By Jim Donovan
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Together they’ve merged to become the largest airline in the world, but as American Airlines and U.S. Airways slowly combine forces, passengers could be paying more than they have to! 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan shows you why and how to avoid it.
The marriage of American and U.S. Airways was announced on Valentine’s Day 2013, but a year and a half later and six months after the government gave final approval for the merger the planes have yet to be repainted, the terminal signs have yet to be changed and the American and U.S. Airways reservation systems are still operating separately.
So when it comes to the airfare you pay, “There are huge differences sometimes,” says George Hobica, founder of AirfareWatchdog.com. According to Hobica, “It’s not just ten dollars or twenty dollars, it could be a hundred, 200 or 300 dollars difference.”
For example, for the same round-trip ticket from Philly to Dallas on the same flights, and booked at the same exact time, the American Airlines website quoted us a fare of $599. On the U.S. Airways site the ticket was priced at $664. That’s a $65 dollar difference. And that’s not an isolated case.
For a round-trip from Philly to Los Angeles the U.S. Airways site had a fare of $538, while the American.com fare was $708, a $170 dollar difference for the exact same flights.
On a last-minute round-trip from Philly to Las Vegas we found a U.S. Airways fare of $746, the same exact trip on American’s site was $1045, that’s $299 more.
Travelers we spoke with were surprised. One said, “I mean if you’re going to merge and be one company I would assume it should be the same price.” But Hobica says, “It’s always difficult to merge two computer systems and they want to do it carefully otherwise there will be all kinds of mistakes.”
American Airlines says it expects to have the reservation sites fully merged by the end of 2015. For now the two airline sites are code-sharing, they have access to a limited number of seats on each other’s flights and they price them independently.
There is no way to predict which site will give you the cheaper fare. According to Hobica, “You’ll see that it’s exactly the same flight, exactly the same time, the same type of plane, but two very different fares.”
The easiest way to shop around is to price compare using third party sites like Orbitz, Travelocity and Kayak. Using the fare information that you find on those sites, then book directly on the American or U.S. Airways site directly depending on which one had the cheapest fare.