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How to credit miles to a partner airline program

Feb. 12, 2022
7 min read
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.


Since the founding of Star Alliance in 1997, partnerships between airlines around the world have continued to grow and evolve. These days, they’re taking a slightly different form as airlines focus more on equity investments and individual partnerships instead of massive global alliances. But the underlying concept is as important as ever.

While airline partnerships can take many different approaches, one element most have in common is reciprocal mileage earning — the ability to fly on one airline but earn miles with a partner’s frequent flyer program instead. Today, we’re going to discuss crediting miles to partner airlines to make sure you get the most bang for your buck the next time you fly.

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What does it mean to credit miles to a partner airline?

Normally, when you book a cash ticket on an airline, you earn miles with that airline’s frequent flyer program after you complete your flight. However, you can also choose to earn miles with a partner airline’s frequent flyer program, either due to an alliance membership or an individual partnership.

You can see examples of both when you book a flight with American Airlines. While the booking engine will default to asking you for your American Airlines AAdvantage number, you can also choose to credit your miles to other Oneworld airlines like British Airways or Cathay Pacific — or even non-alliance airlines like Etihad that have individual partnerships with American.

(Screenshot from aa.com)

Related: When you will (and won’t) earn miles on your flight

Why you should credit miles to a partner airline

There are plenty of reasons you might credit your miles to a partner airline instead of the one you’re actually flying with. The decision of where to credit flights can be complicated, but here are a few questions you can ask to help yourself decide:

  • Which airline will I earn more miles with? While more and more airlines are switching to revenue-based earning (where you earn miles based on the cost of your ticket), many airlines still use distance-based earning charts. That's especially true when you’re crediting your miles to a partner. If you’re flying somewhere far away on a cheap cash ticket, you may come out ahead by crediting to a partner with a distance-based earning chart.
  • Will I ever use this program again? Frequent international travelers are fully aware of the risk of stranding miles in an account they'll never use. For example, I fly China Eastern three or four times a year, but only on short, regional flights around Asia. I know that I’ll never earn enough miles for a free flight by crediting those trips to Eastern Miles, so I credit them to Delta SkyMiles instead — even though the earning rate is lower. Fewer miles I can use is better than more miles that I can’t.
  • What about elite status? For some travelers, miles are secondary to the goal of earning elite status as quickly as possible. In each alliance, several airlines have lower thresholds for elite qualification, so some people will credit miles to these programs to earn elite status without regard for the redemption aspect. Or take United, for example, where you can earn elite status for less by flying on partner airlines.

Related: Maximize your flights: How to choose where to credit your airline miles

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Checking partner earning rates

While the three legacy U.S. carriers all have simple earning rates for flights on their own metal, things get messy when you start to look at partner earning rates. Most airlines have different earning charts for each partner.

You can use a tool like wheretocredit.com as a starting point for determining where to credit a flight. But, you’ll want to confirm all the information yourself.

Luckily, you can find all the partner earning charts you need with a quick Google search. Continuing with my above example, if I wanted to know how many Delta SkyMiles I could earn for a flight on China Eastern, I’d search “Delta earning rates on China Eastern” and click on this link for Delta’s partner-earning charts. Then, based on the fare class of my ticket, I could determine my earning rate when crediting a China Eastern flight to Delta.

Related: What airline fare classes tell you about your ticket

The first half of Delta's partner-earning table for China Eastern flights. (Screenshot from delta.com)
The second half of Delta's partner-earning table for China Eastern flights. (Screenshot from delta.com)

All of these percentages indicate that we’re looking at a distance-based earning chart. Use Great Circle Mapper or Flight Connections to calculate your flight distance. Then, find your fare class in the left column and calculate how many redeemable miles, Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) and Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) you’ll earn for the flight.

If you’re comparing two or more programs to decide where to credit, remember that you’ll need to think about how much the miles are worth — not just how many you earn. This is especially true for people considering crediting flights to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. After all, Alaska Airlines has some of the most valuable miles out there, partly because of how hard they are to earn.

Related: Maximizing redemptions with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Earning miles with a partner airline

It's best to decide where to credit your miles before booking your ticket. This way, you can input the correct frequent flyer number at the time of booking and make sure it’s linked to your reservation.

If you change your mind before your flight, you can usually update your information. You may need to call in and wait on hold, though. Alternatively, you can try contacting the airline via its Twitter team and use a direct message (DM) to tell them the info you want to change. Some airlines will handle this via social media, while others will tell you that you still need to call. And if you forget to put your frequent flyer number on the ticket before the flight, there are still ways to get your miles after the fact.

It’s important to note that miles usually take longer to post to your account if you credit your flight to a partner airline. Depending on the airline, it may take weeks or even months. You may want to set a reminder on your phone for a month or two after each flight to check that your miles posted correctly. If not, you may need to manually submit a mileage request with the airline.

Lastly, take basic economy fares into special consideration. Earning rates tend to differ across programs, so read here about special considerations for where to credit your basic economy flights.

Related: 10 ways you could be earning airline miles other than credit cards

Bottom line

Crediting miles to a partner airline can be a great option to earn more miles or consolidate your earnings into accounts you actually use. You’ll need to know your fare code to proceed, and it helps to always check the relevant partner-earning charts since the rates vary from airline to airline.

Additional reporting by Ryan Smith.

Featured image by (Photo by Ryan Patterson for The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
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  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more