Caution: How Airline “Partner Awards” With Miles Are Changing

Explaining the inner workings of the points game can cause your eyes to start to squint.

If you want to fly with Qantas to Australia, you should go to Alaska, which doesn't fly to Australia.

One small example of an airline partner award is booking flights on one airline with miles from another, known as an airline partner.

Sometimes a partnerairline will charge less miles for the flight you want than the actual airline you plan to fly, for the same seat.

For years, this created unrest among flyers loyal to an airline, who felt like all the good seats they wanted to book with points were going to those savvy mileage fanatics from other loyalty programs, where many of the miles are created via credit card points.

Recent events suggest that we are facing a period of steady change with airline partner awards, particularly for the best seats.

The way airlines control award availability has changed over the last couple years.

First class award bookings for partner airlines have been blocked by Emirates. The seats in first use of points can only be booked using miles.
Most first class awards from partners are being blocked by JAL. The seats that aren't bookable by other mileage currencies are making it harder for partners.
British Airways, American, Alaska and other programs do not book first class with Qantas miles.
Virgin isn't a better option for booking Delta flights than Delta's own currency because they have aligned their redemption rates.
British Airways started making two seats available on every flight in business, premium and economy, but seats are only available to the airline's own members before they are booked by people who use other miles.
The extra hoop for those who want to use miles other than Etihad was created when the airline began blocking agents from certain airlines from being able to see first class or business class award space.
Air France only allows first class redemptions for elites of their own program, and no other miles can be used to book it. The FlyingBlue program does not include non elites.
First class seats are only available to most other airline mileage programs at the very last minute, meaning they are only available to first class passengers. Swiss First can only be booked by elites.
AsiaMiles members are not bookable by other airlines by charging slightly higher amounts on some dates. This keeps them out of the partner inventory.
Finnair announced on Jan 22, 2020 that it would restrict those using miles from other loyalty programs from booking flights, with no availability past 60 days.
First or business class seats on Singapore Airlines' long haul flights have never been open to other mileage programs. You need to book with KrisFlyer.
Swiss only allows elites to book First Class using miles, so it's cash only for non elite members.

The list could go on and on.

There is a growing trend of making it easier for airlines own members to book seats on their flights, rather than those hoping to use another airlines loyalty program to book.

Even if you don't like it, it all makes sense.

Travelers are encouraged to use another loyalty program to earn points and book flights.

Airlines want to make their loyalty programs more attractive to potential customers, as they are more valuable than flying passengers around. It's great to have the first chance to use your points to book seats.

When more money is made from loyalty than flying planes, airline loyalty programs want their currency to be the most worthwhile to collect, and that means making their currency the best way to fly their own planes.

If you use your loyalty miles to pay for the flight, airlines will reduce the number of miles you need for it.

This tactic is already being used with many airlines, including American, Air France, Delta, KLM, Qantas, Singapore Air, and more.

When you use airline miles from a different airline, the airline whose miles you are booking with must pay the airline you intend to fly with. Liability is wiped off the balance sheet when you use miles with both airlines.

The reason this matters is that points savvy travellers may want to re-think their earning strategies, as it becomes increasingly hard to book another airline for less miles, or at all.

I see it.

Credit card points can be used in a variety of airline loyalty programs, rather than being locked into one. If someone is available, you move your points there.
Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance flyers are having difficulty redeeming miles on their airline partners.
Choosing which airline program you credit your miles to may become more about which airline you will actually fly when you want to redeem, than which loyalty program offers the lower rates.

This is not a prediction of the complete extinction of booking airline seats using miles from another airline to do so.

It is good to read what is written before you get bitten. You will still be able to book seats on other airlines, but your flexibility or advanced ability to do so may be in danger as the trend continues.

There is talk of an alliance wide currency where you would earn one type of miles across all the airlines at the same rates.

This would create new challenges for loyalty programs looking to add value by making theirs special, by doing things like limiting points availability to outside flyers, but it would simplify the concept.

This stuff is not easy to understand.

When you say that the best way to book ANA first class is to earn credit card points from Amex, wait for a big 30% point transfer bonus from Amex to Virgin Atlantic, search for for ANA seats, then call Virgin Atlantic to book, people look like you are explaining particle

Wait for it, booked all over the phone. You cannot book it online.

It is worth learning about the loyalty program run by the airline you will redeem your miles on, and how credit card points can be created into miles from that airline.

If you want to get around that, you need to focus on the airlines that you want to fly.