Can I Still Use My Air Berlin Frequent Flyer Miles on Other Airlines?

Oct 30, 2017

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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week — Mondays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

A few tears were shed on Friday night when the very last Air Berlin flight departed from Munich (MUC) to Berlin (TXL). But TPG reader Joscha might shed a few more tears if he’s sitting on a lot of leftover Air Berlin frequent flyer miles…

What is going to happen to my Air Berlin topbonus account if Air Berlin disappears? Can I transfer my miles somewhere else?

TPG Reader Joscha

When an airline goes bankrupt and another airline is willing to take over the operation, most of the time the mileage currency of one carrier is eventually converted into the other. That’s what happened in 2013 when American was in bankruptcy and US Airways made a deal to merge the two airlines. In fact, even though AA was the bankrupt carrier and US Airways was the savior, the combined airline assumed the American name, and eventually US Airways Dividend Miles were converted into AAdvantage miles.

But when it came to Air Berlin, no other carrier stepped up to take over. Some of the pieces of the now-defunct airline are being scooped up by Lufthansa and EasyJet, but the ongoing Air Berlin operation has been shut down. And usually when that happens, the miles you’ve earned with the bankrupt carrier simply vanish. You can’t convert them to another airline and you can’t redeem them for anything. They’re simply erased from existence.

However, in the case of Air Berlin, it’s slightly more complicated. That’s because topbonus — Air Berlin’s frequent flyer program — is actually a separate entity, not a part of the airline. This is a little unusual, but not completely unprecedented. For instance, Air Canada’s frequent flyer program Aeroplan is also a separate company from the airline, which is why Air Canada is able to end its contract with Aeroplan as it has announced it will do in 2020.

In the case of topbonus, the frequent flyer program itself also filed for insolvency soon after Air Berlin did. But unlike the airline, it’s currently still in existence. In fact, on Friday just before Air Berlin terminated its operations, the program sent an email to let its customers know that it wasn’t planning on going anywhere just yet…

IMG-topbonus-email

While you can no longer redeem Air Berlin miles for Oneworld partner flights, topbonus miles can continue to be earned and redeemed on Etihad Airways. Why Etihad? Because in 2011 Etihad purchased a 29% stake in Air Berlin. That investment worked out poorly for Etihad and its withdrawal of support is partly what tipped Air Berlin into insolvency. But as a result of its original investment, Etihad currently owns 70% of topbonus and has extended the ability to book on its flights using topbonus miles.

Here’s what the chart looks like for one-way economy flights between Dusseldorf (DUS), Frankfurt (FRA), Munich (MUC), Zurich (ZRH) or Geneva (GVA) and the following regions:

Origin/Destination Number of Miles Needed
Gulf states and South and Central Asia 25,000
Africa and the Middle East 30,000
South East Asia and the Far East 35,000
Australia 50,000

However, be forewarned: this is not an open-ended offer. The window to earn and redeem topbonus miles on Etihad is only open until November 17, and travel must be completed by March 28, 2018. It’s not known yet whether at that point the deadline will be extended or the entire program will fold, but if you have enough miles to book an Etihad flight, now’s the time.

You can also earn topbonus miles on Etihad tickets based on the following chart, though we wouldn’t recommend doing so given the cloudy future of the program:

IMG-topbonus-etihad-earn-miles

So Joscha, if you’ve got any flying you can do on Etihad in the next few months, burn your Air Berlin miles on it if you can, and thanks for the question. If you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image by CHRISTOF STACHE/Getty Images.

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