Why You Should Never Book Airline Codeshares

One of the most troublesome kinds of airline reservations is the codeshare where one airline places its ‘code’ on another airline’s flight and sells it as though it’s on their own planes and operated by their own crew. This often doesn’t work out well.

There are several ways that two airlines can partner with each other. For instance,

  • Airlines can sell tickets on other carriers. This is part of interlining.

  • They can enter a frequent flyer partnership, which may involve mileage-earning and some recognition for elite frequent flyers like priority check-in and boarding.

  • And there are joint ventures where the airlines share revenue on particular routes, and therefore are supposed to be indifferent whether a passenger flies one airline versus the other.

All of these have benefits to the airline and the customer. But they don’t require putting one airline’s code on the other airline’s flight (codeshare).

But when you see “[Airline flight] operated by [second airline]” and it isn’t just a regional carrier doing the flying (such as Delta operated by SkyWest]” – when you see something like “United Airlines operated by ANA” – run away. Quickly.

Now, there are several potential benefits to booking a codeshare,

  • Since two airlines are selling the flight, the price might be different and you might save some money with the codeshare as part of a larger itinerary.

  • Airlines may favor codeshares for mileage and elite-status earning.

However when things go wrong it can get complicated. If you have an American Airlines ticket for travel on JetBlue, and JetBlue cancels your flight prior to the day of travel, it’s American you’re dealing with to get rebooked. They may not have as much inventory to work with on JetBlue, and may favor their own flights over putting you on another JetBlue flight.

Codeshares also foil travelers who don’t realize whom they’ll be flying. An American Airlines customer who buys an American Airlines flight number for travel on British Airways from London might have checked in at London Heathrow terminal 3 before the pandemic (where American is!), not realizing they were supposed to go to an entirely different terminal because they are really flying British Airways.

One of the trickiest areas when booking codeshares can be assigning seats. Often you won’t even be able to pull up a seat map for the codeshare flight. In essence, the operating airline’s own flight has a flight number and associated seat map. But the airline selling the flight doesn’t have or control a seat map for that flight, and the two may not talk to each other properly.

Right now in fact American Airlines isn’t able to give you seat assignments on JetBlue.

When you book a flight with American Airlines, with an American Airlines flight number, and American Airlines tells you to call a different airline if you want seats that is a problem.

There are much better ways for airlines to handle financial arrangements than codeshares. Sure, if American sells its flight number on JetBlue it’s keeping money off that ticket. But why can’t they just work out a commission arrangement for selling the JetBlue flight, let the customer have a JetBlue flight number, for the same exact trip? That would simplify seating tremendously and reduce confusion over whom the passenger will actually be flying.

Of course when other airlines run to the government to complain about the JetBlue-American Airlines partnership and say the deal is bad for consumers, they do not cite any of these issues that are actually bad for customers. They can’t, because they all do these things too.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. So, what’s the best way to avoid this? Using an online travel agent changes the relationship to be with that agent, which has also not been recommended as the airline will only deal with the agent, and booking through an airline generally only shows codeshares if you have to make a connection on another airline, I’ve had luck using the web site of the airline flying the segment to manage the seat assignment using the ticket number and name. Finding that ticket number can be a challenge, as it’s only in one if the emails one gets after buying a ticket. But, IRROPS is something I haven’t yet had to deal with on one if these flights yet. Buying two tickets causes issues with luggage transfers, and IRROPS means you might need to pay a change fee if the first segment is late, or you need to change a connection city.

  2. Counterpoint:
    1. Some routes are not available without codeshares. If I’m flying from some small airport in the US to some small airport in Europe, there’s no single ticket that will do all that without a codeshare in there somewhere.
    2. Your mileage may vary. With so many FF programs giving points based on money spent, codeshares on the same metal may award points based on miles, a better deal.
    3. With codeshares, your status with the operating airline counts.
    4. Integration matters. Some codeshares show up immediately as bookings on the operating airline’s pages; some require a whole separate record locator. At some stations, IRROPS are handled by the same people.

    So, I wouldn’t say “run away screaming”, just know what you’re getting into and whether it represents a benefit or a liability.

  3. Whenever I fly a partner airline using miles (say using AA miles on Etihad) the website or agent gives me a reservation code which is only an AA code and not recognized by Etihad. So I always insisted on getting the Etihad reservation code as well. Then I call Etihad with that code and reserve my seats. This was especially important with business on the 380 where forward facing seats were awesome and rear facing seats were not.

    Would it work like this on codeshares?

  4. It really depends on the partnership. United/Lufthansa codeshares are about as seamless as it gets.

  5. I’ve had some trips only available with codeshares. Yes, always get reservation codes for both/all airlines.

  6. I think this is a bit overblown. Yes, there are wrinkles to codeshare arrangements that may make the experience less than seemless. However, as others pointed out, there are itineraries that cannot be done on a single airline, and there are times when it is financially beneficial to book a codeshare.

