 miles each way. But on the busiest travel days, which used to be US Airways' "blackout" dates, a one-way ticket will start at 50,000 miles.

US Airways-American's tiered award redemption categories make using miles for a ticket more complicated, said Brian Kelly, founder of ThePointsGuy.com, a blog and website for maximizing frequent-flier and credit-card points.

American is getting rid of its popular distance-based "Oneworld Explorer awards," which allowed travel around the world using earned miles on Oneworld airline partners.

"They axed those awards overnight, which is a bummer for consumers," Kelly said. US Airways and American passengers, as of March 31, can earn and redeem miles on Oneworld partners; however, the Explorer award was "unique and a really good value," he said.

New checked-bag policies were implemented for flights operated by American effective Tuesday and for US Airways starting April 23.

US Airways Dividend Miles platinum and gold members and American AAdvantage gold members will now get one fewer free checked bag.

American Citi bank cardholders will continue to get one free checked bag, and, starting April 30, the same benefit will apply to US Airways MasterCard customers who pay an annual fee of $79.

"American's changes are not good for consumers, but they are also not horrendous," Kelly said. "If you want to travel on high-peak, high-travel days, you are going to have to spend more miles."

American revamped its North American "gateway stopover" policy for international flight awards. Travelers flying Honolulu to Paris, with a stop in New York, used to be able to stay in New York with a one-year time limit, before continuing to Paris. Now the stopover will be limited to 24 hours.

American and US Airways will charge an unaccompanied minor a fee of $150 each way, plus tax, beginning April 23. US Airways had charged $100.

For now, American and US Airways will maintain separate frequent-flier travel awards programs, although customers can earn and redeem miles on either airline.

Among other changes: US Airways will align entertainment content this summer with what's offered on American, including first-class and business-class customers on international and transcontinental flights getting Samsung tablets with 60 movies.

US Airways first-class passengers, beginning April 1, have been served meals on domestic flights of 1,000 miles, instead of 1,300 miles or more. Glassware and linen napkins have been added to first-class meal service on US Airways, in keeping with American.


lloyd@phillynews.com

215-854-2831

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