Are Exclusive Frequent Flyer Partnerships Going to Restrict Your Choices?

United and Hertz have a new tie-up with comp car rental elite status for United elites and premium credit card holders, and greater mileage-earning for all members.

But as Scott at Hack My Trip points out, the new deal comes at a cost — you won’t be able to earn miles for car rentals with rental companies than Hertz, Dollar, and Thrifty (i.e. those owned by Hertz).

I don’t see that as an especially big deal. United rarely ever had the best mileage deals with these companies, and Hertz and Dollar rarely had the best mileage deals period.

Scott worries though that this could be a trend towards exclusivity, and fewer options. I don’t worry as much, and on net welcome the partnerships.

Partnerships Drive Benefits

The goal of partnerships of course is to increase revenue for travel providers. But airline alliances have meant better mileage-earning, and less stranded miles. I credit to American, or Delta, or United (or to a handful of international programs) virtually no matter who I fly in the world. I don’t have to put miles in the Thai Airways program if I fly a paid ticket on Thai, for instance.

And award tickets have gotten much better. Pre-Star Alliance, when United and Air New Zealand were partners, I had the option to redeem miles on Air New Zealand. I could not mix and match partners on a single award, though (and United didn’t offer one-ways back then). If I wanted Air New Zealand travel in business class, United would transport me to Los Angeles ‘as a courtesy’ and that would be in coach. I considered this for an Australia award and decided to fly United instead.

I’ve redeemed first class awards using five different airlines in the same itinerary without spending additional miles, thanks to alliances.

I’ve picked up extra points from Starwood thanks to Crossover Rewards, and gotten recognition and points in Las Vegas I wouldn’t have otherwise thanks to Hyatt-MHM’s tie-up.

And even the issuance of miles for things like hotel stays, something that dates back decades, represents a marketing tie-up of sorts.

Partnerships are Spreading

Hotel programs got into the act. I thought the most innovative was Hyatt’s partnership with MGM M Life. That was like a hotel codeshare, following the airline alliance playbook it gave both chains greater reach, let customers earn and burn points across each others’ networks, and earn and get status recognition as well. It gave Hyatt a huge presence in Las Vegas, and MGM a strong presence elsewhere. (Starwood and Caesars got into the act with a somewhat less robust partnership.)

And airlines linked up with hotels. Delta and Starwood introduced Crossover Rewards, an attempt to share each others’ best customers — they will tell you that Starwood customers fly Delta more and spend more with Delta, for instance. Marriott and United got into the act together.

Most Partnerships Aren’t Exclusive

Delta still partners with all the major hotel chains, and indeed continues to run promotions with Hilton and not with Starwood that help members earn Skymiles elite status faster. Marriott had a 20% bonus on points transfers to American and US Airways before launching a similar deal with their close partner United. (Granted, Delta doesn’t love any of their partners as much as they used to, they don’t want you transferring in more than 250,000 miles in a year from any single partner anymore, starting next year.)

Airline Partnerships are Showing Cracks

Lots of loyalty programs are aligning themselves closely. First there were airline alliances, like Star and oneworld and Skyteam. You were supposed to be able to fly the world as though you were on your home airline, seamlessly integrating. Now those alliances are beginning to crack up with in group/out group joint ventures (some partners in an alliance are more equal than others) and rules designed to only reward you for flying on your home airline and not their partners (like having to do some or even half of your flying on that airline to earn elite status).

Delta doesn’t work and play well with others in its alliance.

And Etihad is making strategic investments in airlines belonging to different alliances and proving that money is more important than business friendships.

Exclusive – or “Partner” – doesn’t Mean Forever

Once tight-knit airline alliances aren’t looking as tight, the point here is that relationships are cyclical (much like human relationships) so I don’t worry so much about temporary exclusivity, I think of it as serial monogamy.

Remember that United used to own Hertz. And then spun it off, and Hertz developed relationships with many major airlines. They used to own Westin, now part of Starwood, which is best friends with Delta. They also used to own Hilton, and yet United entered a tie-up with Marriott.

US Airways was a Star Alliance member, now it’s in oneworld.

I don’t worry so much about the exclusivity of points-earning in MleagePlus for renting with Hertz-owned rental car entities.

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. it is ok until your ‘preferred’ programs don’t match. That would be the issue. Plus as partnerships grow this could become increasingly common among air, hotel and car rental.

  2. It is frustrating… I’m fly Delta, stay at Hilton, drive Hertz, gamble with Mlife. But Delta is partnered with SPG, Hertz with United and Mlife with Hyatt.

    Hasn’t changed my loyalty but annoying.

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