Earlier I wrote about how Alaska Airlines will be joining the oneworld alliance before the end of 2020, though that’s not the only exciting change coming to oneworld, at least on paper.
Oneworld will introduce alliance-wide upgrades
Cranky Flier spoke to executives of oneworld ahead of the Alaska Airlines announcement, and there was one particularly interesting detail. The oneworld alliance plans to introduce upgrades as an alliance benefit in the coming months, around the same time that Alaska Airlines joins the alliance.
It seems like that wasn’t even intended to be an official announcement right now, as executives were unwilling to share further details about what we should expect.
The concept of alliance-wide upgrades sounds exciting, though personally I think it’s highly unlikely that this will have wide appeal.
The oneworld alliance plans to introduce upgrade awards
How could oneworld alliance upgrades work?
If you’re expecting that this means that American AAdvantage Executive Platinum members will get free upgrades on all Cathay Pacific and Qantas flights, you’re likely going to be disappointed.
The Star Alliance has offered an alliance upgrade concept for many years, so I generally think we should look at that program to get a sense of what we might expect from oneworld. On the plus side, Star Alliance lets you upgrade with any alliance mileage currency on any alliance airline. However:
- Upgrades are only permitted from the highest fare classes (in economy that includes “Y” and “B,” and in business class that includes “C” and “D,” and on some airlines additional fare classes are allowed)
- The upgrade inventory is typically identical to award inventory at the saver level, so it’s not always that readily available
- Each Star Alliance upgrade award is valid on a single segment
- The actual number of miles required to upgrade isn’t that steep, and there are no co-pays; as an example, you can see the Aeroplan Star Alliance upgrade chart here
Just to give one quick example, a roundtrip New York to Frankfurt itinerary on Lufthansa in the “B” fare class of economy costs ~$3,470.
Meanwhile a discounted business class ticket costs under $100 more.
This is purely for demonstrative purposes, though admittedly there’s a bit more nuance to this (there are a couple of other eligible fare classes on some airlines, this doesn’t account for ticket flexibility, it doesn’t account for premium economy tickets, etc.).
However, in general the only circumstance under which I’ve found the alliance upgrade concept to be worthwhile is if you’re a business traveler who contractually has to book full fare economy or full fare business class, and you want to upgrade.
In virtually all other cases I’ve found you’re often better off redeeming miles for an award ticket in the cabin you want to fly (even if you need to buy miles directly from a frequent flyer program), since the inventory out of which those tickets come is the same.
In some cases you can even book a cheaper paid ticket in the cabin you intend to upgrade to, rather than booking a full fare ticket one cabin down.
Qantas’ 787 business class
It’s expected that the oneworld alliance will be introducing reciprocal upgrades towards the end of 2020.
However, don’t get too excited. This won’t mean that any upgrade privileges you get on “your” airline will be extended to other airlines. Rather it’s likely that this would work similar to the Star Alliance upgrade program, which requires you to book a full fare ticket, and also requires there to be award availability for your flight.
Is anyone more optimistic about the potential value proposition of oneworld’s upgrade program than I am?