In a piece about how US Airways and American are offering the same exact flights for different prices, Scott McCartney of the Wall Street Journal gets this statement from American Airlines:
American expects to be able to offer reciprocal upgrade benefits within a matter of weeks, spokesman Casey Norton said.
This doesn’t come as a surprise, they’ve been working on the functionality and want to roll it out as quickly as they can. But this is the first time I’ve seen them put what’s this close to a timeline to it — they don’t say the number of weeks (since they’ll go live as soon as they’re confident the IT works), but they are saying ‘weeks’ and not ‘months’.
This is important as they integrate the airlines and convince their best customers at each airline to fly the other carriers’ aircraft.
And it’s especially important to members because it begins to open up the possibilities of the new combined route network.
For now, it has to be a lot cheaper to fly a US Airways codeshare on an American flight before I will book it because I cannot use my American AAdvantage status to upgrade that flight in advance. And it has to be a lot cheaper to fly a US Airways flight through a US Airways hub, rather than an American flight through an American hub, because I cannot use my AAdvantage status to upgrade that US Airways flight at all.
As McCartney observes in the piece there’s real savings to be had searching for the same flight through US Airways as through American given their separate reservations platforms and the existence of codeshares. The price discrepancies are much greater than you usually see between codeshare flights, and this issue has persisted for months now.
But how will upgrades be prioritized.. and ‘paid for’?
American and US Airways have different upgrade schemes.
American is the only remaining carrier I know of that awards 500 mile upgrade certificates for every 10,000 miles flown on the airline. Only 100,000 mile flyer Executive Platinums receive ‘complimentary unlimited upgrades’ (and upgrades for companions are not complimentary).
Upgrades for Platinums and Golds have to be paid for by earned stickers of purchased if no complimentary stickers are available.
Different members prefer each system — it’s hard to imagine American ‘taking away’ unlimited complimentary upgrades for all elites at US Airways when the two airlines combine. But selling 500 mile upgrade certificates is revenue and helps make the forward cabin pay for itself.
What’s more, since American Golds and Platinums ration the upgrades they earn, they don’t request upgrades on every flight. That means when an elite does request an upgrade they have a better chance of getting it, since they aren’t competing against every other elite every time.
American flyers may prefer the American system, US Airways flyers may prefer the US Airways system and whichever method they go with some members will be unhappy.
But in the meantime they’re going to offer upgrades to each others’ elites, and since they use different systems it will be fascinating to see how they square this.
One imagines the simplest thing to do would be to offer American elites complimentary upgrades on US Airways (probably prioritizing American top tier elites behind US Airways top tier members but about their 75,000 mile members — or possibly prioritizing them togehter).
And for American to offer complimentary elites only to US Airways Chairmans Preferred members, the way they do now for their own 100,000 mile Executive Platinum members.
Meanwhile, US Airways elites don’t earn American 500 mile upgrades at all. So Platinums, Golds, and Silvers might be asked to buy 500 mile upgrade certificates if attempting to upgrade on American.
Of course, since my bet is that the airline adopts the unlimited complimentary upgrade model for all elites (despite the revenue loss associated with such a decision) they could just shift to that model now and offer complimentary upgrades to everyone including their own elites.
… Which will raise the question, if they do, of what happens with accrued 500 mile upgrade certificates? If asked, I would recommend they convert those certificates to redeemable miles as used to be possible in the AAdvantage program years ago.
(HT: Traveling Better)