US Airways, American to combine frequent flyer programs in 2015

US Airways frequent flyers will be merged into American Airlines’ loyalty program in the second quarter of 2015, the airline said Tuesday.

The program will base rewards on miles flown instead of money spent. That differs from American’s biggest competitors, Delta Air Lines and United Continental, which have instituted revenue-based flying programs in place of traditional miles-based programs.

American’s AAdvantage frequent flyer program has three levels, instead of US Airways Dividend Miles’ four. The combined program will have three as well. US Airways Gold and Platinum levels, the middle two tiers, will become AAdvantage Platinum members, that program’s middle tier.

Customers with accounts in both programs can link their accounts in early 2015. Accounts are set to combine in the second quarter of 2015, though an exact date hasn’t been set. American will honor a customer’s new status level if combining accounts pushes the customer into a higher tier.

American will automatically create an AAdvantage account for Dividend Miles customers without one.

One change will hurt US Airways Dividend Miles customers currently in the lowest three loyalty tiers: They will no longer receive complimentary upgrades on flights longer than 500 miles.

“The area where you may see some disappointment here is on the US Airways side with Silver, Gold and Platinum members,” said Suzanne Rubin, president of the AAdvantage program.

After the change, such travelers (who will be AAdvantage Gold and Platinum members) will have to use earned upgrades or purchase an upgrade for flights longer than 500 miles. Rubin said they will start customers with a bank of earned upgrades “based on the flying they would have done if they were in the AAdvantage program in the prior year.”

“It’s tough to please everybody,” she said.

American and US Airways merged in December. The carrier operates more than 90 percent of daily flights at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, its second-busiest hub.

The segment qualification threshold for AAdvantage’s highest tier, Executive Platinum, will be raised to 120 flight segments next year, up from 100. That will bring it in line with US Airways’ top tier, Chairman’s Preferred.

After the combination, American expects to have 100 million members in its frequent flyer program.

Rubin said American will continue to look at revenue-based models for its frequent flyer program, keeping an eye on Delta and United. But she said for now, the airline is focused on combining its existing programs before making any more big changes.

“Right now we’re very much focused on the work we have in front of us,” she said. “We will, as we always do, watch and monitor what happens in the marketplace.”