Elite Benefits on Partner Airline Award Tickets
While the majority of “typical” frequent fliers likely book award tickets using miles from the primary U.S. airlines, there is a lot of value on the table when you use partner miles to book tickets, even domestic ones. From options such as Avianca LifeMiles and Turkish Miles & Smiles for United tickets, British Airways Avios for American awards, and Virgin Atlantic miles for Delta nonstops, there are ways you can save. But what about your elite benefits on partner airline award tickets? Will you receive any?
The loss of elite benefits is one reason you may *not* want to book partner airline award tickets for domestic travel. But what you actually forfeit on partner award tickets varies significantly by carrier. In this post I want to highlight the dramatic difference between how American and United handle elite benefits on partner airline award tickets.
My Personal United Case Study
While I’ve previously not really cared about changing reservation booked with partner miles to my United frequent flyer number, when I flew to Hawaii for just 7,500 Turkish Miles & Smiles, I really wanted to snag an Economy Plus seat for the long leg to Kona. Obviously, as this was an award booked through a partner, United had no idea that this ticket was being flown by a Premier member.
I’d tried previously to change my frequent flyer number on tickets booked with LifeMiles online, but this never worked. The field was always uneditable. It wasn’t ever a big deal in other cases, but in this particular case, it really mattered. Maybe I can call United and have them update the reservation?
This is exactly what I did. One quick call to United connected me to an agent who happily changed the frequent flyer number on the reservation to my United MileagePlus number. While I had him on the line, I had him update a second ticket where both my daughter and I were flying to New Mexico. In that case, I’d booked using LifeMiles. No issues changing either.
Sure enough, when I logged into my account at United.com, the trips both showed my United frequent flyer number. I was now able to enjoy a checked bag for free (if needed). When I checked in, I was able to select an Economy Plus seat at no extra charge (major score for a 5-hour flight), and I enjoyed Group 2 boarding. I was even placed on the first class upgrade list (applicable if you have a co-branded United credit card)!
All this for a 5-minute phone call. Definitely worth it.
United Premier Benefits on Partner Award Tickets
As I’ve illustrated, United is quite friendly when it comes to extending elite benefits on partner airline award tickets booked through partner airlines. They basically treat you exactly as if you’d booked your award ticket directly through MileagePlus using their miles. You’ll enjoy all the following elite benefits on partner airline awards tickets booked on United, as applicable based on your Premier tier:
- Complimentary Economy Plus seating
- Free checked baggage allowance
- Complimentary premier upgrades (as long as you qualify for these on an award ticket)
- Priority Boarding
Obviously, things like ticket change fees, award redeposit fees, etc. won’t be applicable, as you booked with partner miles. The terms and conditions of those programs apply to your ticket. But any benefits that apply to your flight experience are treated just as if you’d booked through United.
American Elite Benefits on Partner Airline Award Tickets
American’s rules on elite benefits when it comes to partner award tickets are the complete opposite of United. If you book a ticket on American using partner miles (i.e. British Airways Avios), you forfeit all your elite perks. Even though BA and AA might be super close partners, your loyalty to American suddenly doesn’t matter if you book a ticket with Avios.
This is obviously frustrating for savvy frequent flyers who are looking to burn their Avios (or Qantas points, or other miles) for short-haul travel on American Airlines. Other programs have some nice sweet spots for domestic travel. It would be nice to be able to book these tickets, change the reservation to you AAdvantage number, and then receive all your benefits as an elite.
Starting back in 2018, American agents received direction to stop replacing passengers’ Executive Club numbers with their AAdvantage number. This obviously means that you will receive none of your elite perks, from the Gold to the Executive Platinum, including:
- Access to Main Cabin Extra seats
- Priority Boarding
- Free checked bags
- Free snack and drink for EXP elites
- Upgrades on award tickets for EXP elites
American makes it crystal clear in their terms:
You cannot accrue partner airline miles with your partner frequent flyer number if you have already used your AAdvantage® number to obtain AAdvantage® program benefits such as First or Business Class upgrades, baggage fee waivers or complimentary access to Preferred/Main Cabin Extra seats. Additionally, you cannot redeem partner airline miles with your partner frequent flyer number and obtain AAdvantage® program benefits such as priority boarding and access to preferred seats.
Tough luck, American elites.
But…you may have a workaround. Both Mark and Shawn have been able to add the reservation using the BA record locator and then add their AA frequent flyer number to be able to select MCE seats. If you can get it to work online, you’re golden. Don’t expect to be able to call to have AA add the number. Not sure if, or how long, this will last.
What About Delta?
As far as I am aware, you’re in luck if you book Delta tickets with (specifically with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club) partner miles. I’m assuming other partners should work the same, but I’ve read that you can change your frequent flyer number to your SkyMiles number and receive all the same benefits as you would booking with Delta miles.
In Delta’s case, this could be incredibly useful in many instances, as Delta’s award pricing isn’t always that attractive.
I don’t understand why American is so difficult when you book using partner award miles. They’ve really become the worst airline in the country, in my opinion. I’m glad that the other major carriers are fine offering your elite benefits on partner airline award tickets.