Codeshares are Bad, M’kay?

As if you really need me to tell you, codeshares can really cause some problems when you’re mileage running with United. They confuse the situation and make it less clear exactly how many miles (if any) you’ll actually earn. Then on top of that you can forget about getting all the same perks of elite status you know and love.

My dad booked my current trip to Bangkok, and unfortunately the original flights I wanted were no longer available. He called me while I was without Internet access and offered me an alternate itinerary that included codeshare on ANA instead of United Airlines. Under pressure, I stupidly said yes.

South Park image

Never book a codeshare with Star Alliance

United Airlines awards miles (redeemable and elite qualifying) according to the fare class of the operating carrier. That means my United flight number and fare class on my reservation means nothing. United says its it’s a K fare. Who knows what ANA calls it. ANA has a K fare class, but there’s no guarantee it’s the same. Only a small number of fare classes are actually consistent across all carriers in the same alliance.

Fortunately, all international economy class fares on ANA still earn 100% miles, so I’m good. But if I really needed to fly these ANA flights, it would have been better just to book them under ANA flight numbers to be sure so I know what fare class ANA will call it.

What if you need a codeshare? You can use ITA to search for flights and check the exact same itinerary using both the ANA flight numbers and the United flight numbers. Look to see that they have the same departure and arrival times. A codeshare will have an asterisk next to it. Check the fare class for both the codeshare and the actual flight marketed by the operating carrier. In this case, there are two flights, one operated by ANA and one by United. Both have codeshares with the other airline, creating a total of four options. All of them are W fares, meaning that in this case it is very likely that W on United matches to W on ANA. Note the prices are not the same, but they are similar. If there fares were very different, I might re-evaluate my assumption that W = W on the two airlines.

SEA-NRT comparisons

Finally, be aware that just because W = W in this case does not mean everything else is the same. I can use a systemwide upgrade on a United Airlines flight booked into a W fare or higher. But I can only do that with United-operated flights with United flight numbers. Booking the ANA codeshare on a United-operated flight or the United codeshare on the ANA-operated flight would prevent me from getting upgraded.

Codeshares do make sense with oneworld and SkyTeam

United’s problem is that codeshares may have value for cross-marketing flights within an alliance, but they terribly confuse me as a customer. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines operate differently. Taking American as an exmaple, codeshares are actually pretty good because they make it clear how many miles you’ll be earning as long as it’s sold with an AA flight number.

Earning AAdvantage miles based on the policies that apply to AA flights. A flight sold as an AA flight also earns elite status qualifying miles.

Correction: I originally said that Delta followed the same rules as United. I don’t have direct experience with Delta codeshares, but the rules I read online seemed to indicate this was true. It’s been brought to my attention that Delta is more similar to American. Thanks!

Elite benefits are diluted

Regardless of who you book with and what your flight number is, elite benefits may be diluted. My outbound flight is with ANA. Even though I’m a Premier 1K with United Airlines, ANA doesn’t see it that way. I’m just Star Gold. What does that get me? Well, I can’t check in at the Premier 1K desk at the airport and instead have to go to ANA’s desk, though I do get some priority there. It’s harder to pick advance seat assignments because I have to call ANA directly, and access to preferred economy class seats like the exit rows are blocked off. There isn’t any Economy Plus section, probably the biggest reason I earned elite status with United in the first place and continue to fly with them.

Pretty much it’s like flying as any other economy class passenger except I receive lounge access for an international flight and a higher baggage allotment. That’s it. I almost ended up in a middle seat!

Changing flights is difficult

To make things worse, I ran into a severe weather delay during my connection in Tokyo. We arrived at the gate an hour and a half late after several PA announcements that we were “slightly delayed and would be landing in 5-10 minutes.” Fortunately my connecting flight was delayed, too. Unfortunately, it was delayed indefinitely and didn’t leave until 6 hours after originally scheduled. The United-operated flight, originally later, actually departed sooner.

I tried to get rescheduled, but it was a royal PITA. You would think that with a United reservation and a United flight number that getting a change wouldn’t be too difficult. That seems like an excellent opportunity to utilize my Premier 1K status. So I went to the United Club at Tokyo at asked about the possibility. I was shooed away and told I had to talk to ANA.

So I go back to ANA, and the first thing they do is… call United Airlines. Eight phone calls later, I’m told that they would be happy to move me to the United-operated flight, but all the seats are gone.

I finally did get on a plane to Bangkok, and I guess maybe the fact that everyone tried to move from ANA to United helped me out because I had a whole row of seats to myself. I curled up in a ball and tried to sleep, as I had then been awake for over 36 hours. And now I’ve recovered and am enjoying my short stay in the city. But I am very glad that when I return tomorrow it will be on a proper United Airlines-operated flight with a United Airlines flight number.

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  • Wandering Aramean

    Umm…you still get access to the ANA elite desk at check-in, just as if you’d booked directly via ANA rather than a codeshare. And calling ANA to book a seat is hardly a hardship; they answer quickly and are quite good IME.

