The Basics of Partner Award Bookings

By: Travis Cormier

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Hey Travel Junkies,

You’ve earned your points, picked your destination, and now you just need to figure out how to get there.

If you’ve gotten stuck on this step, you’re not alone. Understanding airline partners is a tricky part of the award booking process, but can be one of the best ways to get the most out of your miles and points.

Let’s dig into the airline alliance and partnerships, how they work, and go over some of the biggest alliances and partnerships.

Passenger Airplane

What are Airline Alliances?

Airline alliances are agreements between airlines to cooperate in transporting passengers which can make international travel much easier.

There are three major airline alliances including Oneworld, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam. Each is comprised of airlines from around the world. A couple airlines – Alaska Airlines and Etihad Airways – also have large networks of individual airline partnerships.

These relationships help individual airlines transport passengers to destinations they don’t serve themselves.


How do Partner Award Bookings Work?

Using airline partnerships can help you take advantage of some great award booking sweet spots. One of the most popular examples of this is using Korean Air SkyPass miles to book a flight on to Hawaii on Delta Air Lines.

Another example is booking an American Airlines flight with British Airways Avios. You can book online or over the phone with British Airways but fly with American Airlines.

In more general terms, let’s say Airline A and Airline B are partners. You have miles with Airline A, but want to fly on Airline B. You could use your miles with Airline A to book the Airline B ticket. To do this, you would go to Airline A’s website or call Airline A and book through Airline A.

In this scenario, it’s also important to remember that the rules governing your award booking are determined by Airline A.

Important: With very few exceptions, you canNOT transfer miles from one airline to another. This is why it’s so important to learn how to utilize partner bookings.

Using partnerships can help you save tons of miles and points when booking award tickets. For example, a round-trip ticket on Singapore Airlines from the US to Singapore would cost you 110,000 Krisflyer miles in economy class.

Singapore Airlines is part of the Star Alliance so you could get a better deal by using United MileagePlus miles instead. Booking the exact same ticket would only cost you 80,000 MileagePlus miles. That’s 30,000 fewer miles!

The catch is that award seats have to be available on the partner airline in order to book them. Award seats are generally broken into two categories. American Airlines, for example has sAAver and AAnytime awards while United has Saver and Standard Awards.

Saver-level awards are what you want to find when booking awards. Airlines don’t release a ton of saver space so a flexible travel schedule is a huge help.

Standard awards are awards are more readily available, but they come at a big premium (sometimes doubling the cost in points) and cannot be booked by partners. You’ll generally want to avoid standard awards unless you have to be on a certain flight and there are no other options.

Now that you’re familiar with how partner award bookings work, let’s look at some of the largest alliances and partnerships that you can take advantage of.


Star Alliance Overview

With 28 member airlines, Star Alliance is the largest airline alliances in the world. The major U.S. airline in this alliance is United Airlines. With such a large network of partner airlines, the Star Alliance network can help you get almost anywhere.

Star Alliance
Adria AirwaysEthiopian Airlines
Aegean AirlinesEVA Air
Air CanadaJuneyao Airlines
Air ChinaLOT Polish Airlines
Air IndiaLufthansa
Air New ZealandScandinavian Airline (SAS)
All Nippon Airways (ANA)Shenzhen Airlines
Asiana AirlinesSingapore Airlines
Austrian AirlinesSouth African Airways
AviancaSwiss Air
Brussels AirlinesTAP Air Portugal
Copa AirlinesThai Airways
Croatia AirlinesTurkish Airlines
EgyptAirUnited Airlines

United is the airline most people will be familiar for most people in the U.S., but there are some great award chart sweet spots in the award charts of other Star Alliance members!

For example, Singapore Airlines is a transfer partner of all four transferable points programs: Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, SPG Starpoints, and Citi ThankYou Points. It is one of the few airlines that partners with all four.

This makes it really easy to earn enough points for a great flight on Singapore Airlines or one of their partners. You can even use Singapore KrisFlyer miles to book flights to Hawaii on United Airlines.


