What’s the difference between American Airlines “Prime” vs. “Codeshare” Flights?

As American Airlines merges with US Airways, it’s important to notice the difference between “prime” and “codeshare” flights when booking. Come October 17, when the reservations fully merge and integrate, this distinction between the two carriers will go away, but until them, it serves as an important reminder when purchasing a ticket.

What’s a “Prime” ticket?

A prime ticket is a ticket booked on American Airlines’ website for a true American “metal” plane, or a ticket booked directly with US Airways for a US Airways “metal” plane. We used to be able to tell the difference by the logo on the side of the plane, but with the integration and painting of aircraft, this is no longer possible. For now, consider the distinction the interiors of the aircraft and the crew operating your flight.

Most “prime” tickets are routes the original airline operated – In American’s case, Washington Reagan to Chicago, and Chicago to Phoenix, both schedules and routes they previously operated. US Airways never had a direct flight to Chicago.

On American’s website, a “prime” flight will display without the “Operated by US Airways” tagline.

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A “Codeshare” flight is one marketed by one airline, yet operated by another. In American’s case, all US Airways and American flights carry the same flight number, due to the merger. However, one flight may be operated by the other carrier, and because of this, this displays as “Operated by [American Airlines / US Airways].”

The post-merger (or “pmAA”) American Airlines never operated a Washington Reagan to Phoenix flight. US Airways did. So, this ticket on American Airlines is an American Airlines flight “Operated by US Airways.”

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To provide a bit of a clearer example, here you can see a Washington Reagan to Phoenix flight, via to Chicago that contains both a “prime” flight and a “codeshare” flight. Flight 1219 is the “prime” flight since you’re purchasing it on AA.com, and it is operated by American, and flight 424 is the codeshare, since it is being sold on AA.com and operated by US Airways.

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What’s the benefit of booking a prime flight over a codeshare flight?

  • Upgrades are the big difference here – “To make sure you’re eligible for elite upgrades, you should book flights that are marketed and operated by the same airline – either US Airways or American. If you’re booked on a codeshare flight, you’ll only be able to upgrade when you check in, and as always, upgrades are based on availability.” On a prime flight, you’ll clear your upgrade, if available, at your elite tier upgrade window, which can be very helpful if the cabin is filling up.
  • Mileage and systemwide upgrades are not available on codeshare flights
  • If you’re doing a same-day confirmed international change (JFK-LHR), you must be on a marketed and operated by American flight. You cannot be on a codeshare or US Airways operated flight.
  • From experience, to do same day flight changes on American or “MoveUp” on US Airways, you’ll want a prime flight. Agents seem generally confused about the rules of the other airline, and while not in stone, I’ve gotten plenty of denials for a change, simply because of the codeshare confusion. Play it safe and book a prime flight if you can.
  • Miles will generally post faster for a prime flight than a codeshare (in some cases)
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Seat assignments are generally available no matter which type of flight you book, though keep in mind US Airways still charges elite members for Choice Seats, no matter the status level.

Upgrades will be easier on prime flights

Upgrades will be easier on prime flights

When it May Not Be Possible to Book a Prime Flight

The reservation systems of the two airlines are still separate, though there’s been a much higher chance of receiving the same price for tickets across both. So, the DCA-PHX nonstop codeshare on American’s website should price out as the same as the DCA-PHX nonstop US Airways prime flight on the US Airways website. However, occasionally prices differ, so check your tickets when you book. If you need to book a round-trip and one flight is a codeshare and the other is a prime, you may be forced to book it. If you book a one-way prime flight on one website and a one-way prime on the other, chances are you’ll have a higher ticket price since one-ways can be more expensive than round-trips. Some food for thought…

Come October 17, this prime and codeshare issue will no longer exist, but until then, it serves as a reminder to book prime flights when you can over codeshares.

If you’re unsure how to book flights marketed and operated by the same airline, I suggest visiting American’s how-to guide here.

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