American And Alaska Miles Soon To Be Able To Upgrade Travel On 14 Different Airlines

Star Alliance member airlines have let you use miles from one program to upgrade on flights operated by another member for decades. Members of the oneworld alliance, anchored in the U.S. by American Airlines, were poised to roll out this feature two year ago, but the pandemic interfered. Still, the alliance CEO said it would happen around the time Alaska Airlines joined the alliance. That didn’t happen. Then the promise was end of 2021.

Finally oneworld says it is on track to roll out the platform this year for members of one airline’s program in the alliance to use their miles to upgrade on a flight operated by another airline in the alliance.

This would mean members of American Airlines AAdvantage and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan could potentially use their miles to upgrade on at least 14 different airlines. Members of the alliance are: Alaska, American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordaniian, S7, SriLankan. In addition Fiji Airways is a 15th pseudo (“Connect”) member.

British Airways First Class

The former head of oneworld frequent flyer program Malaysia Airlines Enrich, though, says it’s not going to happen.

The way these have worked in the past, using miles from one airline to upgrade on another, has been clunky and really a relic of pre-pandemic times. You’d first have to buy a full fare ticket, the province of a limited number of corporate travelers. And then there would have to be space in a confirmed upgrade inventory bucket (which at some airlines is the same as a bucket for business class award travel) to confirm the upgrade. Long haul international corporate travel in full fare economy is a strange thing to be investing in right now, though perhaps it does return to pre-pandemic levels.

American Airlines has been integrating its frequent flyer benefits closely with a select stable of partners, rather than through the oneworld alliance. Alliances have been less relevant in recent years, compared to joint ventures and bilateral agreements.

Notably they’re not waiting for alliance upgrades to roll out, and aren’t waiting for alliance upgrade capability to roll out to ride on its rails. They also aren’t limiting themselves to working closely with alliance airlines.

If alliance upgrades do happen soon, we don’t yet know what fare classes will be eligible for upgrade or how confirming upgrades will work, but I’d expect as a first pass that it’ll be similar to how Star Alliance upgrades and existing British Airways-American-Iberia upgrades. This means requiring expensive tickets out of reach of most flyers, rather than upgrades on any fare for domestic and close-in international the way that American and Alaska offer. However that’s a pre-pandemic mindset and I’m hopeful it might be reconsidered.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. But, availability will still be dependent on each airline’s revenue management team releasing upgrade-eligible inventory. Which, as we know, is problematic.

  2. Is the limited use if it’s full fare only even worth the IT resources needed to pull it off vs other value add projects

  3. Instead of a seat upgrade, it might be worth spending an optional 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles or oneworld mile equivalents for passengers to receive a cheerful hello upon boarding and a sincere buh-bye on deplaning.

  4. Forget that, I just want to use my Alaska miles to utilize OneWorld Business class tickets (looking at you Qantas)…which I STILL can’t do unless it’s on JAL or I’m paying out the a$$ on British Airways on their stupid fees.

  5. I was waitlisted for J->F upgrade on a BA flight MIA-LHR. When I asked the agent at the lounge, she said she had NEVER seen one of those clear.

  6. I am a MVP Gold 75K with Alaska and have 1.6M miles.

    The problem with their system is that yes you can use their miles to buy space on AA or BA but almost never on a routing or class of service you’d want.

    Say there is a nonstop with ample business class availability on AA you want. Using Alaska miles, you’ll end up with a connecting flight and the “business/first” class you’ll have is “mixed cabin” where only one leg (usually the shorter or the Alaska metal portion) will be upgraded.

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