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TPG reader Sujay sent me a message on Facebook to ask about airline partnerships:
“I tend to use United for domestic flights and Lufthansa for long-haul travel to Europe/Asia. Does it make sense to earn miles with different airlines in the same alliance?”
As much as I preach the importance of diversifying your travel rewards, it’s also important not to spread yourself too thin. Earning only a handful of points or miles in a dozen different loyalty programs won’t do you much good, but investing too heavily in one program leaves you vulnerable to devaluation and a lack of availability. To maximize your award travel opportunities, you have to find the right balance.
Airline alliances offer that balance naturally by giving you access to a selection of carriers via a single frequent flyer program. Generally speaking, I think it’s best to focus on one airline in each of the three major alliances: SkyTeam, Oneworld and Star Alliance. However, there are some circumstances where it makes sense to bank miles to different carriers in the same alliance, even if it means diluting your pool of rewards and elite credits.
For starters, award charts come in many different shapes and sizes, so you might consider splitting up your miles between two programs in the same alliance if they serve different purposes. For example, the AAdvantage program offers decent value on some long-haul and international routes (despite the recent devaluation), while British Airways Avios are good for short-haul economy awards. While both carriers are in Oneworld, there are benefits to having rewards from each one on hand.
Another good reason to bank miles to a second program is if the partner earning rate is low for your fare class. For example, United won’t credit you for flying Lufthansa on a discounted economy K fare. Of course, that fare won’t accrue many miles with Lufthansa either, but you might as well get at least some mileage out of it. Similarly, Lufthansa’s premium A and F fares earn 300% of the distance flown when you credit to Miles & More, but only 200% when you credit to MileagePlus (unless ticketed by United, in which case you’ll earn based on fare rather than distance). If you’re routinely flying to Asia and Europe in first class, that difference will add up quickly.
There are other factors to consider as well, like how close you are to hitting an elite status threshold, or incentives like promotional bonus miles. You should also think about how those miles fit into your rewards portfolio overall. For example, if you have a huge stockpile of Ultimate Rewards points, then earning more United miles might be redundant, since you can transfer them over from Chase any time. The same goes for Starwood Preferred Guest and Lufthansa.
Ultimately, I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer to Sujay’s question. I suggest you examine your flight history over the past year (or your plans for the coming year), and calculate the rewards and elite status you’d earn by banking miles to one program or the other. Those numbers should help you make an informed decision based on your own travel habits.
The Points Guy Assessment:
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards