Learning how to search and book awards seats on partner airlines is crucial to maximizing the value of your points and increasing your options for getting to where you want to go. Sometimes the process of booking with a partner is pretty straightforward but other times it can be made quite complex by complex rules and booking policies of a certain airline. With that in mind, here are some things to consider when looking to book with alliance and airline partners.
There are three main airline alliances: Star Alliance, OneWorld, and Sky Team.
- ADRIA Airways (JP)
- Aegean Airlines (A3)
- Air Canada (AC)
- Air China (CA)
- Air India (AI)
- Air New Zealand (NZ)
- ANA (NH)
- Asiana (OZ)
- Austrian (OS)
- Avianca (AV)
- Avianca in Brazil (06)
- Brussels Airlines (SN)
- Copa Airlines (CM)
- Croatia Airlines (OU)
- EgyptAir (MS)
- Ethiopian Airlines (ET)
- EVA Airways (BR)
- LOT Polish Airlines (LO)
- Lufthansa (LH)
- SAS (SK)
- Shenzhen Airlines (ZH)
- Singapore Airlines (SQ)
- South African Airways (SA)
- SWISS (LX)
- TAP Portugal (TP)
- THAI (TG)
- Turkish Airlines (TK)
- United® Airlines (UA)
- Airberlin (AB)
- American Airlines (AA)
- British Airways (BA)
- Cathay Pacific (CX)
- Finnair (AY)
- Iberia (IB)
- Japan Airlines (JA)
- LATAM (LA)
- Qatar Airways (QR)
- Malaysia Airlines (MH)
- Qantas (QF)
- SriLankan Airlines (UL)
- Royal Jordanian (RJ)
- S7 Airlines (S7)
- Aeroflot Russian Airlines (SU)
- Aero Mexico (AM)
- Air Europa (UX)
- Air France(AF)
- Alitalia (AZ)
- China Airlines(CI)
- China Eastern (MU)
- China Southern (CZ)
- Czech Airlines (OK)
- Kenya Airways (KQ)
- KLM (KL)
- Korean Air (KE)
- TAROM (RO)
- Vietnam Airlines (VN)
- audia Airlines (SV）
- Middle East Airlines（ME）
In addition, many of the alliance partners have other partners outside of their alliances. For example, American Airlines also partners with Etihad among others. Also, many airlines have affiliates, which are usually smaller airlines that serve specific regions.
Some airlines are not a part of a major alliance and instead have partnerships with other airlines. A great example of this is Alaskan Airlines. They partner (or codeshare) with a number of airlines from different alliances, including:
- Air France
- Air New Zealand
- American Airlines
- Cathay Pacific
- Delta Air Lines
- Japan Airlines
- Korean Air
- LATAM Chile
Finally, some airlines like Southwest Airlines don’t have an alliance or partnership with other airlines at all.
You don’t need to memorize all of these airlines and their alliances. However, I do think it’s a good idea to know which major domestic airlines (American, Delta, United, etc.) belong to which airline alliance. Also, it would be a good idea to be familiar with which alliance groups have partners that participate in the different rewards programs of Chase, Citi, and Amex.
You can’t transfer points from different partners
A lot of beginners think they can transfer points from one airline to another if they are within the same alliance but that is not the case. Only in rare cases (Iberia and British Airways) can you transfer points between airline programs. For the vast majority of cases, you’ll need to use miles in one airline’s program to book award tickets on another airline — but you will not actually transfer your points to that airline.
Of course you can usually have your miles credited to an alliance partner when you fly on a paid flight but that’s another story.
When you have miles in an airline and are booking flights with a partner airline, you will use whatever award chart applies for the airline you have the miles parked with. For example, if you’re using Aeroplan miles to book a United flight, you will use whatever requirement that Aeroplan requires for the trip, not United’s. This is one of the major reasons why you bother with booking with partners in the first place, you can often save many miles.
Many programs have different award charts for their own metal and their partners. For example, United has an award chart for booking awards on United Airlines flights and a separate award chart for booking on Star Alliance partners. Some like Alaskan Airlines and Etihad even have different award charts for each different partner. So, for example, if you used Alaskan miles to get from North America to Europe, the mileage requirement could be different for each partner (Iceland Air, American, Delta, etc.).
Thus, it’s really important to make sure that when you’re thinking about booking a partner award, you know you’re looking at the right award chart.
Once you’ve located the right award charts you can start trying to find the sweet spots. Sweet spots are redemptions that are among the best use of miles for a given route. Generally, the easiest way to take advantage of sweet spots is to first search for them by destination.
For instance, you might search for “best use of miles and points to get to Japan.” Then you’ll go down the list and find the mileage requirements. In the case of Japan, you’d see ANA, of the Star Alliance, is one of the most efficient uses of miles to get there. From that point you’d know that you can use ANA miles on ANA’s metal or on Star Alliance partners like United or Asiana to get to Japan at a great rate.