    Figuring out the earning rates can be a challenge in some situations but other than that the negatives associated with booking codeshares are quite overblown here. And there are a number of instances where the codeshare can be VERY beneficial to the passenger. VERY.

    • Scottrick

      ANA was easy to work with, but I still think it’s annoyance to have to call a separate carrier than book all my seat assignments online. Not every carrier is as easy.

  • Lack

    I agree that CS create a lot of confusion, but the elite benefits paragraph has nothing to do with code shares.

    • Scottrick

      I think it’s relevant if a codeshare creates a perception that it’s a flight operated by the marketing carrier. I know several friends and family who have booked flights with one carrier and learn later it’s operated by a different carrier.

      If my United elite benefits create incentive for me to book with United, and then I find out my flight isn’t actually operated by United, then that’s a loss of benefits. I’m not saying the information isn’t available to warn me in advance, but it’s something I have to watch for.

      • Lack

        Do you know any OTA or airline own booking engine that doesn’t show flights as being operated by another airline? Just pay a little attention when spending your money and there wont be any confusion.

        And like Seth said below, CS can be very useful for the traveler as well.

        • Scottrick

          Of course customer service is useful. The point is, if I book a United ticket on a United-operated flight, I set everything up while booking and I’m done. If I book a codeshare operated by another partner, I have a half-dozen things on my to-do list I’d rather not deal with, like checking the earnings rate, getting the second PNR for the operating carrier, checking the baggage policy, familiarizing myself with a new seat map, and calling in to get seat assignments.

          Codeshares have their uses. I don’t deny that. But in cases where the fare and schedule are similar, they create more problems than they solve.

    • Noah Kimmel

      sure it does! Airline status does not equal alliance status. Many alliance carriers have different policies towards “their” elites and alliance elites leading to differences in service. This directly comes into play on codeshare flights.

      • Lack

        No, it does not. You get the same benefits you’re entitled to at the operating carrier, flight number doesn’t change anything. You’d still get extra benefits as 1K if you booked a United flight with NH number for example. There’s no difference in treatment.

  • Jon

    I had a code share on ANA last summer from NRT-SIN in K class. There was contradictory information as to mileage earnings (first they said 70percent,than 50) but in the end I got full rdm and Pqm. Real pain though not knowing what to expect. Enjoy the lounge and NRT, and be sure to check out the beer robot

    • Scottrick

      Problem still exists! But yes, for ANA at least the reduced earning rate only applies for intra-Japan IIRC.

  • Chris

    The fare clases for the antitrust-immunized joint ventures tend to match well. I’ve never understood why you’ll see a slight ($1-3) difference on NH/UA or AA/BA, even after seeing the two itineraries (just with different flight numbers) price out using the same, respective fare codes, but there’s usually a good mapping between the marketing carrier and the operating carrier (for ATI JV’s).

  • Jeff

    You didn’t identify the two worst problems with earning miles on United code shares:

    1) A UA code share does not count as a UA flight for purposes of minimum UA flights to get elite status. So you can buy UA tickets every week in business class on an international code share and not even get silver if you don’t fly 4 flights on UA metal. I wound up flying UA a lot at the end of the year, but for a while, I was unsure if I’d qualify even though I had tons of PQM.

    2) I think that UA code shares only earn 100% PQM even in business class but the same UA ticket on UA metal would get 150% PQM.

  • Jesse W Spears

    Another problem is codeshares do not qualfiy for million miler which even though seriously downgraded in the merger is still a very good longterm retirement benefit. As a pair of retired miliion milers ( who did not get full credit for all partner flights in the adjustment) we are now very careful to book only UA metal as we need to get the extra BIS miles to get to the 2 million to have the benefits we lost. Heads up young working 1K’s and prem execs, pay attention to your UA actual mileage also it’s worth it in the long term.

  • Diana Wu

    Glad you’re enjoying your time on the ground and hope your flight back is better. I’m really hoping we don’t run into any delay issues when we go through NRT next month. A long trip made even longer when flying with a toddler sounds like a nightmare!

  • AKold

    Delta seems to follow a more United way of doing miles … I’ve booked DL codeshares on Alaska, KLM, and Air France, and always had to follow the booking class on the partner airline and not the one I booked through Delta. Fortunately, most of the partners I book have 100% earnings for the lowest revenue fares with Skymiles.

  • Jake Redman

    I have an upcoming 4-segment trip aboard 4 different airlines with UA flight #’s. I’m calling it the “Worst mileage run ever”. In my case, I just wasn’t paying attention. meh.

  • Mitch

    Delta uses marketing carrier to determine earnings with two exceptions. The first is flights marketed by SkyTeam members (other than DL) must be operated by a SkyTeam member in order to earn. (For example, even though Malaysia Airlines is a partner of Delta, a KL-coded, MH-operated flight won’t earn in SkyMiles because MH is not a member of SkyTeam.) The other exception is that some DL-coded, VA-operated flights earn at a lower rate, but that’s clearly disclosed in the earning table.

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  • Richard

    If you fly on a UA ticket, with a UA code share number but air new zealand metal and it’s a low fare, you get zero miles.