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January 07, 2014

Frequent flier reciprocity starts at American and US Airways

American Airlines is calling it Customer Day One.

Starting today, customers of American Airlines and US Airways will start to see some changes from the merger of the two carriers, such as frequent fliers in AAdvantage and Dividend Miles being able to earn and redeem miles on either airline.

The carrier said elite members of each frequent-flier program will also receive reciprocal benefits such as priority boarding, access to “preferred seats” and checked baggage at no charge. Admiral’s Club and US Airways Club members will be able to access both clubs across the network, and American AAdvantage CitiExecutive card holders will also have access to US Airways Clubs.

The ticket counters and gates for American and US Airways at New York’s JFK Airport are already located near each other in Terminal 8, making it easier for customers to make connections on either airline.

“Throughout the integration, we have hundreds and hundreds of policies that need to be aligned,” said Kerry Philipovitch, American’s senior vice president of customer experience. “We want to create a seamless experience as early as possible for our elite travelers.”

Philipovitch said the companies began training their customer service workers last summer on the changes when it initially expected the merger to close in September. With the three-month delay caused by the U.S. Department of Justice legal challenge, she said refresher training was conducted in December.

Beyond the reciprocal agreement, Airfarewatchdog.com founder George Hobica said American will roll out its frequent-flier changes slowly and likely won’t make any major changes until 2015.

“They could start requiring more miles and a minimum spend for the elite status in the program,” Hobica said, which would bring American’s frequent-flier program in line with Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. “The last step is to actually ask you for your frequent-flier number through both airlines and then they will combine the miles into one account.”

By gradually integrating the two programs, Hobica said it will be easier for consumers to learn the new policies and should make for a smoother transition at American.

Later this spring, American said it should have a code-share agreement in place with US Airways, which is expected to exit United’s Star Alliance on March 30 and enter American’s oneworld alliance the next day.

The carrier said it also expects to co-locate ticket counters and gates in Miami and Phoenix by the end of the first quarter.

-Andrea Ahles

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