Everything you need to know about booking on partner airlines with miles

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Something we get a lot of questions about is using one’s miles to book a ticket on a partner airline.  So I thought this would be a topic worth a little bit of clarifying conversation.

So here are 4 things that will help you understand using miles to book on a partner airline.

1.) When you’re using miles to book a flight, regardless of which airlines you’ll be flying, you will use the mileage program’s online or phone resources for booking the ticket.

If I have United miles for instance, regardless of whether or not I’ll actually be using them to fly a different airline or not, I will make my booking via United’s website or United’s call center.  It’s like having a Walmart gift card.  Even if you are going to buy a non-Walmart brand product, because your gift card is with Walmart, you’ll need to spend it at Walmart.  Same applies here.  Even if you’re going to use your United miles on a Lufthansa flight, you’ll need to spend the United miles using United facilities…so to speak.

2.) Your miles can be used for flights on any airline within the same alliance.

Not sure what I mean?  Let’s say you’ve been collecting United miles.  Well, your United miles are good for use on more than just United’s flights.  Those miles open up the ability to redeem with anyone in the same alliance as United, anyone in Star Alliance.

Here are the different major alliances and who’s included in each.  If you see your mileage program on the list, that means you can redeem those miles for flights with the other airlines listed.

Star Alliance

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One World

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Sky Team

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3.) You do not need to do any kind of transferring of miles to book your flight with a partner.

As long as the partner flights are showing up in the search engine supplied by your mileage program’s website when you go to search a flight, you can select it and book it with your miles.

For instance, on United I have selected “Award Travel” for my search.

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As you can see, the results that show up include airlines other than United Airlines (designated by the code “UA” before the flight number.)  For instance in the photo below, Lufthansa flights are showing up as options.  That is because Lufthansa is a Star Alliance member.

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However…an option also showed up with Aer Lingus, which is NOT on the Star Alliance list.  This is because Aer Lingus is a partner with United, a non-alliance partner so to speak.  While these may seem confusing, you can be confident that if a flight shows up in your award search, then it’s one you can book with miles, right there on the website.

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HOWEVER, (another however…this means trouble) not all mileage programs show partners in their search results.  Or, more commonly, most mileage programs will only show some of their partners in their search results.  This leads me to my next point…

 

4.) For some mileage programs, you will need to call.

Many times you will need to call a booking agent to get an award ticket with partners.

This is where things get a little bit more complicated.  So I’ll try to dive in a little deeper here…

So far we know two ways to find out if a partner airline can be booked with our miles. 1.) By checking what alliance our miles belong to and what other airlines are part of that alliance and 2.) by seeing which airlines show up in an award search.

So what happens when we want to see our flight options including partner flights…but we’re using a mileage program whose search engine sucks??  Well, then you can refer to this post about finding accurate award availability.  There you’ll find a few suggestions about using another mileage program’s website for your search.

When you search for tickets this way, you’ll basically follow these steps.
1.) Decipher which alliance your mileage program is a part of.  Let’s say you have Lufthansa Miles & More Miles.  You would decipher that this mileage program is a member of Star Alliance.

2.) First check the flight options offered by Lufthansa’s own search engine.  Then, also check ANA’s search engine or United’s search engine as these are both Star Alliance members and both have better search engines.  Take note of any flights you find useful for your own trip, double-checking that they are airlines listed on the alliance list.

(The reason you should check the mileage program’s site in addition to a better search engine, even if it sucks, is because they may release more award availability to their own search engine.  For instance, Lufthansa will release more award availability to their own mileage program than they will to their partners.  So for an accurate idea of what’s available to you, you have to check the mileage program’s search engine as well as whichever search engine is most recommended for that alliance.)

3.)  Once you’ve taken note of the flights that suit you best and have confirmed that they are flights within your alliance (not non-alliance partners of the other mileage program whose search-engine you were borrowing), you will need to call the booking agent of your mileage program.  In our example situation for instance, you would call Lufthansa.

 

Ok so that was a mouthful!  Let’s break it down into simpler explanations…”nuggets.”

Conclusion/ Simplification…

1.) Whosever miles you have, you must use that program’s facilities for booking- either their online options or their phone options, regardless of who you’re flying.

2.) You can use your miles to purchase a flight with any airline within the same alliance as your mileage program. Sometimes an airline has non-alliance partners too.

3.) No miles need to be transferred in order to book with a partner. (Let’s not confuse these with bank points!  Bank points DO need to be transferred to a mileage program, but miles don’t need to be transferred to other miles.)  Sometimes in fact, the partner flights show up in your award search for you to book directly online.

4.) Just in case your mileage program has incomplete search results and doesn’t include partner flights, you can check out this post to see whose search engines work best for which alliances.  Combine the results from your mileage program’s own search with the recommended search engine’s results to find the flights you want.  If the flights you want are showing up on a different search engine than your mileage program, you will need to call your mileage program’s booking service to make the booking.

 

Hope that made things a little bit clearer!  This is something we’ve been getting a lot of questions about.

But I’m curious… are there still things that make this process confusing?  Let’s refine this post together!  Let me know what still needs clarified?

 

 

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