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Via @latimestravel: Don't let US Airways-American merger fool you; it pays to check each airline's price

Question: Here is something I cannot figure out: On a US Airways flight my parents want to take from Chicago's O'Hare to San Francisco on Dec. 23, a first-class nonrefundable ticket is not available, but a first-class flexible ticket costs $1,222. The same flight number and flight on American Airlines for first class costs $878. My parents are booked on the US Airways flight. Any suggestions on how I can get American and/or US Airways to honor the first-class airfare on the American website?

Rebecca Keenan

San Diego

Answer: As Brian Kelly, founder of ThePointsGuy.com, which helps travelers maximize awards points, always says, you can ask. And as we often say in this column, you can ask again if you don't get the answer you want; call back and, with luck, you may get a different agent.

But the answer is probably going to be "Nope."

If there's good news, it's that this is a flexible-fare ticket. The US Airways website says (and American confirms) "cancellations and changes are allowed." (Of course, cancellations on all tickets are allowed, but whether you get money back or must pay a big fat change fee is the question.) In this case, a cancellation would mean a refund, but whether Keenan's parents could rebook at anything approaching a reasonable fare is another matter, given that it's holiday travel.

The bigger issue here is the merger of US Airways and American.

Wait. You thought they were one airline? They are. And they're not.

The timeline of the merger goes like this: The airlines announced their intention to merge in February 2013. The U.S. Justice Department filed an antitrust suit that was settled in November 2013. Later that month, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court OKd the merger.

In December, they were officially married, but they're still combining households while dealing with such issues as frequent-flier programs (American will absorb US Airways members and largely keep its structure), physical operations (combining gates at LAX, for instance, so passengers no longer must dash between terminals to make connections) and, of course, reservations.

"It's a huge, huge process of aligning" those reservations systems, Kelly said. American hopes to have one website by the end of 2015.

For now, the two airlines are code sharing.

If you're a traveler, you may be uttering "arrgh" here. Code sharing is a marketing arrangement that lets two airlines — even those that aren't merged — act as though they serve many more places than they really do.

In this case, American and US Airways do have a lot of flights — 6,700 or so — but in other cases, code sharing raises complications (including such issues as seat selection and baggage fees) that detract from the delight of the airline experience. (Sarcasm? Why would you think that?)

When it comes to the cost of the fare, it's a good idea to check each airline's price for the same flight. Airlines may use different software that calculates yield management differently, said Mark Logan, chief operating officer at Skyscanner, a travel meta-search engine.

Yield management is the devilishly complicated system that helps airlines maximize revenue depending on demand and competition. Or, said another way, if a lot of people want to fly on a certain flight on a certain day — say, the day before Thanksgiving — the airline can jack up the price. You either pay or stay home.

Logan thinks using a meta-search engine to find fares is a good idea, which is understandable because that's what Skyscanner is. But Kelly also urges fliers to look at a search engine that gives them a big-picture view of airfares so they can spot pricing anomalies more easily.

He recently came across one of them: He often flies between New York and Miami on American and found the same flight, same fare, same everything for $990 on US Airways and $482 on American.

How can you discover which airlines are code-share partners? Check out this list from the General Services Administration before you start looking (www.1.usa.gov/1qfMV6e) and be alert for flight numbers and departure times that are the same.

And remember, the confusion stemming from this house of mirrors is no reflection on your brainpower. If it seems confusing, it's because it is, and booking an airfare is harder than it looks. But you already knew that.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

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