Oneworld Plans To Introduce Alliance-Wide Upgrades

Filed Under: oneworld

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

Bottom line

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?

  1. Ben, does that Star scheme let you upgrade just connecting legs? For instance a cheaper ticket that books into Y for a short segment – even if the underlying basis is say N? This could have some appeal on say some shorthaul CX, QR etc connections, less so on longhaul unless work is paying.

  2. About bloody time! I’m lucky to live in a country with cheap premium tickets (Far East and North America can regularly be had for about £1500 return), whereas premium tickets ex North America come in at three times the price. We also have healthcare and uni education covered by our taxes, and very low Covid rates.

  3. Yes, I am. Have heard about this from OW for a while. I wouldn’t be so pessimistic as Star Alliance won’t necessarily be the model that OW bases themselves on.

  4. @ Wilhelm…£1500 for r/t is not cheap for flight out of N. America for East Asia. For Britain it may be cheap though. Assuming Britain based on £ being used.

  5. I have faith that the OW program will be better than *A. OW has better loyalty agreements. For example, *A Silver gets you nearly nothing (at least based on my experience as UA Silver on AC). OW Ruby usually gets you priority check-in and boarding and usually some seat selection benefits.

  6. Lucky, I agree with your assessment. The new fare group thing has even make it worse. Quite often, even booking a flex fare wouldn’t book you in a high fare class (such as Y, B, M). That’s why my last StarAlliance upgrade dates years back.

  7. There are a few known sweet spots on AP’s upgrade. One of them is the B class on BR. If OW adapts a similar approach on upgradeable fare buckets, there could potential be some great value.

  8. There are some real sweet spots with the Star Alliance upgrade awards. Your Lufthansa example doesn’t make much sense, but EVA consistently has great B class fares, which are eligible for upgrade.

    For example, I just picked some random dates in October and you can buy B class round trip from JFK to TPE for $1,118. To Hong Kong via TPE is $1,246. That is a pretty damn good deal IMHO…

  9. This sucks. This is like giving us gold guest upgrades and never releasing any upgrade space ever.

  10. I hope that the Qantas upgrade method or something similar would apply. With those, upgrades are available with any ticket other than the most restrictive economy fares (they have three bands of fares in economy). They are all available only for points (QF doesn’t have system-wide or other voucher type upgrades) and the number of points is based on the fare band of the paid ticket and the class of the requested upgrade. As soon as your ticket is confirmed you can request an upgrade, which needs to be done separately for each segment (you can request for some and not others), and you will be advised 24-72 hours before departure (premium status members hear earlier). Upgrades are only available on QF metal (on a QF ticket) at present.

    As a QF member, buying a ticket and requesting an upgrade has the advantage over a reward ticket of receiving status credits if you need them at that stage during your membership year.

  11. @EC2 – Sorry – seems like I missed to include the word premium. I.e., you can get business class tickets for £1500 to these destinations. I’m not UK based, as U.K. is actually more expensive for premium than my home country, but had I referred to our local currency most people wouldn’t have a clue about how much it’d translate into.

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