    One other point when it comes to seat assignments: through UA, every codeshare I have booked automatically comes with a PNR for the partner airline. I can then run that PNR into the operating airline’s app and get my seat assigned (unless the partner airline has rules against that, like LH in Y). It’s really not that hard.

    Yes, I think there are opportunities to improve codeshares (I know Star Alliance is working on this), but I hardly agree that you should run screaming at the prospect of a codeshare flight.

  7. All I can say as a former Air Wisconsin supervisor (twenty years) is to be an educated consumer. Check every segment on your itinerary before booking your flights. Google the partner airlines to see how well they operate. Look up the aircraft involved.

    Everyone clamored for deregulation. This is part of what you get. There are places you just can’t conveniently get in and out of except on codeshare flights on other carriers. C’est la vie.

  8. For IRROPs on the day of travel, it is the operating carrier’s responsibility to get you to the intended destination. They would love to push the buck, but ultimately they will need to do the rebooking. Same issue with itinerary plated on a different plating number.

    Also, for oneworld, earning is based on the marketing carrier, not the operating carrier. This may or may not make a difference on earning abilities.

  9. Just went thru these hassles booking AA flts on BA using Avios.

    When I chkd-in online with BA, the system wouldn’t allow me to assign seats. It tried transferring to AA from BA but never would go thru.

    Then the AA chk-in kiosk didnt recognize the BA PNR so had to wait in line for a tkt agent to get bags chked. AND it didnt chk the 1st bag free (with an AA cc) cos it also didnt recognize the flts under our AAdvantage numbers.

    Saved 15k miles over what AA offered directly but what a bad chk-in experience.

  10. @Gary —

    Sometimes you have no option, such as when the flight you want to take — say based upon departure/arrival time — is operated by another airline (such as BA rather than AA).

    When using AS points in the past — i.e.: prior to joining oneworld — to book on AA, I *never* had any problems whatsoever in getting seat assignments. I have the AS confirmation code, but also an AA record locator number. I simply log into AA, pull up their record locator number, and select the seat(s) I want.

    As with the other comments above, as long as you have ANY wits about you (and know how to read), the average consumer will *see* that flight xxxx on (i.e.) AA is in fact operated by IB (as flight xxx). If you don’t know what terminal to go to, or what airline you’re flying —> who’s fault is that? YOURS!

  11. I like AS code AA metal codeshares though because when you fly AS code a mile flown is a mile earned with AS MP.

  12. There are so many other nuances surrounding codeshares that weren’t touched upon. It is ALWAYS the operating carrier’s responsibility to rebook a passenger in IROP situations (close in the day of departure). Seat assignments are entirely possible across codeshares, it just comes down to how cheap the marketing carrier wants to be. Because they have to enable interactive seatmap display and assignment with their operating partner carrier, which is very expensive. Further to that point, the best piece of advise you can give anyone booking a codeshare is to know the details of the operating carrier, and **what reservation system they are hosted on**, because that is what will determine how well the operating carrier will be able to manage and rebook you if things go South.

  13. Codeshares can be helpful when it comes to refunds, like booking LH via UA or BA via AA. IME, US carriers have been better at refunds compared to EU carriers.

  14. Sorry, Gary, but I agree 80% with my fellow posters and 20% with you.

    Booking through AS on a codeshare AA is one clear example of a big benefit of not booking with AA. I am MVP Gold 75 with AS but only Platinum with AA. I get more miles and more benefits buying an AS ticket.

    When I fly to Africa, South American and Europe, I book UA and AA on codeshares (ET, IB, AV). I have been upgraded to First Class based on my alliance status from UA and AA but I would not get those upgrades if I bought directly with the codeshare airline because I have no status with them.

  15. I bought a B6 flight through the AA website right after they announced their partnership. It was a decent experience. Outbound flight was changed, but it wasn’t a real hassle. Had to call B6 for a seat assignment. I’d give it a 7/10 experience. Not super streamlined, but everything worked.

  16. I only flew on one codeshare. It was to LHR on AA using BA metal. The J class fare on BA was extremely high but the AA fare was the usual. The company didn’t want to pay the BA fare.

