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What will your miles be worth at the new US Airways?

SmarterTravel

It’s official: America West and US Airways are merging into one airline called US Airways with one frequent flyer program called Dividend Miles. Although it will take quite some time for the two airlines to become one entity, as of October 5, frequent flyers will be able to earn and redeem miles on either airline, and a joint elite program will begin to take shape.

While it’s great news that no miles will be lost and elite members will remain elite, the new joint program does have new rules for miles redemption and elite status. And some of these new policies will not be welcomed with open arms by current program members. Read on to see how these changes will affect your travel.

Earning miles

Beginning October 5, FlightFund and Dividend Miles members can earn miles on America West, US Airways, and Star Alliance and other partners. However, due to the merger, America West has to end its partnership with British Airways; the last day to earn miles on British Airways is December 31, 2005, and the last day to request an award is February 15, 2006. In 2006, separate US Airways and America West accounts will be transferred into one combined Dividend Miles account.

You can earn a 500-mile bonus for booking flights online at either americawest.com or usairways.com. US Airways members were able to earn 1,000 miles for online bookings through September, so the new bonus is a bit of a disappointment, although it is consistent with industry averages and America West’s former bonus.

Redeeming miles

FlightFund and Dividend Miles members can also redeem miles on either airline, effective October 5. For the time being, members should continue to contact their own frequent flyer reservations number or book online through their airline’s website.

A new combined award chart will also take effect at this time. The good news is that no Saturday-night stays are required for award tickets. The bad news is that some awards just got more expensive. America West has given up its ground-breaking short-haul domestic award for 15,000 miles and US Airways has dumped its off-peak awards, which included a 20,000-mile domestic award, a 25,000-mile Mexico and Caribbean award, and a 40,000-mile Europe award. New domestic awards start at 25,000 miles. While the new award chart reflects current industry standards and the previous programs of both airlines, the reduced mileage options will be missed by travelers trying to get the most out of their miles.

Elite status

The new elite program is not taking full effect right away, but the airlines have announced details of the plan and have started making some changes. The new plan calls for four elite tiers: Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Chairman. Qualification for these tiers is the same as in each airline’s separate program: 25,000 flown miles in one year for Silver, 50,000 miles for Gold, 75,000 miles for Platinum, and 100,000 miles for Chairman.

The elite flight bonuses offered in this new elite program are much stingier than in either of the airlines’ original programs. US Airways Silver and Gold elite members can watch their flight bonuses drop from 50 percent and 100 percent to 25 percent and 50 percent, respectively. And America West Platinum members who don’t have enough flight miles to bump up to Chairman level, will drop from a 100-percent bonus to a 75-percent bonus.

Currently, US Airways elite members will not be divided into the new Platinum elite category. That tier will be added in mid-2006. It gets more complicated for America West elites. Any member who earns 100,000 elite-qualifying miles or 120 elite-qualifying segments will become a Chairman’s member on October 5. Current Platinum members who have not yet reached Chairman’s levels will receive a trial Chairman’s status through February 28, 2006. At that time, they can retain their status through February 2007 by either accruing 100,000 elite-qualifying miles or 120 elite-qualifying segments in 2005 or by flying 32,000 miles or 40 segments between October 5, 2005, and January 31, 2006.

All elite members will continue to earn benefits such as complimentary first-class upgrades, priority check-in and seating, and private reservations lines.

Cause for complaint?

For the most part, the new combined frequent flyer program preserves the status quo, though in a few places, the new program is inferior to the old. While certain America West Platinum elite members have cause for complaint about diminishing bonuses, US Airways members should know better than to be entirely disheartened with these changes. If the two airlines had not merged, US Airways could possibly have liquidated, leading members with no status and no miles. Or, possibly, miles could have been transferred into another program at less than a one-to-one rate; US Airways might also have continued flying with a much smaller route network.

It’s disappointing that the new Dividend Miles program could not keep the best parts of both programs, such as off-peak and short-haul awards and a bigger online booking bonus. But at the very least, the new airline will have a route network that is strong in the Eastern and Western U.S., as well as internationally; plenty of partners; and a robust elite program. And those benefits are many times better than a defunct airline with no perks at all.

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