The US Airways-ization of American: What’s Next?

They called it a merger but in reality US Airways acquired American Airlines. And while I’m hopeful that at a macro level Doug Parker and Scott Kirby understand the new business airline they’re running is different than the carrier with weak domestic hubs and needs to be run differently…

… Even if that is the case there will be changes. And real scrutiny will come to all aspects of the airline.

Already American’s fare bundles have adjusted price and benefits to effectively charge more for less.

I noticed myself searching for flights, and then saw it mentioned at TravelingBetter that American no longer offers to ‘hold’ reservations within 7 days of travel.

Federal rules require an airline to either allow customers to cancel tickets purchased within 24 hours, or hold those tickets for 24 hours, but the rules only require that when travel booked is more than 7 days away.

Most airlines go beyond this and allow cancellation beyond this 7 day window. You know who doesn’t? US Airways.

Incidentally, the US Airways refund rule “does not apply to Dividend Miles award tickets.” (US Airways allows awards to be held for up to 3 days.)

I believe that many online travel agencies will cancel US Airways tickets within 24 hours of purchase even within that 7 day window — here is Priceline’s policy which spells out exceptions and doesn’t list US Airways as an exception.

If you booked a disclosed itinerary reservation within the past 24 hours, please phone us prior to 11:30 pm ET (and at least one 1 hour before departure or check-in) and we’ll give you a full refund on unused tickets with no cancellation fees from or the airline. Refunds are subject to airline approval and do not apply to tickets booked on Air India, JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, tickets booked using our Name Your Own Price ®, undisclosed itinerary or Vacation Package services.

So what am I afraid of next?

Well, I’m concerned that even though – for now – US Airways is aligning itself to American’s meal policies, I expect both airlines to become less generous with first class meals come the fall. Remember, US Airways elites are hungry.

And purchasing a ticket on the US Airways website last night I was reminded that even top tier elites are charged for some coach seats!

Mind you American has extra legroom seats (US Airways announced that they will add the same). Coach seats on a US Airways flight generally aren’t ‘better’ other than being a window, aisle, and/or closer to the front. And yet a US Airways 100,000 mile flyer can’t reserve just any coach seat for free.

Orange seats are ‘preferred’ seats that elites can book for free.

Green seats are ‘choice’ seats that elites have to pay for.

This certainly isn’t what I’m used to. And I really hope it doesn’t spread to American.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. When do you think the airlines will officially combine so the pricing their websites matches?

  2. As a Chairman, I might be hungry but I get where I’m going in time – which means I can eat on the ground and not off the sad tray. Most of the time I refuse the meal even when I’m on a long flight. I truly don’t get the fascination with airplane food.

  3. Receiving a meal is not the be all and end all on a flight …. And we US elites don’t pay for those seats because we typically get upgraded – or are happy with the ‘orange’ preferred seats. I think it is hilarious how much ‘worrying’ is going on!

  4. I once bought a last minute coach fare CLT – LAX – CLT for $3,200 on US Airways. I am a Chairman Preferred.

    The only seats left for the return red-eye were 2 middle seats in the very back, or 1 seat left closer to the front in the aisle that I could have purchased for $45. I called and the agent couldn’t waive the fee for me, so I was stuck with the middle seat because I felt like $45 for a Chairman was extortion.

  5. Susan, when you’ve had the best there is (American) settling for second (or third or fourth) best is truly a letdown, and for us AA elites, US is definitely a letdown.

  6. This stuff is pretty trivial, IMO. I can tell you as a US Airways elite over the past five years, the number of times where a free “preferred seat” hasn’t been available and only a “choice seat” is left was probably twice out of 400 flights. Slightly annoying at the time, but not something I even really think about on a normal basis. If that’s the worst thing to come out of this merger, then we’re doing pretty good.

