In response to news that US Airways and American Airlines won’t actually combine to become one airline until late 2015 (at the earliest), Stuart Falk asks,
In the light of this when would you expect one would be able to transfer miles between programs?
They may or may not make it possible to transfer points between US Airways and American frequent flyer accounts before programs get combined.
- US Airways/America West allowed it.
- Delta/Northwest did too.
- And so did United/Continental.
So you would expect that American and US Airways would.
It isn’t just about customer convenience, although that is important too. Dragging things out this long is frustrating for customers. That is especially true when there isn’t true elite recognition reciprocity between the two airlines. Elites can only upgrade at check-in if first class upgrade seats are available at that time (American elites can also get added to the US Airways airport standby list). US Airways elites cannot book one-way awards like American allows, and can’t get fee-free changes and redeposits when booking awards with American miles. And US Airways tickets aren’t valid for standby travel on American or vice versa under normal circumstances (i.e. outside of irregular operations when one airline re-accommodates you on the other).
Instead, it’s actually a service to the airline to get customers to link their frequent flyer accounts. It is an enormous data challenge to merge frequent flyer programs. There are more than 100 million members of the two programs. Many of those members have accounts with both airlines. They have to figure out how to match those up. Names could be the same but addresses are different (old addresses, home vs. business addresses). Names could be the same, and addresses the same, but people are different (father-son in the same household, for instance).
Engaged customers can fix this before it even becomes a problem.
And that’s why I have to think that the airlines will make it possible to combine miles, or move than back and forth between accounts (they may or may not permit miles to be moved in both directions, or moved at-will more than once).
That would need to happen several months before airlines combine in order for it to make any sense and be useful — to consumers, to the airline to get consumers to do it and help their data problems, and to justify the cost of the IT work.
So if the airlines combine in late 2015, and the programs combine in late 2015, I’d guess — and this is speculation — that linking accounts and moving miles would become an option by the second quarter of 2015. Although I hope it happens sooner.
And I hope that, given the long timeframe for the programs to combine, that there is more elite recognition across airlines that happens before then… along the lines of true upgrade reciprocity, with US Airways 100,000 mile flyers getting the same upgrade priority and timing of American 100,000 mile flyers, and even potentially with each airline’s international upgrades being valid on the other airline’s flights.
I’d also love to see some more alignment of the two programs before they’re actually combined. For instance, I think it would be a great symbol if US Airways top tier elites got 8 systemwide upgrades in 2015, for instance.