Many American Airlines passengers will now have to pay for checked bags that used to be free and they may need more frequent flier miles for reward tickets.
Merger partners American and US Airways announced the changes to their policies on luggage and frequent flier miles Tuesday, effective immediately on new tickets.
A company memo said the changes "harmonize" policies between the two carriers so customers will know what to expect. The memo said the changes align with policies already in place at competitors Delta and United to help American remain a "profitable and successful airline."
Rick Seaney with FareCompare.com said the changes, without warning, come as a surprise to American passengers.
"I would have expected American and US Airways to be a little more consumer friendly and give them some advance notice," he said.
Passengers traveling with American on miles they earned or who paid full price for an economy seat won't get free checked bags anymore. Some elite-level frequent fliers on both airlines will get one less free bag than before.
When it comes to redeeming miles for free flights, US Airways is ending blackout days. American will change the number of miles to get an unrestricted free flight -- more on popular travel days, fewer on less-busy ones. And it's making an array of changes to the miles needed for international trips.
Suzanne Rubin, an American Airlines vice president who oversees the AAdvantage loyalty program, said the changes will increase revenue but she declined to give a figure.
The two carriers merged in December and formed American Airlines Group Inc. Between them, they have 110 million loyalty-program members, Rubin said.
- For U.S. travel on or after June 1, American members can redeem miles for an unrestricted "AAnytime" award at 20,000 miles, 30,000 miles or 50,000 each way instead of the current 25,000-mile flat rate. The less-flexible "MileSAAver" awards will continue to start at 12,500 miles.
- Mid-tier elite members (platinum on American; gold and platinum on US Airways) will get two free checked bags; a reduction of one for the US Airways' Dividend Miles elites.
- Lower-level elites (gold on American; silver on US Airways) will get one free checked bag, a reduction from two for the American customers.
- Removing a charge for second checked bags on trips to South America.
Rubin said the company was not considering charging a fee for carry-on bags, as Spirit Airlines does.
Seaney said the company could surprise passengers and add more low tier mileage reward seats in the future.
"But I think when it’s all said and done the program just got a little bit worse for many folks," he said.
Customers have until June 1st to book reward travel under the old rules.
Tuesday, Seaney found very few of the 20,000 mile seats available to popular summer destinations. For instance, in June or July to Hawaii from DFW Airport, only 50,000 mile seats were available. That means it would take 100,000 frequent flier miles for a round trip ticket instead of the previous 50,000 mile highest rate.
"So this is certainly not consumer friendly in my opinion."
Seaney said Tuesday's changes effectively raise baggage fees and reduce the value of passengers' existing frequent flier miles.
"I think sort of the lesson for consumers is, when you get miles, use them. If you hoard them for 2 or 3 years, likely they’re going to devalue. So if you’ve got them, use them."
NBC 5'S Ken Kalthoff contributed to this story.