    Also, the first class meal griping is something I tend to not be concerned with as well. It is bar none the most overblown issue of this, or any debate about airlines. I had my first experience a few weeks ago in AA first, on a flight (DFW-CLT) that gets “meal” service on AA, but doesn’t on US. I had a small beef wrap and a chocolate chip cookie, whereas on US, I would’ve had the “snack basket” with granola bars, almonds, chips, etc. I honestly almost would’ve preferred the US snack basket to what I got on AA – First, the wrap wasn’t very good, but I didn’t really have any other choice; second, the “meal service” took about 40% of the flight, which I wasn’t anticipating. So instead of having my laptop on my lap the entire flight, I was stuck with my tray out for 45 minutes until the FA cleared everything away, making those a lost 45 minutes of productivity. Finally, I know if I’m really honest with myself (and I’ll bet many are in the same situation) that I just don’t need those calories. I think I ate something in the DFW airport, and I had dinner a couple hours after I got home – at the end of the day, I really shouldn’t be eating any of that stuff, just as a habit. I realize many won’t agree and I’m not trying to sermonize, but for me personally, the stuff I end up eating/drinking in First is probably one of the most unhealthy aspects of my life.

    Regardless, if the meal window ends up being 2:45 minutes from the ~2 hours it is at AA today, I think that’s pretty small potatoes.

  7. With snack service especially I’ll ask for just the food item on a plate rather than taking the full tray so I can keep my laptop out.

  8. @jon – my guess is the combination happens first weekend in march 2015, whether they fix divergent pricing before that is an open question, I kind of like the arbitrage opportunities..

  9. I’m sorry to hear this. American are definitely the more preferable airline out of the two in this “merger”. US Airways delayed my long haul flight for over 27 hours a few years ago. Even though I was flying business class they didn’t put me up in a hotel and made the most meaningless attempt at an offer of compensation. Since it was a flight from the US to Europe they claimed that I had no rights to compensation.

    I immediately blacklisted them from my flight options and have disliked their tactics ever since. It would be a shame if American became as uncaring about their passengers (premium or otherwise) because of such business tactics. Airlines like all businesses should respect their customers and play fair.

  10. I don’t like paying extra for nicer coach seats but in a way I don’t mind paying a small fee if it will help control capacity or inventory of those seats being available. I typically will pay more for long flights for extra leg room since I’m tall. Or I will pay more to move to the front of the cabin if my connection is tight. But I don’t want to pay more than like $15 a flight.

  11. “And I really hope it doesn’t spread to American.”

    Hope is not a strategy…

    In a year, do you think USAA will be superior to UA? In what ways?

    How about USAA relative to DL?

  12. US Airways’ coach seating policies are irritating, but I suspect it’s mostly then non-elites who will be annoyed.

    Last month, I booked a family member from DCA to Florida. He not elite, and I was able to get him what, these days, is a good fare — a little above $100. Even though the flight was several weeks away and there were plenty of open seats left on the plane, all the free seats were either middles or last room by the bathroom. The price to buy a “better” seat was almost $50.

    If you were flying with family, particularly children, this would be extremely annoying. Indeed, I think it might make me fly another carrier.

  13. I agree it won’t be as bad as the United merger there doesn’t seem to be the same anti-elite policies and sentiment. In truth United should have boiled the frog slowly over a few years rather than do what they did which is still causing elites to run for the exits. I expect Doug to be savvier.

  14. @Lark –

    Better than UA —
    * operationally
    * for international upgrades
    * award chart

    Better than DL —
    * award chart, award availability, mileage-earning, award routing rules

    Net net I do not think I will like flying AA/US more than I like AA today, but I expect I will prefer the AAdvantage program over MileagePlus and Skymiles and prefer flying AA/US over flying UA.

    The only real positive I see from the AA/US merger is use of Avios on short-haul US Airways flights. A nice win for me being based at DCA.

  15. Thanks G.

    Operationally will remain to be seen… I think you are ‘hoping’ that AA/US do not experience any of the merger related challenges that faced UA. I hope you are right, but there certainly will be bumps in the road!

    Int’l upgrade – also agree, better for now and lets hope the new AA does not change this!

    Award chart – debatable, in my opinion. UA is still strong, and in many cases UA and * offer options not possible on AA. (AA / OW also go to some destinations you cannot get to on UA / *A)

  16. Honestly, people still care about airline food, bring your own or eat prior, i’ve flown many first class flights to Asia and don’t eat the food on planes. If you want good food go to a restaurant. Just my 02.

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