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The endgame?Aviators will be decommissioned

SmarterTravel

While the skies are still full of jets sporting the familiar TWA logo, the airline itself no longer exists. Those 178 aircraft, to the extent that they proclaim TWA’s existence, are flying lies.

Since April 19, when American Airlines officially acquired TWA, those “TWA jets” have actually been operated by a wholly owned subsidiary of American. American plans to integrate the assets of the subsidiary, TWA Airlines LLC, into the parent company’s as soon as possible (aircraft and frequent flyer program members included). After this point, no visible sign of TWA will remain.

For most of the 14 million members of TWA’s Aviators frequent flyer program, American’s acquisition of TWA is a blessing. Not only will their Aviators miles survive, they will be converted into a more valuable currency, AAdvantage miles.

Although Aviators boasted a few noteworthy benefits (750-mile minimum earnings for short flights, revenue-based bonuses, discounted short-haul awards), American’s AAdvantage is by far the superior program overall, offering members the widest range of options to both earn and redeem miles of any airline program.

Here’s what Aviators members can expect, and what they can do to insure their miles enjoy good health and long life, in both current and future incarnations.

The End: November 30

First and foremost, commit this date to memory: November 30, 2001.

That’s the termination date of the Aviators program. On December 1, Aviators will become a footnote in the history of commercial aviation. And Aviators miles will either be automatically transferred to the member’s AAdvantage account, or be suspended, until claimed or declared abandoned.

In the best-case scenario, where members have both Aviators and AAdvantage accounts, and the name and mailing address in both accounts are identical, the mileage transfer will be more or less automatic.

The worst case will be faced by members who haven’t established an AAdvantage account, or whose name and address information don’t match. If, for example, you’re identified as Jonathon Burlee Smith in your Aviators account and Jon B. Smith in AAdvantage, the auto-conversion process will probably fail. In that case, there will certainly be some action required to have miles transferred, although American hasn’t yet determined what that procedure will be.

When the conversion takes place?whether it be automatically or through some form of manual intervention?the transferred Aviators miles will appear as a bonus on the member’s AAdvantage statement.

As we go to press in mid-June, American is promising to “make whole” all Aviators members. This means that their miles can be converted somehow, on a 1:1 basis, to AAdvantage miles. But neither the exact conversion process nor the schedule have been finalized.

Elites: Handled with Care

In keeping with their generally consumer-friendly handling of the integration, American chose a “highest common denominator” approach to reconciling elite status.

If you are a member of both programs, and have higher status in Aviators than in AAdvantage, you will be upgraded to equal status in AAdvantage as of the end of June. And if you are an Aviators Privilege Card member, but not an AAdvantage member, you will be enrolled in AAdvantage at the same elite level.

So, through November 30, Aviators elite members will hold dual elite status, in both Aviators and in AAdvantage. After November 30, only their AAdvantage elite status remains in effect, and will extend until February 28, 2002.

The news is also good when it comes to qualifying for next year’s elite status: Qualifying 2001 miles in both Aviators and AAdvantage programs will count toward elite status next year. (The earning period is January 1 to December 31, 2001, for qualifying for elite status between March 1, 2002 and February 28, 2003.)

Warning: Shrinking Program

Between now and November 30, Aviators members can continue earning and redeeming Aviators miles. That’s the official line; and as far as it goes, it’s true.

As a practical matter, however, the earning and awards options will erode, perhaps significantly, as program partners cancel their contracts during Aviator’s final months. To date, two partners have declared their intention to withdraw prematurely.

On July 1, Aviators members will no longer be able to redeem their miles through MilePoint (http://milepoint.com), the “Turning miles into money” service.

Additionally, July 3 will be the last day that members of American Express Membership Rewards can redeem their Rewards points for Aviators miles.

Winning Endgame Tactics

With the above in mind, the following are some specific steps Aviators members can take to insure that things go smoothly, before, during, and after the transition:

  • Keep a close eye on developments at Aviators during the coming months (see below for website and phone contact information).
  • In particular, be on the lookout for both specific instructions for transferring miles, and also for news of partners withdrawing from the program.
  • If you intend to take advantage of the American Express Membership Rewards or MilePoint.com partnerships, you have until July 3 and July 1, respectively, to do so. (Because American does not work with Amex, this represents a limited-time opportunity to convert Membership Rewards points to AAdvantage miles, by way of Aviators miles.)
  • If you don’t already have an AAdvantage account, establish one now. You can do so by phone at 800-433-7300, or on American’s website, at http://aa.com.
  • If you do have a valid AAdvantage account, make sure that the profile information (name and mailing address) are identical for both AAdvantage and Aviators accounts. That will help insure that the conversion goes through accurately.
  • Monitor the conversion. Notwithstanding the best intentions and technical abilities of American and TWA, an integration of this scale has never before been attempted. And problems will inevitably arise.
  • Save copies of your final Aviators statements. If for whatever reason your Aviators miles are not converted, or if they’re only partially converted, you will want to have a record of your final, pre-conversion account balance.
  • If you earn miles-for-charges with an Aviators credit card, and wish to continue adding miles to your AAdvantage account after the conversion, apply for a Citibank AAdvantage card. American also partners with Diners (but not with Amex), so you can exchange Diners Club Rewards points for AAdvantage miles, if you prefer the Diners card to a Visa/Mastercard.
  • On the chance that American will offer a generous activation bonus for new AAdvantage credit card accounts (say 10,000 instead of the normal 3,000 miles), it might be worthwhile to put off the aforementioned credit card enrollment until the last possible moment.

For more information:

American
Internet: http://aa-twa.towers.com/aa-twa/default.asp
Phone: 800-882-8880

TWA
Internet: http://www.twa.com/ffbenroll/news.html
Phone: 800-325-4815

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