Should I Earn Miles with Two Airlines in the Same Alliance?
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.
If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.