When people ask how to use their miles for an upgrade, I sometimes have to hand out bad news: No, you can’t use miles from airline A to upgrade on airline B. That’s because airlines are often far more restrictive when it comes to redemptions on their partners.
It isn’t always obvious with free flight awards because the rules aren’t all-or-nothing. An airline can make awards available on its own flights and on partner flights. But it can only offer what a partner allows it to sell. On its own flights it can be more flexible, perhaps releasing more inventory for a higher price or if you have special status.
Upgrades follow pretty much the same rules. An airline can be flexible with its own flights, maybe releasing more upgrades if you’re willing to redeem more miles or make a larger co-pay. But upgrades on partner flights are more restrictive, and often many partners do not release any upgrades to be booked with another airline’s miles.
That might change with a proposal from the oneworld Alliance, of which American Airlines is a part. Executive Traveler says they’re considering a plan to create an alliance-wide upgrade scheme, much like what already exists for free flight awards.
According to the article:
An alliance-wide upgrade system is currently being examined…. Under the plan, passengers could use their own airline’s points to apply for next cabin upgrades such as from economy to premium economy or business class, and even business to first class.
This would likely involve the creation of standard fare classes (or inventory buckets) for upgrades so that there would be some portability across carriers, as well as common rules for which fares are eligible to be upgraded. And it might change the existing rules for limited upgrades between some carriers. American already allows you to use its AAdvantage miles on British Airways, for example.
Prices, however, are likely to remain determined by the carrier that issues the miles. You can already see this today with “free” flight awards. British Airways and American Airlines have very different prices to book the same flight between New York and London, even if you’re flying on the same carrier! While American may or may not require more miles, British Airways generally has higher fees and more permissive rules for connections and stopovers.
I’ve always wondered why upgrades were so haphazard when flight redemptions were otherwise solved years ago. Finally one airline alliance seems to be addressing the problem directly. Hopefully we see Star Alliance (United) and SkyTeam (Delta) follow suit.