Price glitches arise as AA, US Airways begin merger path with codesharing

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American Airlines new liveryIn a first step toward merging into a single airline, American and US Airways began offering codeshare flights last week, but savvy agents and fare watchers quickly noticed wide disparities in ticket prices, depending on where they searched or which code they used.

In some instances, seats on US Airways flights booked as American flights were more than twice the price displayed for the same seats on the US Airways site.

“We can’t comment on pricing,” an American spokesman said. However, the airline acknowledged “discrepancies” in the display of fares. It said such differences are common in any codeshare relationship, adding that the disparities will disappear when the carriers adopt a common technology platform.

The two airlines, which closed their merger transaction on Dec. 9, began displaying codeshare flights on Jan. 13 for travel beginning Jan. 23.

Midweek, one travel agency executive got a rude awakening when considering a codeshare ticket.

Aash Shravah, director of corporate sales for Montrose Travel Corporate Services, and a 2-million-mile executive platinum member of American’s AAdvantage program, found seats on the same flight from New York to Boston priced at $232 on AA.com but just $99 on USAirways.com.

He said he checked both websites and also used a GDS to check fares. He said US Airways’ lower fare buckets appeared not to be available on AA.com.

Shravah said he was easily able to find the lower fare on the GDS. He first found the more expensive flight available through American. He then typed in a five-character code that searched all flights on that route. It promptly pulled up the $99 flight.

Shravah said that corporate booking tools would also highlight the two different fares for the same flight and alert travelers and their travel managers to the fact that there was a much lower fare available.

Users of the AA website, however, would not necessarily know that there was a lower fare on the same flight.

The AA website is offering a 50% mileage bonus for booking US Airways flights.

That means that an AAdvantage member might book a US Airways flight to get that additional mileage, without knowing that a seat on the same flight was available for significantly less on the US Airways site.

“Normally, I wouldn’t fly US Airways,” Shravah said. “So if I didn’t have a managed travel program, I would go on AA.com, search LaGuardia-Boston and end up buying a $232 flight.”

The American spokesman said that in any codeshare relationship, customers might see pricing discrepancies.

“Once American and US Airways adopt common technology platforms, these differences will cease,” the spokesman said. “We are striving to minimize discrepancies while delivering as much benefit to customers as we can before this technology migration is complete.”

A codeshare is a codeshare

Another pitfall in the AA-US codeshare is the Transportation Department’s (DOT) disclosure rule for travel agents.

ASTA sent an alert to members reminding them that codeshare bookings for American and US Airways are covered by the same disclosure rules that the DOT applies to all codeshares, meaning that all clients must be notified that they are purchasing a codeshare ticket.

“Codeshares between carriers that are merging and approved to merge but have not yet fully integrated their operations are codeshares like any other,” said Paul Ruden, ASTA’s senior vice president of legal affairs.

The US Airways code has been placed on most American-operated flights between American’s hubs at Chicago O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami and New York Kennedy as well as US Airways hubs at Charlotte, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington Reagan.

The American code has been placed on most US Airways-operated flights between US Airways’ hubs at Charlotte, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Reagan and American’s hubs at Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami and Kennedy. The American code has also been applied to US Airways’ East Coast Shuttle service linking Boston, New York LaGuardia and Reagan.

In another effort to work toward merging their operations, the two carriers have established reciprocity between their loyalty programs.

AAdvantage and Dividend Miles members now can earn and redeem miles across both airlines’ networks. The reciprocity extends to joint lounge access.

For the moment, the two airlines will maintain separate loyalty programs, though members of each program can earn and redeem miles on the other carrier.

American has yet to determine how it will ultimately integrate the two programs, according to the company spokesman. However, the new American will offer loyalty club members more opportunities to earn and use miles on its expanded network, the spokesman said.

Route changes

In a related move last week, American identified the route changes it will make to accommodate the Justice Department’s requirement that the carriers divest slots at LaGuardia and Reagan.

From LaGuardia, the carrier will drop nonstop service to Atlanta, Minneapolis and Cleveland while adding service, effective April 1, to Charlottesville, Norfolk, Richmond and Roanoke, Va.; Little Rock, Ark.; Dayton, Ohio; Louisville, Ky.; Wilmington and Greensboro, N.C.; and Knoxville, Tenn.

From Washington, the carrier will drop year-round, nonstop service to Minneapolis, Montreal, Nassau and San Diego plus 13 other points: Augusta and Savannah, Ga.; Detroit; Fayetteville, Jacksonville and Wilmington, N.C.; Fort Walton Beach, Pensacola and Tallahassee, Fla.; Islip, N.Y.; Little Rock; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and Omaha, Neb.

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