  17. Booked a Delta flt with Virgin air miles 2 days ago – got the VA cfm nbr from VA and VA ticket number plus delta cfm nbr an hour later — went to the Delta site for a seat and Delta has no record of my reservation- called Delta ( waited one hour ) gave flt nbr date etc – no record – called VA sent 1 1/2 hours on phone and they only say that I have a reservation !!!

    will retry speaking with Va but think I will need to re book – the shame is– it is 50k biz none stop biz Europe -jfk

  18. A couple years back, I bought a rock-bottom RT ORD-BKK fare on a UA/HX codeshare through HKG. That was enough to swear me off codeshares for the rest of my life. Yes, the ticket was under $500, but I could not check into any flight through app or electronic terminals and had to go to the desk each time with it taking 15-20 minutes to figure things out. Not fun. The transfers via HKG were also a nightmare since I had to re-do immigration each time after standing at the transfer desk to get a ticket (neither carrier would/could print the whole itinerary, which should have been the first red flag). Not being able to select a seat is not even worth mentioning. The icing on the cake was that I did not earn any miles on the non-UA flights which, of course, was not disclosed when I bought the ticket (I believe HKX was a ‘non-mileage earn’ *A partner). Total waste of time and energy.

  19. I booked a JetBule flight via AA a few days ago. AA said I would need to call JB to get my seat. I assumed it would be as smooth as my experience wth UA and one of its alliance partners.I called JB and got my seat. (The agent at first told me to call AA.)

    A day later, I found out my seat assignment was changed (shown only on the AA site but not on JB). I called JB to ask for the explanation. The agent told me to call AA since AA had issued the ticket. I asked him why the 1st agent was able to assign me a seat. He said, “no way that JB could have assigned a seat”. This guy was clueless about the AA/JB alliance even he insisted that he knew how it worked.

    Agreed with Andrew, JB should be able to use the PNR (called Confirmation Code) to allow AA passenger to get a seat on JB. But it largely depends on the IT ability of the codeshare partner.

    By the way, there is an article by thepointsguy.com detailing the AA/JB alliance. Wish I had read it before I booked the flight.

  20. I tried to read through most of the comments, so I apologize if this comment is duplicated. But the other benefit to this is not having to pick up your luggage every time you transfer through an airport. I’m trying to get my fiance and her son over here from Poland in the summer, and it is extremely difficult for her with a 6-year-old to pick up her luggage at each destination and recheck it. Or maybe I just don’t know how to work the system so the to avoid this. I certainly appreciate anybody’s input.

  21. And right now B6 can’t give me a seat on American, so it cuts both ways.
    But that’s a minor annoyance, given the difference in ticket prices. I booked DFW-LGA for November. I booked outbound LGA-DFW on AA.com. However, the return was half the price with JetBlue, so that’s where I booked. I saved $100 for two tickets. And if I can go DFW-LGA for $49, I’m not running from that.

  22. I disagree.

    If I am doing this for the miles and EQD on AA, Then codeshate worked for me.

    I booked a crazy flight to Dubai and back.

    I ended up on the upper deck of a BA 747 for three flights. Great service, great experience, now gone.

    As with all things, know what you are buying, and you won’t be let down.

  23. Eternal vigilance is key, because if you combine code shares on multiple airlines, you may end up with a negative-length layover! Discovered by chance that LX had eliminated the flight booked as the first leg of a trip, and moved me to the same flight a day later, without any notice to me. The UA computer wasn’t concerned – it just registered my layover to the AC-operated 2nd leg as being “-21 hours” in length. Clearly had both legs been on LX, or AC, or even one leg on UA metal (where the miles came from), SOMEONE’s computer would have choked. I hope. (There wasn’t a way to make the AC flight work on the second day, so I ended up with a completely new routing on UA metal, after 1.5 hours on the phone.)

  24. I agree with Alex — UA/LH codeshares are pretty seamless. You may need to go to the LH website or app to checkin or get your seat assignment, but that isn’t a big deal.

    I seem to recall the LH/SAS codeshares not being as seamless.

  25. Your blog entry is just silly.

    Depending on the marketing/operating carrier combination, you may get the same IRROPS handling despite having booked the codeshare.

    And the benefits of booking the codeshare can sometimes be huge. For instance, in the AFKL and DL JV, booking the codeshare can sometimes save hundreds of dollars. Typically, the price of AFKL “economy light” and DL “basic economy” is identical. However, if you book a flight on DL metal as an AFKL codeshare in “economy light”, you get booking class “Main (V)”. If you book that flight on DL code, you land in “basic (E)” with all the negative repercussions of BE.

  26. Another miss on this is that when flying to smaller cities in Europe via LHR on AA, you can use miles/EVIP upgrades if the TATL segment is on AA even if you need a little ULCC-BA flight to get from LHR to wherever else that doesn’t have a flight to non-NYC USA.

  27. This is great advice, Ive been on hold with Jet Blue for the last 2.5 hours trying to get a seat assignment. I bought the codeshare flight through American Airlines. The $30 difference in price is definitely not worth this. I will never do this again. Wish I saw your article first! Thanks for the great info!

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