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US Airways, Delta tie-up poses questions, concerns for frequent flyers

The novelty and drama of US Airways’ brash $8 billion bid for bankrupt Delta have subsided somewhat, leaving this observer with more questions than answers.

But there’s one area where there’s enough information to compute an answer with a fair degree of certainty. And that answer is a troubling one for mileage-collectors.

US Airways’ takeover plan calls for a 10 percent reduction in the merged carriers’ capacity, due to the elimination of redundant routes. So, assume 10% fewer seats available for frequent flyer awards.

Now consider the membership of the frequent flyer program of the combined carriers. No one knows yet how many travelers are members of both programs. But undoubtedly a significant number are, so membership in the new program will be less than the sum of the two programs’ individual memberships.

But while there will be fewer members than the simple sum of the two programs, the number of miles will be the sum of the miles outstanding in SkyMiles plus the number of miles in Dividend Miles.

More importantly, although the number of total miles will remain constant, the number of useable miles will actually increase. That’s because some members of both programs who don’t have enough miles in either for an award will have enough if the Delta and US Airways miles are combined into single accounts, as they would be if the programs are consolidated.

So, here’s the bottom line: more useable frequent flyer miles but fewer available seats to redeem them for. And that will inevitably make it more difficult to cash in miles for free flights.

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