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Airline mergers don't happen overnight. In fact, they're highly regulated and technical affairs, especially when it comes to dealing with the frequent flyer programs. While the American Airlines/US Airways merger was announced in December 2013, the actual frequent flyer merger will happen this coming weekend, and there are three key things you should know about it:
1) Your miles are safe.
As of this weekend, all Dividend Miles will become AAdvantage Miles at a 1:1 ratio starting on Saturday, but the process will take several days. Customers are being ported over in batches, so don't be alarmed if your spouse or friends get their email receipt before you. Do not call the airline for information—the entire Dividend Miles database will be locked and agents will have no access to information or even to book an award. In addition to frequent flyer miles, elite miles and lifetime miles will all transfer over. This will elevate many to higher elite levels and even lifetime elite status. US Airways doesn't allow you to view your lifetime status online, so many of us will be pleasantly surprised!
2) You get to keep your status—with a hitch.
US Airways elites will become AAdvantage elites once their accounts are transferred over. This means US Airways Silver members will become AAdvantage Gold, and US Airways Gold and Platinum will both become AAdvantage Platinum. AAdvantage only has three elite levels versus US Airways’ four, so the 75,000-mile US Airways Platinum members will get lumped into the 50,000-mile AAdvantage Platinum level, something many US Airways elites are not happy about. In the AAdvantage program, Gold and Platinum members only get complimentary upgrades on domestic short-haul flights and must use earned upgrade certificates to select flights they want to upgrade, versus the US Airways model of offering complimentary upgrades to all.
3) You should book your US Airways awards now!
AAdvantage and US Airways Dividend Miles have separate award charts and both offer unique sweet spots.
For example, using Dividend Miles for a round-trip business class ticket to/from Africa costs 110,000 miles versus 150,000 AAdvantage miles. That’s a 40,000-mile savings!
Dividend Miles award travel to the South Pacific/Australia is 110,000 miles in business class vs 125,000 miles using AAdvantage (a 15,000-mile savings).
US Airways generally offers more flexible routing and stopovers/open jaws, whereas American does not allow stopovers on awards. However, Dividend Miles isn't superior across the board. The program does not allow one-way awards at half the price of a round-trip, and you cannot make ANY changes to an award after travel begins. So if you need to change your return date, you forfeit the entire award and need to book a new trip.
AAdvantage also offers much more generous off-peak economy awards:
Europe (October 15 – May 15): 20,000 miles each way for economy
South Korea and Japan (October 1 – April 30): 25,000 miles each way for economy
4) Be your own advocate.
Though I don't anticipate any problems, coordinating such a merger is an immense and complicated technological task. I recommend keeping a copy of your current frequent flyer statement or taking a screenshot, just in case something goes wrong and your miles go missing.