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Reader Question: Who's to blame when partner award flights go wrong?

Nov. 02, 2020
5 min read
American Airlines Project Kodiak Oasis 2.0 737 Zach Griff ZGriff - 15
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Nobody likes it when a trip goes wrong. But what happens when you’re faced with a trip interruption on one airline, booked using the miles from another? TPG reader Jeff wants to know who to contact when a partner award flight goes wrong.

[pullquote source="TPG Reader Jeff"]Where does the fault lie when something goes wrong on an award flight operated by a partner? i.e., who is obligated to compensate the traveler?

My particular problem was flying first class on American with an Etihad award. A delayed departure caused by American resulted in a missed connection and subsequent bumping to coach on a red-eye, rerouting and next day arrival. Each airline blames the other and will give me nothing.[/pullquote]

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Etihad Airways has a non-alliance partnership with American Airlines, allowing members to use their Guest Miles to book American awards.

The program uses a regional award chart for American redemptions and there are some great deals, like American Flagship first-class tickets to Europe for 62,500 miles. You’ll often get a far better deal using Etihad Guest miles instead of AAdvantage miles, but what should you do when your trip goes awry?

American's policy

Even though Jeff booked his ticket using Etihad miles, the actual trip was flown on American Airlines, so it’s helpful to look at both airlines’ terms and conditions. Jeff doesn’t say what the holdup was on American’s part, but a “delayed departure” resulting from a schedule change wouldn’t be covered under American’s current terms and conditions. According to American, the airline will contact you in advance and move you to a similar seat, “though we can't make any guarantees.”

Suppose the delay is American’s fault (or you're diverted to another city) and you aren’t on board before 11:59 p.m. local time on your scheduled arrival day. In that case, you’re entitled to an overnight stay at a hotel or the funds to cover the cost at an approved hotel. The exception to this rule is if the delay is due to weather conditions -- then you’re responsible for your hotel, meal and other expenses.

American's flight schedule isn’t part of its terms and conditions, so the airline is not liable for schedule changes. That policy also applies if they’re late or you miss your connection.

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Related: The ultimate guide to Etihad partners

Etihad's policy

Etihad’s terms and conditions regarding partner awards are even grimmer. According to the airline, award travel, which encounters a delay or cancellation by a partner airline, “will be managed in line with the relevant airline’s commercial procedures.”

In other words -- Etihad will defer to American’s terms of carriage, so you’re back where you started, which is, unfortunately, pretty much nothing. We reached out to Etihad Airways and will update when we hear back.

However, American says Jeff should contact Etihad because he booked the ticket using Guest Miles, not AAdvantage miles.

“As the customer traveled on an Etihad Guest award ticket, they should reach out to Etihad for assistance. This is because Etihad collected the miles and issued the award ticket,” an American rep told TPG.

“For reference, if the customer traveled on an American-issued award ticket and experienced a disruption during their journey, we’d encourage them to contact AAdvantage Customer Service for assistance once travel is complete,” the rep continued. “Members should save the boarding pass reflecting the downgraded cabin and seat assignment.”

What to do

There are several options if you find yourself in a similar situation. First, take advantage of each airlines’ dedicated phone lines. It may take you speaking with multiple representatives and escalating the problem to a supervisor, but you should, at the least, get some miles for your troubles. And don't throw away that boarding pass, as the American rep pointed out. You'll need it when you appeal to the airline.

Finally, reaching out to an airline on Twitter often gets you better service and quicker response times. American also offers a dedicated chat tool as well, and agents tend to respond promptly.

Bottom line

While American and Etihad’s policies regarding partner awards are undoubtedly confusing, all hope isn’t lost. Even in these uncertain times, it’s not unheard of to score miles from an airline for being inconvenienced -- especially if you hold elite status. If that’s what you’re after, it’s best to reach out to both airlines for assistance.

Thanks for the question, Jeff! If you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff / The Points Guy)

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023