A Risk Of Booking Airline Awards With Partner Airlines

Most of the people who redeem frequent flyer miles for an airline ticket will do so to travel on the airline that sponsors the program. Skymiles members will book a flight on Delta,  AAdvantage members will book flights on American, and so on.

Once you start to learn more about using your miles and points, you soon find out that the best redemptions for your miles aren’t with the sponsor airline but with their alliance or non-alliance partners. At first, it’s a difficult concept to understand; I remember the first time I told my father he could use his Skymiles for a flight on Korean Air.

You first need to learn the basics of airline alliances. After that, you’ll need to get an idea of award charts, or at least what awards should cost for the airlines who no longer publish award charts. For those who don’t want to put in the time, there are always award booking services.

While the reward for booking an award with a partner airline can be great by either saving you thousands or ten-thousands of miles, creatively using transferrable credit card points on airlines not available otherwise or flying on an airline with a much better product, the process does involve additional risk.

When you’re booking an award through one program for a ticket on a different airline, you’re adding extra levels to the process. As usual, the greater the number of parties involved in a transaction, the higher the risk of something going wrong. Every extra step increases the likelihood of a problem.

There’s a chance that the award never gets ticketed in the first place. Once the award gets ticketed, you’ll have to deal with the airline you’re flying on to coordinate all the details such as seat assignments, baggage, and personal information. You’ll also need to add your passport information and KTN (Known Traveler Number) on the operating carrier’s website if you want to make sure you get to use the Pre-Check lanes if flying from the U.S. (just having it on file with the airline where you booked the ticket doesn’t count). The same goes for your frequent flyer number if you’re eligible for things like seat upgrades, that is if the booking airline allows you to attach your frequent flyer number from a different airline to the reservation.

All of this is just before your trip. But what happens when the operating airline cancels the flight altogether?

I booked our flight home from Germany using miles. While the flight was operated by Delta, I booked the flight with Flying Blue, the frequent flyer program for Air France and KLM. Why did I do that? Because Flying Blue only required 72,000 miles for a business class ticket and if I booked with Delta the same flights would have cost 320,000 Skymiles. Flying Blue is also a partner of all the major credit card programs (American Express, Capital One, Chase, Citi) and Marriott Bonvoy, so it’s remarkably easy to get enough points into their program for an award flight.

So there’s my reward for booking through a partner airline program, but now the risk of booking the award flight in this manner.

Delta removed our flight from Frankfurt to Detroit from the schedule for 19 days.

While I was relatively lucky that when we received notification from Flying Blue of the cancellation, we were also told of our new substitute itinerary connecting in New York-JFK. The timing of the flights was similar and we’d actually arrive home a bit earlier.

I figured that since Delta was the one who canceled our flights, why not see if we could get them to put me on the flights I wanted instead of the ones they picked. To try and change flights, I had to call Flying Blue because I booked the award ticket through them.

I put my phone on speaker and waited to speak to someone. I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with Flying Blue’s hold music. It’s annoying at first, but after hearing it repeat 50-100 times, it starts to develop a zen-like calming effect 🙂

When I finally got to talk to someone, he looked up the reservation. I explained the situation of our original flight getting canceled and asked if we could possibly fly through Atlanta instead of JFK. There are flights from ATL-MCO on Delta almost every hour, and we’d feel more confident in getting home from Atlanta in the case of operational problems (like say, a snowstorm in New York in December).

His reply.

These are the flights Delta provided to us as the alternate, so that’s what we have to offer.

I asked if there was any way Flying Blue could ask Delta about changing the itinerary?

Sorry, no. All we can offer is what they tell us is available. You do have a three-hour connecting time in New York, so if there’s any delay, you should still be able to make your flight. 

Could I have tried to HUCA (Hang Up, Call Again)? Sure, I could have. I’d have to wait another 30 minutes to talk to someone, and there’s a possibility I would get the same answer. By now, I figured it wasn’t worth any additional investment of my time. I called to see what would happen and I received an answer. That’s what any regular person would do.

Maybe this is the case and Flying Blue has no option but to provide passengers what’s given to them by Delta. I’m not surprised if Delta deals like this with their partners, even ones in the SkyTeam Alliance. With their policies, they often come off looking like the airline that thinks they’re better than everyone else.

