Oneworld Upgrades are Coming, But Hopefully They Won’t Look Like This

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Upgrades are one of the most sought-after perks of frequent and not-so-frequent flyers. Sometimes you don’t want a “not really free” award flight somewhere in Economy Class – you’d rather pay for your flight and spend some miles on a special treat, upgrading you (and your travel companions) to Premium Economy, Business Class or even First Class.

With the Oneworld alliance, your options are rather limited. Of course, you can use Avios to upgrade your British Airways flights – and there’s little question that upgrading using Avios is an excellent redemption option. But if you collect miles with one Oneworld alliance member and want to upgrade a flight on another member… you have historically been out of luck!

That is soon to change. Recent reports suggest that Oneworld will implement a system of alliance-wide upgrades around the time that Alaska Airlines joins Oneworld.

What Might This Look Like?

Although it hasn’t been widely reported, American Airlines has implemented a system to upgrade partner flights using AAdvantage miles, but only for British Airways or Iberia flights. To be as clear as possible, you would be using your AAdvantage miles to upgrade a flight on BA or IB.

This is the number of AA miles you will need:

What’s the Problem?

The problem is pretty simple. As you might expect, upgrades require award space in the cabin you desire. You must also have at least one codeshare flight – i.e. a AA flight number even though you are flying BA or IB.

Those aren’t necessarily difficult hurdles to clear, but most importantly, you must book very expensive paid fares to be eligible to upgrade.

  • Full-Fare Economy with published fares booked in Y or B on British Airways or Iberia
  • Premium Economy with published World Traveller Plus fares booked in W (unrestricted fares only) on British Airways. Doesn’t apply to Excursion fares.
  • Full-Fare Business with published fares booked in J, D or R on American and C, J, D or R on British Airways or Iberia

As a consumer, you are very unlikely to ever book a Y/B class Economy flight – the same applies to W class Premium Economy. These are expensive, flexible fares aimed at business travellers who require flexibility above all else. (yet whose company travel policy doesn’t allow them to fly in Business Class)

As a result, consumers are almost always going to be better off booking a restricted fare in Premium Economy, Club World or First Class, than to book and upgrade using AA miles. This benefit is only valuable for business travellers with restrictive (i.e. very annoying!) company travel policies, who decide to use their own miles to upgrade themselves…

What’s the Point?

One element that jumped out at me was the number of miles needed to upgrade. Upgrades from Economy to Business Class or from Business Class to First Class are expensive!

For example, which would you prefer?

  1. To spend 62,500 miles on a First Class reward flight on Etihad between Europe and India / Middle East
  2. To buy a Club World ticket on British Airways, then pay 40,000 miles to upgrade one way to First Class on the same short-ish flight to Dubai / Abu Dhabi?

Another element will be obvious to British Airways Executive Club members. Why use AA miles and book expensive fare classes, when you can book cheaper, restricted World Traveller Plus or Club World fares and upgrade those using Avios? Perhaps you are on a business trip and wish to burn some orphaned AA miles, but I suspect that the stars will rarely align in a way that makes this a sensible use of your AA miles.

The Bottom Line

Having more reward options is rarely a bad thing. I am definitely curious to see what Oneworld comes up with – not so much to upgrade BA, Iberia or even American Airlines flights, but to upgrade JAL, Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, etc. flights.

But if AA’s upgrade policy is the template, Oneworld might have saved themselves the effort, as it won’t be a popular reward option…

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