Airline alliances, partners and mileage earning

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One of the best things to happen to frequent flyers was the establishment of the three global airline alliances: Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance.  These alliances are where airlines come together as partners, coordinating routes, flight times and other aspects of travel that make it a more seamless experience when you’re traveling on multiple airlines.  You have a single ticket, your bags are checked all the way through, and – best of all – you can both earn and redeem miles on any of your main airline’s partners.

These partnerships have radically enhanced the value of frequent flyer programs. Just imagine if you earned 100,000 United miles and could spend them only on United flights.  You’d have far less destinations to choose from, and there would be more competition for award seats.  Instead, we United flyers can spend miles on any Star Alliance airline, from Air Canada to Thai Airways.  Likewise, when I’m over in Asia and flying between Bangkok and Manila, I can earn United miles by flying on Thai Airways.

Of course, this being airlines, not everything is kittens and rainbows.  There are a few specific things you need to know about flying partner airlines to ensure that you earn miles for those flights.

Not all partners are created equal

There are some tangible differences between U.S.-based airlines and foreign-based airlines with how frequent flyer miles are earned.  The most important is that foreign-based airlines do not award miles for some deeply discounted tickets, whereas U.S-based airlines do.

For example: No matter how inexpensive the fare, if I book paid flights on American, Delta, United or any other U.S.-based airline, I will be awarded at least one mile per mile flown.  However, if I book a deeply discounted fare on British Airways, I might earn no miles, or I might earn a percentage of the miles I fly.

This rule carries over to airline partners: If I book that deeply discounted British Airways airfare and post the miles to my American AAdvantage account, I’ll earn the amount set by British Airways for that specific fare class, whether it’s zero miles or a reduced percentage of the miles flown – say 25%.

Know your fare class

Here’s the takeaway: When you’re booking on a partner airline, check the fare class before you book.  The fare class is a one letter code (A-Z) and it’s not always easy to find.  Some airlines display it during the booking process; others don’t.  If you can’t find it, trying pulling up the fare rules.  The first letter of the fare basis is what you’re looking for.

Once you know your fare class, you can easily find out if it qualifies to earn miles. Go to your airline’s website, go into the frequent flyer program, go to the earn miles section, click airlines, then find the partner airline you’re booking on.  That page will show you the eligible fare classes to earn miles, and how much each fare class will earn.

Here’s an example of that navigation path on Homepage –> MileagePlus –> Earn Award Miles –> Airline Partners –> Turkish Airlines

They don’t make it easy, do they?  Here’s what the chart will look like:

TK chart

If you’re booking a discounted economy ticket on Turkish Airlines, and want to post the miles to your United account, you’ll need to make sure you’re booked in M, H, S, E, Q, V, T or L class.

Sometimes discounted economy class tickets will earn partial miles.  Here’s an example from Air China:

CA chart

You can see that tickets booked in Q, G, S, V, U, T and E classes earn 50% miles. Tickets booked in O, R, I, X and N classes earn zero miles.

All U.S.-based airlines have similar charts on their websites, and it’s quick and easy to check before you book.

Finally, run the numbers.  If a $1,000 fare from Los Angeles to Istanbul doesn’t earn miles, but a $1,200 fare does, you are paying $200 for those 13,742 miles.  That’s about 1.5 cents per mile, which is within the range where it’s worth it to purchase the higher fare.  And remember, you’re also earning credit toward elite status when the miles post to your account.  No mileage earning means no elite qualifying credit.

Have you ever flown on a partner airline expecting miles, only to find out later that your ticket didn’t qualify?

About the Author

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Ryan has been a travel expert for more than ten years. His journeys have taken him to all six inhabited continents, including living in the Middle East and backpacking across Australia, Asia and Europe.

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