I also know if there’s a threat of a weather delay in New York for our travel date, Delta will most likely offer a travel waiver, which will allow us to change our flights home to avoid JFK. I just hope if things come to that, I’ll be able to deal directly with Delta instead of having to coordinate with Flying Blue.

Final Thoughts

Some things can go wrong with any award booking. However, problems are easier to resolve when you’re dealing with an award on the program’s own airline. They have more flexibility to solve problems when it’s all one company.

When you’re dealing with partner airlines, the situation gets more complicated. In my example, I can’t really blame Flying Blue. They aren’t the ones who canceled my flight, Delta did. Flying Blue can’t open up award space on Delta’s flight to Atlanta just because I’m asking. I’m sure if I had booked the award flight through Delta, there’d be more chance of getting changed to the flights I wanted. However, that’s not worth the 320,000 miles they were asking for a one-way flight in Delta One.

There are risks to book partner award tickets, most of which are due to the award program talking to the other airline. Whether it’s a technology problem in booking the ticket or a lack of anyone willing to take responsibility when something goes wrong, it’s the price that you pay for getting an award ticket you otherwise might not have been able to book.

Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love if you decided to hang around and clicked the button on the top (if you’re on your computer) or the bottom (if you’re on your phone/tablet) of this page to follow our blog and get emailed notifications of when we post (it’s usually just two or three times a day). Or maybe you’d like to join our Facebook group, where we talk and ask questions about travel (including Disney parks), creative ways to earn frequent flyer miles and hotel points, how to save money on or for your trips, get access to travel articles you may not see otherwise, etc. Whether you’ve read our posts before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

10 thoughts on “A Risk Of Booking Airline Awards With Partner Airlines”

  1. Nice write up, to say the least!!! I wish the other bloggers would talk more about this type of risk! Other bloggers like the TPG hype up about other programs like Avianca, Virgin Atlantic, etc…but they never mention the down falls and also just as importantly, availability. Recently, TPG was showing availability in the single digit to fly delta via Virgin Atlantic, but the author said it was so great bc it was cheap in comparison. Dumb A$$ forgot to mention that it there is less than 10% of booking the flight, then who gives an F@&? If u can’t book it!!!

    1. Thanks. Different websites write articles targeted to different audiences. We felt the viewpoint we had was different enough to add something valuable to the conversation.

  2. At the very minimum I would have tried to contact them via twitter/fb or call a foreign service number (Germany) since they tend to be more helpful sometimes.

      1. I’ve had experiences with United before where the US based agents would not budge and when I called the German service desk my issue was settled without question. Same thing happened with AA where I HUCA’d many times to no avail and once I contacted them via twitter I got an easy resolution.

        It appears the JFK flight seems to be leaving 45 min before the scheduled DTW flight so it would seem easy to argue that you cant make it and prefer the later ATL departure.

  3. As a Delta hostage (Atlanta is my home airport) I have been in this position before as well as I have used Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic extensively to avoid the exorbitant redemption rates that Delta has implemented. The risk of Delta schedule changes seems greatest when you book several months out. About three years ago I booked a family trip to Hawaii using Flying Blue to book Delta flights. A few months before the trip Delta cancelled our return flight from the Big Island to LAX and auto booked us into an impossible route on the return leg. Air France was helpless, they could do nothing as there was nothing available to rebook us into. We ended up cancelling the return route and get our Flying Blue mile redeposited. Luckily we were able to take advantage of some Amex Delta co-brand card offers and book the return leg on the Delta non-stop from HNL to ATL. But for a while, it certainly seemed that we were going to have to cancel our trip. Nevertheless, for the miles and points DIYer these are problems we have to learn to cope with in the current ecosystems.

  4. Thanks for writing on an issue that doesn’t get covered much. If Delta issues a travel waiver, it might not matter if Air France / KLM doesn’t also. I had tickets booked on United through Aeroplan and though United issued a waiver for SFO, Aeroplan wouldn’t touch it since they didn’t have a waiver and United kept saying it was Aeroplan’s ticket. It wasn’t until United actually cancelled our flight that anyone could do anything. I always warn people about that when booking through one airline to fly another.

  5. Flying Blue probably couldn’t book you thru ATL because there was no award inventory available on that flight, a consideration i see you skipped.

    1. I could have been clearer but I implied that was the reason they couldn’t accommodate me on a different flight. It’s what I meant when I said that Delta might have been able to open up space but Flying Blue couldn’t.

Leave a Reply