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Delta and Hawaiian link mileage programs

The headline of Delta's latest press release was promising: "Delta and Hawaiian Airlines Team Up On Frequent Flyer Benefits."

Typically such reciprocal frequent flyer tie-ups permit members of each airline's loyalty program to earn and redeem miles on all flights operated by the partner carrier. Indeed, the tagline of the news release suggested as much: "SkyMiles and HawaiianMiles members to enjoy reciprocal mileage-earning and redemption benefits."

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But this relationship stops well short of full reciprocity.

Members of Hawaiian's HawaiianMiles program get the best of the deal. They can earn miles and redeem them for any and all Delta flights worldwide.

But members of the Delta SkyMiles program are limited to earning and redeeming on the following Hawaiian flights: Inter-island service within the state of Hawaii, Honolulu-Sydney flights, and new flights between Honolulu and Manila launching April 14.

Conspicuously missing from that list are Hawaiian's flights from the mainland U.S. to Hawaii, as well as flights between Honolulu and Pago Pago, Samoa, and Papeete, Tahiti.

The reasons for the imbalance are not far to seek. Delta's program is far larger than Hawaiian's, so Hawaiian was no doubt troubled by the prospect of hordes of SkyMiles members cashing in their miles for free trips to Hawaii, always one of the most popular destinations for award travel.

Still, Delta has its own flights to Hawaii, and the ability to use Delta miles for Hawaiian flights between the islands is a plus for SkyMiles members, albeit a small one.

For members of Hawaiian's program, on the other hand, the addition of Delta is nothing less than a giant step forward.

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