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So you’ve opened the right credit cards, earned your miles and points and are now faced with the daunting reality of booking award travel. Your first redemption doesn’t have to be complicated, but to get the most out of this hobby, it’s important to learn about partner award bookings.
Let’s go over what a partner award booking is, and how you can take advantage of it to save more miles on your next trip.
What Is a Partner Award Booking?
Partner award bookings are where you use the miles of one airline to take a flight operated by another airline.
Have you ever booked an international flight through American Airlines and ended up on a flight operated by British Airways? It’s the exact same idea, only you’re using points instead of money.
Airlines operate in networks that we call airline alliances, and these alliances are what allows one airline to book seats on another.
Understanding Airline Alliances
Before we get into the details of how to book an award ticket using airline partners, it’s important to understand what airline alliances are. Alliances are partnerships among groups of different carriers. These partnerships allow airlines to work collaboratively to attract more customers.
For example, American Airlines is part of the Oneworld alliance, but it doesn’t fly directly to Colombo, Sri Lanka. SriLankan Airlines is also part of the Oneworld alliance and, as the name suggests, it does, in fact, fly to Sri Lanka. Because both airlines are part of the same alliance, a U.S. customer who wants to book a flight to Sri Lanka can do so through American Airlines.
Similarly, these alliances are the reason your baggage is often checked all the way through to your final destination if you book a ticket that flies with multiple airlines. The carriers work as one to help their customers get to any global destination as seamlessly as possible.
As part of an alliance, the airlines allow their partners to book award tickets on their flights as well. Just like you could book a SriLankan Airlines-operated flight with cash through American Airlines, you could also book an award ticket on SriLankan Airlines through American Airlines. You’re paying American, whether in cash or miles, but you’re flying on a different airline.
The Different Airline Alliances
There are three major airline alliances: Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam. Let’s go over which airlines are part of each alliance.
Star Alliance is the biggest airline alliance in the world with 26 partner airlines. United Airlines, one of the biggest airlines in the U.S., is a Star Alliance member. You can get almost anywhere in the world by flying a combination of Star Alliance partners.
The following airlines are a members of Star Alliance:
|Copa AirlinesCopa Airlines
|South African Airways
|SWISS International Air Lines
|Air New Zealand
|TAP Air Portugal
|All Nippon Airways (ANA)
|LOT Polish Airlines
|Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
The smallest of the three alliances, Oneworld, has 14 members, but it includes some of the top airlines, such as Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific. Another partner airline a lot of people are familiar with is British Airways. As mentioned earlier, American Airlines is also a member of Oneworld.
The following airlines are a member of Oneworld:
|Royal Air Maroc
SkyTeam has 19 member airlines that fly to every corner of the world, from Mexico to Indonesia. Delta is the U.S. member of SkyTeam.
The following is a complete list of SkyTeam airlines:
|Delta Air Lines
|China Eastern Airlines
|Middle East Airlines
In addition to being in the SkyTeam Alliance, Virgin Atlantic has a number of additional airline partners. You can see a full list of their partners on Virgin Atlantic’s partner airline page, but here’s a list of some of the most notable ones:
|Air New Zealand
|TAP Air Portugal
Virgin redemptions vary from partner to partner. Rates for one partner may be different from rates on another partner.
Etihad has a number of its own partners across a variety of different airlines. The following airlines are partners of Etihad:
|Royal Air Maroc
|Air New Zealand
|Sri Lankan Airlines
|Swiss International Air Lines
How Do Partner Award Bookings Work?
Now that you’re familiar with what a partner award booking is and the various alliances and airline partnerships, you may be wondering how partner award bookings actually work.
Most airlines release a variety of different award seats. Not all award seats are available to partners to be booked. Airlines are happy to sell any seat to you for a large number of miles, but what you’re primarily looking for are referred to as Saver level award flights.
A Saver level award flight is one that an airline has priced at its lowest redemption rate for a given route. Some airlines publish an award chart that tells you what the mileage cost should be while others don’t.
These Saver level flights are released to partners to book. The best way to find a Saver level flight is to check partner airlines.
If you’re looking to book a flight with Star Alliance, one of the easiest ways to find partner availability is by searching on United or Air Canada. For Oneworld, searching with American Airlines is best. If you’re looking to book a SkyTeam flight, search with Delta or Air France-KLM.
Each partner prices flights differently. That’s why it’s important to study different award charts to familiarize yourself with where the sweet spots are for a given trip you’re trying to book.
