Upgrade your Oneworld flight with miles from any airline partner

Jul 23, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest information from Oneworld. 

What if you could secure a business-class upgrade on top-notch airlines like Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific by using miles you almost certainly already have?

Back in December, The Points Guy reported that Oneworld’s Vice-President of Corporate Communications, Ghim-Lay Yeo issued a statement saying:

“Oneworld is evaluating a number of new customer initiatives, including a potential offering that will give Oneworld member airline frequent flyers the option of using points for upgrades across the alliance, as it seeks to deliver a superior customer experience that provides value for both Oneworld member airlines and their customers.”

Well, it looks like it’s officially happening.

Brett Snyder, author of the Cranky Flier, reports that Rob Gurney, Oneworld CEO, confirmed on a call that alliance-wide upgrades are coming. The feature is expected to roll out around the time that Alaska Airlines joins the alliance. In fact, it could happen as soon as the end of the year.

This is no small improvement.

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Generally, if you’d like to upgrade a flight, you need to redeem the miles of the particular airline you’re flying. In other words, if you want to upgrade your long Qantas flight between the U.S. and Sydney to a luxury business-class seat, you’ll need a stash of Qantas miles. Though there are some exceptions. For example, you can use American Airlines miles to upgrade paid codeshare flights on British Airways and Iberia.

(Photo by Nicholas Ellis/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Nicholas Ellis/The Points Guy.)

But coming as soon as the end of 2020, you may be able to use any Oneworld airline currency to upgrade on any member airline. This would be a revolutionary answer to upgrading on more obscure airlines like Royal Air Maroc, which has a history of publishing low fares on interesting transatlantic routes. The move would likely foster more loyalty to the Oneworld alliance.

Related: The best websites for searching Oneworld award availability

It’s not yet clear exactly how the concept will work, but Qantas has proposed these upgrades be available within one day of your scheduled flight. It’s also likely that upgrades will only be available on expensive economy, premium economy or business-class tickets. That’s less than ideal, but it’s still a nice improvement overall.

Star Alliance already allows cross-airline upgrades using miles. For instance, you can redeem United miles for one-cabin upgrades on  Star Alliance partners, including ANA, Lufthansa and Ethiopian. These upgrades also come with a bunch of terms and conditions associated with them.

What’s the strategy?

Earning rewards with Oneworld carriers is perhaps the easiest task in the miles and points hobby. There are plenty of ways to earn American Airlines miles, including the current offer from the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® (you can read our review here). But the most fascinating aspect here is British Airways and Iberia Avios.

The information for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

You can’t swing a dead cat without knocking over a pile of credit cards that earn British Airways and Iberia Avios. Both are transfer partners of three flexible points programs:

Because of this, you have the ability to earn a ton of Avios from travel credit card welcome bonuses alone. With these partnerships, you’ll never have a difficult time earning the points you need for an upgrade.

Related: The best Chase credit cards

Bottom line

Alliance-wide upgrades are a welcome addition to Oneworld. Whether you’ll decide it’s worthwhile to upgrade with miles will be another story, however. Sometimes the more expensive standard or flexible fares are the only ones that qualify for an upgrade on certain airlines. Sometimes there are cash co-pays involved. While it could be a decent way to secure business class at a discount, it’s probably not going to be the frugal traveler’s cup of tea.

In addition to the upgrades, Oneworld plans to roll out technological improvements, such as adding the ability to check-in and get boarding passes for partner flights any Oneworld airline’s mobile app.

Additional reporting by Joseph Hostetler.

Featured photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.

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