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TPG reader Gary tweeted to ask about upgrade awards on Oneworld partner airlines:
@ThePointsGuy — “Can I upgrade my seat on a Qatar flight using AAdvantage miles?”
I tend to use frequent flyer miles for first and business class awards, partly because those redemptions offer great value, but also because a premium seat makes a huge difference on longer flights. However, there are opportunities to sit up front even if you don’t have enough miles to book those awards outright.
Most airlines allow you to use points or miles to upgrade paid fares on their own flights, but many will also let you redeem for upgrades on partner airlines. That gives you a lot more flexibility, since you might not have enough miles to book a premium award with the airline you’re flying, especially when traveling internationally.
American Airlines lets you upgrade on codeshare flights with British Airways and Iberia, but unfortunately does not offer upgrades on other Oneworld partners, including Qatar Airways. That’s a shame, because Qatar offers a nice first class cabin, though in fairness it has one of the top international economy products as well.
Naturally, Qatar offers upgrades through its own Privilege Club program. While you may not have many Qmiles on hand, you can transfer points in from both Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. Upgrade awards are priced according to the fare class and distance flown; you’ll need 42,500 – 50,000 miles each way to upgrade from economy to business class between the US and Doha, or 85,000 – 100,000 miles each way to upgrade from economy to first. You can use the award calculator on Qatar’s website to check prices for other routes.
If you already have Qmiles from other flights, then those upgrades are a decent value. However, depending on your itinerary, I think you could do better than either of the transfer options. You can book MileSAAver awards between the US and Middle East for 67,500 AAdvantage miles in business class each way, or 90,000 miles in first class. If you can find availability, that’s a much better deal. Emirates first class (booked with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan) is also a great value.
Unfortunately for Gary, AAdvantage miles won’t work on Qatar, but as you can see, there are at least some other options. This question will become relevant to more US flyers as Qatar begins service to Atlanta, Boston and LAX in 2016. If you’re looking for ways to upgrade those flights, then it’s time to start banking ThankYou Points and Starpoints.