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Ever since American Airlines invested $200 million in China Southern in March 2017, the two airlines have been steadily building their relationship. And that connection is quickly accelerating with the two airlines announcing a major step forward in their growing partnership on Wednesday.

It started with a codeshare partnership agreed to as part of AA’s minority investment in early 2017. However, the number of codeshare flights that the new partners could agree to was limited by SkyTeam regulations. So, China Southern is ditching the SkyTeam partnership effective Jan. 1, 2019.

Right on the heels of that announcement, American Airlines and China Southern are announcing an expanded codeshare partnership, as well as the launch of reciprocal frequent flyer benefits and lounge access.

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New Ways to Earn Miles

In “early” 2019, American Airlines and China Southern will launch reciprocal frequent flyer benefits, “giving customers the ability to earn and redeem miles on the other carrier’s flights.” We will have to wait to see how the mileage earning chart will be arranged, but this addition means new opportunities for AA flyers to earn miles, which is an earning opportunity that Delta flyers will be losing soon.

While the earning chart is still TBD, we can assume that mileage redemptions will follow the standard AA partner chart. This means that award flights between the US and China on China Southern will price at:

  • Economy: 37,500 AAdvantage miles each way
  • Business: 70,000 AAdvantage miles each way
  • First: 110,000 AAdvantage miles each way

Since China Southern economy flights are routinely mindbogglingly cheap, this addition isn’t going to open any economy redemption opportunities. However, this gives AA flyers another opportunity to fly to China in business or first class using their miles if Cathay Pacific award availability isn’t available.

Intra-China flights will likely also be available for redemptions. Currently AA doesn’t have a partner that operates intra-China flights, so there’s not a discounted redemption option for award flights wholly within China. However, award flights within Asia Region 2 price at:

  • Economy: 17,500 AAdvantage miles each way
  • Business: 22,500 AAdvantage miles each way
  • First: 32,500 AAdvantage miles each way

Friends With Lounge Benefits

While this announcement hints at coming lounge benefits, details are still light. In the press release about the agreement, the agreement is summarized simply:

American and China Southern will begin offering reciprocal lounge access next year. Eligible American Airlines customers will have access to selected China Southern Sky Pearl Lounges throughout Asia and eligible China Southern customers will have access to selected American Airlines lounges around the world.

Later in the presser, its specified that “lounge access will also take effect early next year.” This agreement seems to be a much better for China Southern flyers than American Airlines flyers. TPG recently reviewed China Southern first class and found the lounge experience in Guangzhou “like being in a bottom-of-the-barrel Priority Pass lounge at best.”

Building Connections

American Airlines has struggled to be successful in China, recently canceling both of its routes from Chicago to China. No doubt, part of these struggles are due to a lack of onward connections. United can utilize its partner Air China for domestic China connections while Delta has both China Eastern, China Southern (at least for now) and Xiamen to connect passengers to/from smaller Chinese markets.

But, until this China Southern partnership, American Airlines passengers haven’t been able to go beyond Beijing and Shanghai on the same ticket. This expanded codeshare partnership with China Southern will open new Chinese markets to American Airlines flyers — and new US markets to China Southern flyers.

In addition to existing codeshare routes, the following China Southern flights will get an American Airlines codeshare as part of Wednesday’s announcement:

And China Southern will add the following new codeshares on US routes — as well as Los Angeles (LAX) to Honolulu (HNL) which isn’t mapped for space:

In addition to these critical domestic connections, American Airlines and China Southern will also begin codesharing on each other’s transpacific flights between the US and China. Those routes are:

  • American Airlines:
    • Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to Beijing (PEK) and Shanghai (PVG)
    • Los Angeles (LAX) to Beijing (PEK) and Shanghai (PVG)
  • China Southern:
    • Guangzhou (CAN) to Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) and New York Kennedy (JFK)
    • Wuhan (WUH) to San Francisco (SFO)
    • Shenyang (SHE) to Los Angeles (LAX)

Next step: Oneworld Partners?

This announcement makes China Southern joining the Oneworld partnership seem like an obvious next step. However, there’s a major hindrance to that possibility. According to sources, Cathay Pacific has veto rights on new Oneworld partners in the China region and one of China Southern’s hubs is located in Guangzhou, China, which is less than 100 miles away from Cathay Pacific’s base in Hong Kong. To continue to have a monopoly on Oneworld connections to, from and through China, Cathay Pacific might want to utilize this veto right to keep China Southern and American Airlines from further deepening their relationship.

Featured image by Pascal Pavani/AFP via Getty Images

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