US Airways and American Airlines officially began combining their customer loyalty programs Tuesday, in one of the first major changes travelers will see.
Tuesday’s announcement is the first of many steps the airlines will have to take in order to form one company, after closing their $17.8-billion merger in December.
“We’re kicking off the new year by bringing our customers the first phase of enhanced benefits, including the ability to earn and redeem miles when traveling across our stronger combined network,” said American Airlines president Scott Kirby, in a statement.
While American Airlines executives praised the combined benefits to customers, they also emphasized that it will still be a long time before the companies fully merge. The companies will retain the US Airways and American names until they receive a joint operating certificate, a process expected to take as long as 18 to 24 months. For now, they still have separate reservation systems and websites.
At Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the combined carrier is by far the largest airline, accounting for about 90 percent of the airline’s total daily flights. Charlotte is the company’s second-largest hub, after Dallas/Fort Worth.
Starting Tuesday, here are some of the changes travelers can expect to encounter:
• Miles for both American’s AAdvantage and US Airways’ Dividend Miles programs can be earned and used to book travel on both airlines’ networks. The two airlines will maintain separate loyalty programs, however, as they decide on how to change and fully combine them.
• Reciprocal benefits for loyalty program members, including club access, begin Tuesday. That means US Airways Club members can access the 35 American Admirals Clubs, and American members can access US Airways’ 19 clubs. Elite members of both programs will receive benefits such as first- and business-class check-ins, priority boarding and free checked bags on both airlines.
• The ticket counters and gates for both airlines have been “co-located” at New York’s JFK Airport. Other hub airports will soon follow, including those in Miami and Phoenix. At Charlotte Douglas, changes should be minimal, as US Airways controls many more gates and more ticket counter space than American.
The next change American executives said customers should expect is a codeshare agreement between the carriers. That means the airlines will be able to directly sell tickets for flights operated by each other. The first phase of the codeshare agreement should be in place in the next few weeks, executives said.
Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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