Earning and Redeeming Miles on Non-Alliance Partners

Aug 31, 2015

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Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen offers insights into non-alliance partnerships on the three major legacy carriers, and shares some strategies for maximizing these award travel opportunities.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve examined the non-alliance partner airlines of the three major legacy carriers in the US: American, Delta and United. While each of these airlines is a key member of its respective alliance, it’s always nice to see additional partnerships, as they offer members alternative ways to earn and redeem miles when traveling. Today I want to wrap up this series by analyzing the trends and looking for sweet spots to guide your next non-alliance partner flight.

American Airlines rose three spots this year to the No. 2 spot on the USNWR airline frequent flyer rankings.
American gives you many ways to earn elite-qualifying miles on non-alliance partners, but most of them require booking as an AA codeshare.

For starters, the table below summarizes features of the non-alliance partnerships offered by each of these three carriers:




Elite benefits?



8/11 (72%)

9/11 (82%)

9/11 (82%)

1/11 (9%)

27/44 (61%)


7/11 (64%)

4/11 (36%)

10/11 (91%)

4/11 (36%)

25/44 (57%)


12/12 (100%)

3/12 (25%)

12/12 (100%)

3/12 (25%)

30/48 (63%)

As you can see, the comparison is pretty even. All three carriers allow you to earn and redeem miles on most of their non-alliance partners, while only a few of the partner airlines offer elite benefits.

It’s important to analyze the details of these relationships to help identify what you can expect from your next non-alliance flight. Here are my key takeaways:

United is relatively stingy when it comes to non-alliance partners, so booking through United is your best bet.
United is relatively stingy when it comes to non-alliance partners, so booking through United is your best bet.

1. When possible (and cost-effective), book directly with AA, DL or UA.

Airlines are trying to incentivize direct bookings, even going so far as to add fees for third-party bookings. However, it’s often in your best interest to book non-alliance partner flights directly with American, Delta or United as long as the prices are comparable to those offered by the partner airline. There are a few reasons for this:

  • It will help you earn your miles — All kinds of things can go wrong when you book with one airline and then try to input your frequent flyer number from another. The site might not recognize it, or it might not attach properly to your reservation. In 2006, I flew on Virgin Atlantic and tried to credit the miles to Delta (they were partners at the time, took a break, and are now back and better than ever). It was a nightmare, and the miles never posted despite being in an eligible fare class. Booking directly with the partner to which you want to bank your miles can prevent this headache.
  • It might open up elite-qualifying options — American scored highest on the elite-qualifying section above, with 9 of its 11 non-alliance partners offering EQMs for flights. However, 6 of those 9 only offer elite-qualifying miles when booked as an American Airlines codeshare. If you book with the operating carrier, you may still be able to earn regular redeemable miles, but it won’t help you qualify for AAdvantage elite status!
  • It might help you meet revenue-based requirements — Back in 2014, both Delta and United instituted a revenue-based component of elite status qualification. Non-alliance partner flights may allow you to earn Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) on Delta or Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQDs) on United, but most of these options are only available on flights with a Delta (006) or United (016) ticket number.
You can book inter-island flights on Hawaiian Airlines using a variety of mileage currencies.
If you want to earn or redeem miles with a legacy carrier when flying Hawaiian Airlines, be sure to do your research ahead of time!

2. Consider your options when flying a “shared” non-alliance partner.

As I pointed out in the posts for each legacy carrier, there is some overlap in non-alliance partners:

  • Air Tahiti Nui and Alaska partner with both American and Delta
  • Great Lakes partners with both Delta and United
  • Jet Airways partners with both American and United
  • Hawaiian Airlines partners with all three

Read the fine print of these partnerships carefully, since a trip may earn miles in one program but not another. For example, Hawaiian allows you to earn AAdvantage miles on most short- and long-haul flights (with the exception of flights to or from the continental US). However, both United and Delta restrict this earning to flights within the Hawaiian Islands, and United takes it a step further by only allowing mileage accrual for flights booked with a United flight number and in conjunction with a United-operated flight.

Similar differences exist on the redemption side. Again, you can redeem AAdvantage miles for most Hawaiian Airlines flights, though not for flights from the US as of September 1st. However, you can only redeem Delta and United miles for inter-island flights. Even though the award rates differ (Delta charges 7,500 miles for a one-way economy award, while United charges 6,000 miles for the same flights), TPG’s most recent valuations actually indicate that these two redemptions are completely equal, as the miles required are worth $90 in each case.

Virgin Atlantic is relatively generous with releasing award inventory to partners like Delta.
Virgin Atlantic is relatively generous with releasing award inventory to partners like Delta.

3. Look for sweet spots.

Generally speaking, since non-alliance partners tend to follow the same redemption rules as alliance members, there aren’t a ton of sweet spots to be had when redeeming your miles. However, I did find a few that are worth pointing out:

  • Virgin Atlantic using Delta SkyMiles — This redemption is one key reason why SkyMiles are far from worthless. Delta doesn’t impose fuel surcharges on these flights, and availability tends to be quite good (especially compared to the abysmal number of seats Delta releases on its own flights). These awards are also readily searchable on Delta.com. I flew Virgin Upper Class from London to Miami in June, and have another round-trip flight booked for November/December as well.
  • Etihad Airways using American AAdvantage Miles — TPG recently redeemed AAdvantage miles for an Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi to JFK, and Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig had a chance to fly Etihad’s First Apartment on the A380. You can’t book these flights online, so you’ll need to call the AAdvantage service desk. For more information about finding availability, check out my post on booking Etihad awards.
  • Virgin Australia using Delta SkyMiles — Another great use of SkyMiles is for flights on Virgin Australia, which currently flies from Los Angeles to Sydney and Brisbane (with connections throughout the South Pacific).
  • Aer Lingus to Europe using United MileagePlus Miles — In the past, using British Airways Avios was generally the best way to book award flights on Aer Lingus, but the recent Executive Club devaluation has hurt these redemptions (especially in business class). While United does charge more miles for partner award redemptions, this can still be a decent way to get to Europe.
Your Hilton HHonors Gold status includes free breakfast at luxurious properties (like the Hilton Bora Bora)
Non-alliance agreements can open up award redemptions like flights to Tahiti or Fiji using AAdvantage miles.

Bottom Line

I’m all for options when it comes to earning and redeeming points and miles, so I love the fact that all three legacy carriers have partnerships outside of their respective alliances. One of the best things about these options is that they open up new routes, destinations and aircraft that wouldn’t normally be available. I certainly hope that these non-alliance agreements will continue to grow, and offer us (as travelers) even more ways to maximize our travel rewards.

How do you maximize non-alliance partners?

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