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One of the major questions that has come up with the official announcement of the US Airways American Airlines merger has been speculation as to what will happen to flyers who have achieved lifetime elite status through the two airlines’ Million Miler programs. The outcome could be a huge boon for US lifetime members who are capped at 1 million level max benefits – as well as AA flyers who have flown US in the past and will get a nice bump in lifetime miles. Or, it could be a disaster if Doug Parker decides that AA’s current model is too lucrative and they water down the benefits like some United flyers believe happened (and are subsequently in a class action lawsuit) after the United merger.

The Current Qualifications and Benefits

American’s Million Miler program is laid out in detail here, and is one of the most sophisticated out there. Here are the basics.

-At 1 million miles, AAdvantage members receive lifetime AAdvantage Gold status and 35,000 AAdvantage bonus mile
-At 2 million miles, AAdvantage members receive lifetime AAdvantage Platinum status and 4 one-way systemwide upgrades
-At each additional million miles, AAdvantage members receive 4 one-way systemwide upgrades.

The current terms of American
The current terms of American’s Million Miler program are clearly laid out.

Starting on December 1, 2011, the program qualification rules changed slightly to include base miles earned by flying on American, American Eagle or American Connection and any eligible AAdvantage program participating airline and for a limited time, cardholders of the Citi Executive AAdvantage World Elite Mastercard earned one mile for every dollar spent on eligible purchases that posted to billing statements through December 2012.

Up until December 1, 2011, your Million Miler balance counted every mile you ever earned in the program – whether it was on purchases, car rentals, from hotel partners or on credit cards.

US Airways’s rules are much simpler, stating: “When you fly one million miles with US, we’ll upgrade you to Silver Preferred for as long as you remain an active Dividend Miles member. To keep your account active, just earn or redeem miles with US Airways or our partners within a consecutive 3-year period. Qualifying miles include flight miles earned on US Airways, US Airways Express and US Airways Shuttle flights only. Bonus miles, partner flight miles and other partner miles do not count toward million mile status.”

For now, there’s little news on how the AAdvantage and Dividend mileage programs will be affected, but American’s merger update site says that for the time being, no changes will be made to either program, they will continue to operate separately and that your miles are safe.
However, because the new airline will be part of Oneworld and American’s mileage program is both bigger and more developed than US Airways, as the two airlines merge, we will probably see the Dividend program restructured to align with AAdvantage (with a few exceptions like adding a status tier qualification at 75,000 miles, which American currently does not have), so likely the rules of American’s Million Miler program will endure.

Previous Cases

The reason American and US Airways flyers are concerned is because of what has happened in previous mergers

With the Delta/Northwest merger, most aspects of Northwest’s elite program seemed to be faded out as its mileage program was rolled up into SkyMiles, but one positive result was that Northwest’s million miler lifetime elite status program, which had limited benefits, was combined with Delta’s, which was more sophisticated – sort of like the case with US Airways and American.

Delta’s Million Miler program is based on total Medallion Qualification Miles earned over a member’s lifetime with Silver for 1 million miles, Gold for 2 million miles, Platinum for 4 million miles and a selection of gifts from partners like Tumi and Tiffany starting at 5 million miles.  But there’s no word yet on whether Delta’s new revenue-based rules for Medallion Qualification will impact those with lifetime status and be part of maintaining that status.

Delta’s Million Miler benefits include gifts from Tiffany and Tumi at the top levels.

However, in the case of the more recent United/Continental merger, there are actually several lawsuit underway at the moment brought against the airline by some of its Million Miler elites who are complaining that their elite benefits were reduced after the merger when United and Continental amended their elite benefits.

United elites achieve lifetime Premier status in the following increments. Premier Gold for 1 milllion miles, Platinum for 2 million, 1K for 3 million and Global Services for 4 million. Starting January 1, 2012, flight miles on United and Copa accrue toward Million Miler status.

According to United’s Million Miler page, “Because the 2011 MileagePlus and OnePass programs tracked lifetime activity differently, we re-calculated lifetime miles for 2011 MileagePlus members and then combined all members’ lifetime balances in both programs. This combined balance is your starting 2012 MileagePlus lifetime miles balance, which we then carried forward into the 2012 Million Miler program. The 2012 starting balance incorporates all lifetime elite qualifying activity earned in either OnePass or MileagePlus through December 31, 2011.”

Million Milers who had achieved lifetime status and the promised benefits before the merger believe that they should get what they were originally promised – and there’s no reason the same thing might not happen with this merger.

Airlines regularly change elite status benefits, but we saw some major downgrades from United this past year as the airline finally merged its MileagePlus program with Continental’s OnePass program and the number of elites swelled. It was that drastic change that irked the Million Milers and spurred them to action. So the way I understand it is that the suing Million Milers think they’re entitled to no ex post facto changes to their benefits after they earn their status – so theoretically if you achieved status back in 2006 or something, you would be entitled to the status benefits from your tier at that time. I’m not sure exactly how that would work, or what kind of restitution the Million Milers expect, but it will be interesting to watch, and it will almost definitely affect how American and US Airways roll out their new combined Million Miler lifetime status terms.

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