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What would an American-US Airways merger mean for you?

5:37 PM, Feb 14, 2013   |    comments
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The boards of US Airways and American parent AMR have voted to merge. The deal still has some hurdles to clear, but the deal would bring big changes to many U.S. travelers if it closes. Here are some things you can expect in a merger between American and US Airways.

Is it safe to buy tickets on these airlines?

Definitely. It will likely take the airlines months to win approvals and close on the merger. And, even once (if) that happens, it still will take many months to combine operations. During that time, each carrier would continue to operate normally. That includes selling their own tickets and operating their own flights. Once the airlines are ready to combine, the newly merged carrier would honor all future tickets sold on either one.

What name would the new carrier take?

American in all likelihood. Although US Airways' management will have many of the top jobs in the merged airline, CEO Doug Parker and other US Airways executives are on record as saying that they will assume the American name and brand. They've also said they intend to move the company's headquarters from Arizona to American's current location in Texas.

Are my miles safe?

This is one of the top questions people want to know any time there's a merger. Fortunately, the answer is "yes." Mileage programs are a key perk airlines use to hold onto their top customers, and the new "merged" American won't risk alienating any of those customers by not honoring the "other side's" miles in a merger. It would take several months - maybe even a year - from the time a merger closes, but the carriers eventually will consolidate their frequent-flier programs and merge the accounts of fliers who have miles with both airlines.

Which frequent-flier alliance will the carrier be in?

oneworld. US Airways is currently in the Star Alliance, but CEO Parker has been clear that the merged airline would hitch its wagon to the oneworld group that American helped found. Even other members of oneworld - such as British Airways' chief Willie Walsh - have openly said American would have more to offer oneworld if it merged with US Airways.

Would the merger be good or bad for frequent fliers?

As with any merger, there would be changes that cut both ways. One of the most obvious improvements would be an increased number of international destinations available to frequent fliers.

More broadly, American's AAdvantage program is widely regarded as one of the best loyalty programs in the world. The program has many options to earn miles, and AA is considered to be among the easiest U.S. airlines for redeeming miles for award tickets. American also allows customers the option to redeem miles for one-way award tickets by using just half the miles needed for a one-way trip - an option that would surely be well-received by US Airways' frequent fliers if that carries over to the merger carrier.

As for US Airways, its Dividend Miles frequent-flier program is solid -- if not among the world's best. It does have its perks, though, such as low-mileage off-peak award tickets that give members great deals for winter trips to Europe.

The biggest fear would be if the airline raised the miles needed for award tickets, but observers expect the airline won't make such a move, at least early on, as it tries to placate customers worried about the merger.

Will fares go up?

Yes, that's likely on some routes. However, one recent study by professional services firm PwC US suggests that the two previous big airline mergers (Delta-Northwest and United-Continental) have not produced the across-the-board price increases many had feared. And, proponents of "consolidation" argue that creating a third big "global" U.S. airline could actually help keep fares in check by preventing United and Delta from becoming a duopoly that can dictate fares.

Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY

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