How to credit miles to a partner airline program

Jun 1, 2020

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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 forms, one element that most have in common is reciprocal mileage earning, or the ability to fly on one airline but earn miles with a partner’s frequent flyer program instead. Today, we’re going to take a deep dive through 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 airline X, 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 go to 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 Oneworld airlines like British Airways or Cathay Pacific, or even nonalliance airlines like Etihad that have individual partnerships with American.

Why you should credit miles to a partner airline

There are plenty of reasons to consider crediting your miles to a partner airline instead of the one you’re actually flying with. At the end of the day this is a personal decision, 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 will still use distance-based earning charts, especially 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 orphaning miles in an account you never use. 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 actually 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 there are several airlines that are known for having lower thresholds for elite qualification, so some people will credit miles to these programs to earn elite status with no regard for the redemption aspect.

Related: How to earn United elite status for less by flying partner airlines

Checking partner earning rates

While the three legacy U.S. carriers all have simple (and nearly identical) 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 of their partners, and these are especially susceptible to no-notice devaluations. You can use tools like as a good starting point, but again you’ll want to confirm all the information yourself.

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 Google “Delta earning rates on China Eastern,” and click on this link for Delta’s partner-earning charts. Before you can go any further, you’ll need to know the fare class of your ticket in order to accurately determine your earning rates.

Related: What airline fare classes tell you about your ticket

All of these percentages indicate that we’re looking at a distance-based earning chart. You can use Great Circle Mapper 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 thanks to its extensive partner network. 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 helps to decide where to credit your miles before you book your ticket, so 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 later, many airlines will let you update your information before the flight, although this often involves calling in and waiting on hold. It’s important to note that when you credit miles to a partner airline, they take longer to post to your account (sometimes weeks or months longer, depending on the airline). It helps to set a reminder on your phone for a month or two after the flight so you can follow up and make sure your miles posted correctly.

Bottom line

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

Featured photo by Ryan Patterson for The Points Guy.

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