What the American Airlines AAdvantage program changes mean for you

 American has made some changes to its AAdvantage program, but they're more of note for frequent fliers than occassional travelers. Photo: American. 

American has made some changes to its AAdvantage program, but they're more of note for frequent fliers than occassional travelers. Photo: American. 

American and US Airways this morning announced plans to synch their frequent flier programs in 2015.

Regular fliers likely will obsess over every word on the changes, which can be found in their entirety at aa.com/aadvantage2015. But Tuesday's announcement is really meant for road warriors, travelers who want to know exactly how often they'll be upgraded to first class in 2015. 

We'll probably have to wait several more months before we know how the new American will treat occasional travelers. But we know that American won't be following Delta and United in allotting frequent flier miles based on how much a customer spends.  At least at first, the new American is going to do it the old-fashioned way -- you'll earn miles based on trip length. 

I know many of you are interested in learning the details of American's newly announced changes. The good news is that the combined program looks a lot like the one American had before the merger. Here is what we know:

The Basics

  • The US Airways and American programs will be aligned in the second quarter of 2015.
  • In early 2015, if you'll have a chance to "match up" your US Airways and American accounts.
  • Once you "match-up" your accounts, American will move your US Airways Dividend Miles data, including your miles, into your American AAdvantage account. This will also happen in the second quarter 2015. 
  • If you only fly US Airways and do not have an AAdvantage account, American will create one for you. 

Elite Levels

  • The new program will have three elite levels. They closely match American's former program. US Airways has had four elite levels, and the names of each of those levels are being retired.  
  1. Gold. 25,000 miles. Or 25,000 points. Or 30 elite qualifying segments.
  2. Platinum. 50,000 miles. Or 50,000 points. Or 60 elite qualifying segments.
  3. Executive Platinum. 100,000 miles. Or 100,000 points. Or 120 elite qualifying segments. (This 20 more than the old segment threshold.) 
  • American will consider both US Airways and American miles, points and segments to determine your elite qualifying level, both in 2014 and 2015. It may take some time to do the math, but American says it will make it right. "If combining a member’s elite qualifying balances results in their reaching a new elite status level, American will honor that status level when the programs combine."

Long-haul upgrades

  • Executive Platinum members will receive eight systemwide upgrades in the new program, just as they do now. Those are a big deal to road warriors.

Short-haul upgrades

Here's where it gets a bit complicated. 

  • On flights shorter than 500 miles, all elite members will automatically be placed on the upgrade list. Empty seats will go in order of status. This is a new policy for American.
  • On flights longer than 500 miles, American's old policy will continue.  Platinum and Gold members will only receive upgrades if they request them and use their chits to "pay" for the seats. Executive platinum members will automatically be placed on the upgrade list and do not need to "pay" for them.
  • Upgrade windows are as early as: Gold (24 hours), Platinum (72 hours), Executive Platinum (100 hours).
  • Note: US Airways flights will not shift to the new upgrade system until late 2015, when American and US Airways share the same reservations system. Until that happens, elites on US Airways will retain the "unlimited" upgrade system.