Oneworld Overview

Oneworld is is the smallest of the three major airline alliances with only 13 members, but includes a number of the top rated airlines in the world such as Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways. American Airlines is the major U.S. carrier in Oneworld.

American AirlinesMalaysia Airlines
British AirwaysQantas
Cathay PacificQatar Airways
FinnairRoyal Jordanian
IberiaS7 Airlines
Japan AirlinesSriLankan Airlines

Japan Airlines is a particularly interesting member as they have a distance-based award chart that is divided into tiers based on total flight miles. While this means each additional segment could result in your award requiring more miles, it does allow you to book some fun trips!

British Airways is another program with a distance-based chart that is particularly useful for short flights within Australia, Asia, and the U.S. You can also transfer points to your British Airways Avios account from Ultimate Rewards, SPG Starpoints, and Amex Membership Rewards.


SkyTeam Overview

SkyTeam’s 20 member airlines span the globe and can help you travel far and wide. Delta Air Lines is by far the most well-known by those in the U.S. but there are a couple other SkyTeam programs that are very useful.

AeroflotDelta Air Lines
Aerolinas ArgentinasGaruda Indonesia
AeromexicoKenya Airways
Air EuropaKLM
Air FranceKorean Air
AlitaliaMiddle East Airlines
China AirlinesSaudia
China EasternTAROM
China SouthernVietnam Airlines
Czech AirlinesXiamen Airlines

Unlike American and United, Delta has an unpublished award chart. This makes it difficult to really know if the seat you are getting is a good deal – we’ll discuss how to make sure you are really seeing saver space with Delta in another piece. That being said, there are still some great ways to book SkyTeam flights.

One of the most popular SkyTeam award bookings is to use 25,000 Korean Air SkyPass miles to book a round-trip economy class ticket on Delta to Hawaii. This is one of the cheapest ways to get from the mainland US to Hawaii


Alaska Airlines Partners

Alaska Airlines is a little different from the others. It isn’t part of an airline alliance, but has a number of individual partnerships.

Alaska Airlines Partners
Aeromexico (ends December 31, 2017)Icelandair
Air FranceJapan Airlines
American AirlinesKLM
British AirwaysKorean Air
Cathay PacificLATAM
Fiji AirwaysRavn
FinnairSingapore Airlines
Hainan Airlines

You can use Alaska MileagePlan miles to book flights on one of their partners or book a flight on Alaska Airlines through one of their partners.

As you can see, there are a variety of partners from around the world. Before booking an award flight, always compare to see if you can get the flight cheaper using Alaska miles than those from another program.

If you need Alaska miles, you can transfer SPG Starpoints to your Mileage Plan account.


Etihad Airways

Etihad is similar to Alaska Airlines in that it isn’t part of a major airline alliance but has it’s own network of 24 individual partners. While Etihad might not be as well known in the states, nor is it the easiest program to use, there is some value in the program that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Etihad Airways Partners
Air New ZealandBangkok AirwaysOman Air
Air SerbiaBrussels AirlinesPhilippine Airlines
Air SeychellesCzech AirlinesRoyal Air Maroc
AirberlinGaruda IndonesiaScandinavian Airlines
AlitaliaHainan AirlinesSouth African Airways
All Nippon Airways (ANA)Jet AirwaysSriLankan Airlines
American AirlinesKorean AirUkraine International Airlines
Asiana AirlinesMalaysia AirlinesVirgin Australia

Unlike the simple distance-based and region-based award charts of many airlines, Etihad has a different award chart for each airline partner. Some are region-based, some are distance-based, and some indicate the required miles for specific city pairs.

As a transfer partner of both Amex Membership Rewards and SPG Starpoints, you won’t have any trouble earning Etihad Guest miles.


Wrapping it Up

Next time you book an award flight, make sure you consider the various options for booking a flight.

Remember, booking an award flight on a partner airline doesn’t mean you transfer miles to that airline. You’re merely using a miles from one airline program to book a flight on another airline. Additionally, you must follow the award booking rules of the airline program you used to book.

With the ability to book award flights on partner airlines, you’ll be flying around the world before you know it.

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