Every now and then I get a question about sharing your elite benefits with a companion, particularly when that companion is going to be traveling on a separate reservation. It usually goes like this:
I need to book a ticket for myself for a business trip, but I also want to redeem miles so I can take my spouse with me. Is it possible to get us on the same reservation? I want us both to be able to take advantage of my elite benefits.
The answer, fortunately, is usually positive. However, airlines will make you put in the extra legwork to share your benefits with other passengers on a different reservation (or PNR, Passenger Name Record). There’s also no guarantee that your manual labor will stick, and in the event of an aircraft swap, a cancellation, or other irregular operations you and your spouse could find yourself separated—maybe even on different flights.
In other words, yes, you can usually share your benefits. But the only way to make sure you are treated as if you’re on the same reservation is to ACTUALLY be on the same reservation. Even when an agent “links” two reservations together, they are really just making a note on the record. Some agents may not notice when they have a lot of reservations to process in a hurry.
Companion Benefits Depend on the Airline
Sharing your status with a companion adds a whole extra layer of calculus to the usual mess of airline loyalty programs. The problem is that the airline is trying to reward its best customers, and sharing your benefits with others might take away from that. For example, if there are two first class seats left, should the airline give one to you and to the other elite passenger, or should the airline upgrade you and your companion and leave the other elite passenger in coach?
I encourage you to read the airline’s policy on companion benefits carefully before you book and call if you still have questions. Most benefits are worded openly, offering perks to “companions traveling with you on the same flight.”
Even that can still trip you up sometimes. Are you and your companion starting in the same city, connecting, and then parting ways to different final destinations? You will only be able to get preferred seats on the flight where you are both traveling together. Your companion also won’t get to check his or her bags for free, since those bags will spend part of their journey on a different plane.
(And while this post focuses on airlines, you can sometimes share your status at hotels, too. I’ve often succeeded at getting free breakfast or a late check-out when the non-status member books a room but has an elite member staying with them. Upgrades are less likely.)
How to Request Benefits for a Spouse or Friend
The usual process is to make your two reservations as normal. Then, call up a reservations agent and ask for assistance, explaining that you and your companion are traveling on separate tickets. The reason why usually doesn’t matter, so avoid these details unless asked. You can then ask for help with a preferred seat assignment. I recommend you check back online often to make sure you’re still seated together.
Upgrades are trickier. Most upgrades these days are processed automatically, and these computer systems don’t recognize companions if they’re on a separate ticket. Some airlines, such as United Airlines, still allow companions to be upgraded if you bring it to the agent’s attention at the airport. The issue is that this may be too late since some upgrades are processed as early as five days in advance for top tier members. (Still, some busy routes often have first class seats held back until close to departure, so you may be in luck.)
I strongly recommend that if you are hoping for an upgrade then you should book both passengers on the same reservation. Alternatively, you can use some methods to upgrade in advance, such as redeeming miles or an upgrade certificate.
Other benefits, like free checked luggage, priority security, and priority boarding are all much easier. For checked luggage, you’ll need to talk to an agent instead of using a kiosk. I try to check in first if I have status and then I indicate my wife is traveling with me on a separate ticket so the agent can process both of us at the same time.
Meanwhile, security and boarding queues don’t require much conversation at all. I bring my wife and friends along with me all the time for priority boarding. I do make sure to go first, so the agent sees that I’m eligible, but then I indicate the others are with me. It doesn’t matter if the others are boarding in group 9.
With these tips in mind, you can comfortably enjoy traveling with friends and family on separate tickets. Just remember that nothing is going to be automatic. So as long as you stay on top of your reservations (both of them!) you shouldn’t encounter any issues.