For example, let’s say you want to fly business class to Japan on ANA from Los Angeles (LAX). If you book with United, you’d pay more than 140,000 miles for a round-trip flight. Instead, you can book with Virgin Atlantic, also a partner of ANA, and redeem only 90,000 miles, saving more than 50,000 miles.
How to Get Better at Partner Award Bookings
Unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy way to get better at partner award bookings. You can utilize the following two methods to master the art of award bookings on partner airlines.
The first method is to familiarize yourself with some of the best options for a variety of routes. The best way to do this is to read trip reports. With trip reports, you can see how other people booked a specific trip. It will help you get some insight into what partners they used to book their flights.
The second method to get better at understanding partner award bookings is to practice. Do you know that you may want to book a trip to London in the future? Do some practice award bookings on a variety of different partners.
Doing “dummy” bookings will help you see what airlines fly the routes and how many points they charge. Once you find one flight, try searching for the same flight on partner airlines to see the redemption rates. Plus, it will help you learn how to book flights with different partners.
Examples of Partner Award Bookings
So, if you are still a little confused, I’ll show how you can use miles of one airline to book flights on another airline with a couple of personal examples from 10xTravel contributor Anna Zaks.
Booking Royal Jordanian Flights with AAdvantage Miles
In August of 2019, I had to get from Barcelona, Spain, to Israel. The expensive one-way nonstop flights on one of Europe’s low-cost carriers didn’t appeal to me. The departures were all in the middle of the night, and I had no desire to spend five hours in an economy seat with 29-inch legroom unless it was necessary.
Google Flights showed me that there was a one-stop itinerary on Royal Jordanian with a connection in Amman, Jordan (AMM). The departure time and the type of aircraft were much better, too. I didn’t know a lot about Royal Jordanian, so I went to Wikipedia.
A member of the Oneworld alliance, you say? I already knew that American Airlines and British Airways are members of Oneworld, but had I not known that, I would’ve looked up Oneworld on Wikipedia as well.
So I logged into my British Airways Executive Club account and found availability for the Royal Jordanian flights I wanted. I then went to American Airlines and found the same itinerary for about 3,000 more miles but with much lower surcharges.
So how did I decide whether I should save miles or cash?
Well, I already had AAdvantage miles in my account. I’ve had them for a while without a definite plan on how I was going to use them. I didn’t have any British Airways Avios, so I would’ve had to transfer my Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
So, I booked that flight with American miles, and after flying Royal Jordanian, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again.
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American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles
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Booking Star Alliance Airlines with United Miles
Another example of using miles from one program is outlined in great detail in my post about my favorite ways to fly to Israel. I am not going to retell the story here, but I’ll just mention that I’ve used United MileagePlus miles to book flights on Star Alliance partners countless times.
United is actually one of the best and the easiest programs to understand. If you really want to master partner award bookings, I’d recommend you login to your MileagePlus account and start running sample searches for award flights to Europe, Asia or South America to see which partner flights you can book with United miles.
Now, let’s go back in time a few years ago when I was a points and miles novice. My husband and I decided to go to Vietnam, and I had to figure out how to get us there. We had American and United miles as well as some Ultimate Rewards points at our disposal.
A simple search on Google Flights will tell you that none of the U.S. airlines fly to Vietnam. So if you have miles in just these two programs, does it mean you can’t use them to fly to Vietnam? Here’s where knowing even a little bit about airline alliances comes in handy.
I didn’t know about Cathay Pacific, or that it’s a Oneworld partner, but I figured that American might have a partner or two that could help me fly to Vietnam. So, I started looking at what I could do with American by running award searches for our dates. American’s award search engine is easy to use—just plug in your dates and airports on the home screen and click “Search.”
After I booked the outbound flight, I was out of AAdvantage miles, so I had to figure out a way to get back home. I still had my stash of United miles, and I began running award searches on United.
United is part of Star Alliance, the largest airline alliance in the world, so I figured they’d have something for me on one of the partners. I had no issues finding a good flight option on ANA, a Japanese airline, to bring me back to the United States.
Final Thoughts on Partner Booking Basics
So, next time you need to book a flight, make sure to consider all the options before pulling the trigger.
Remember that we are using miles of one program to book a flight on another airline. So, we have to follow the award chart and the rules of the airline program we are booking with, not the award chart and the rules of the airline we are flying.
With so many options, you’ll be able to maximize your points and miles and take advantage of the sweet spots. It takes a while to learn about different airline alliances and partnerships. You just have to be patient and start practicing running award searches with different programs.
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Editors Note: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.