Stopovers and open jaws
The same thing applies to routing policies for open jaws and stopovers: the policy of the airline that you are booking miles with will govern your booking.
This can end up working to your advantage a lot of times. For example, American Airlines doesn’t allow you to book stopovers but you can book American Airlines flights with Alaskan Airlines miles and create stopovers even on one-way flights. Delta also doesn’t allow you to book stopovers but you can still book stopovers on Delta flights with SkyTeam partners like Flying Blue and Korean Air.
Always consider stopover and open jaw policies for different airlines when weighing the mileage requirements. Sometimes you might have to cough up a few thousand more miles for an airline’s program but if they give you the option to take a stopover then it might be worth it in the end, since they sometimes operate as free one-way flights.
Fees and fuel surcharges are other factors important to booking with partner airlines. Sometimes just by booking with the partner you can avoid the fuel surcharges altogether. As an example, if you were to book a Turkish Airlines flight from JFK to IST (Istanbul) with ANA, you’d pay about $340 in fuel surcharges. As seen below:
However, if you booked the same flights with Aeroplan, you’d only pay $50 in fees since you don’t have to pay the fuel surcharges with Aeroplan.
Of course, that brings up the other consideration of using more miles versus saving cash. In the above example, you’d be using 27,000 fewer miles if you went with ANA. However, you’d be spending $288 more. Some people would maybe just want to pay surcharges since they could probably get more than 1.07 cents per point worth of value from their miles with a future redemption, while others may want to use the additional 27,000 miles because it would save them from having to come out of pocket with an additional $288. It’s really all a matter of personal preference but something to be aware of.
One ways and roundtrips
Another thing to always remember is that many of the airlines with low mileage requirements require you to book roundtrip awards and require the same amount of miles for oneway trips. Airlines that require roundtrips are those like ANA, Korean Air, Alitalia, etc. Sometimes it might be worth spending a bit extra in miles for the added flexibility of booking one way awards, especially if availability is an issue. Thus, never forget to factor this into the equation.
You need to keep in mind that it’s not always as straight forward as you’d like when booking with partners. Often their are specific policies and rules you need to be made aware of when making award bookings with partners.
Here are some examples of the kind of rules I’m talking about.
- Some airlines don’t allow you to route to destinations through certain regions subject to certain exceptions. For example, American Airlines does not allow you to route through the Middle East to get to Africa. However, they allow you to book through the Middle East when you book an award flight on Qatar Airways.
- Sometimes you can’t book certain premium classes with partners. Singapore Airlines doesn’t allow partners like United access to first class rewards; Air France first class tickets can only be booked with Flying Blue miles and by members with elite status
- Iberia only allows round-trip bookings on American Airlines; Alaskan Airlines will restrict Delta awards to round trips (or one ways subject to the round trip mileage requirement).
These are just a few examples of the different types of random policies that you might come across when looking to book partner awards and why it’s a good idea to have a thorough understanding of the programs’s policies before transferring miles to them. I recommend finding a blog or two that’s written an analysis on the policies of the program and running through the article to see if their are any unique rules that could catch you off-guard. Always try to make sure the article is up to date as these things change all the time.
Before you go trying to book a partner award you need to make sure that you know how to search for them. Each alliance has a few airlines that offer some of the best search tools but often no single search tool is complete. For best results you should try to search on 2 or 3 different airlines’ websites and perhaps even try a tool like ExperFlyer.
Some examples of the best ways to search for alliance availability are:
One World Alliance
- British Airways
- American Airlines
- Flying Blue
I rarely ever find that each website shows the exact same type of availability. Sometimes airlines intentionally withhold award space from showing up on another airline for various reasons. Other times, there’s “phantom award space,” which is when one airline is showing availability but when you call in to book it’s not there due to a glitch or some other reason. The point it to always try multiple sources when searching for partner awards and always verify what you see.
Always try your best to get accurate and up to date information on the hold policies for a given airline. Since you’ll be transferring points to a partner that might have limited availability or use for other flights, you want to be sure that you’ll be able to complete your booking. Many of these airlines will allow you to put flights on hold for a couple of days to weeks.
Sometimes this is a YMMV thing and it’s not always guaranteed that they will put your award on hold. However, unless availability is just phenomenal or all-but guaranteed based on your many prior searches, I would only transfer points after I put an award on hold if the transfer time is not immediate.
Sometimes they’ll require you to have some miles deposited in your frequent flier account but not always.
Learning how to utilize redemptions with alliance partners is crucial to maximizing your miles and points. Without learning how to go about making these bookings, your options will be much more limited and you’ll probably end up spending tens of thousands more in miles than you would otherwise need to. In the end, it just takes a lot of time to get familiar with the different policies of all these different airlines so don’t stress out if you find yourself overwhelmed early on; you’ll eventually catch on.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.