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Use partner airlines to get the miles or award seat you want

Ask passengers on any major airline who their carriers’ airline partners are, and most likely they could not name more than one, if any. The truth is that a general knowledge of your airline’s partners could help you capture the award seat you want or earn miles faster toward a future free trip. As airlines have different partners with different regional networks, certain carriers may be more beneficial for your travel plans than others. Let us get you started on the road to partner proficiency with some helpful information and advice.

Who are my airline’s partners?

The easiest way to determine who your airline’s partners are is to go to the Mile Finder, where you can search by airline and partner type and find information on mileage-earning opportunities on other carriers. Or, go directly to your frequent flyer program’s website.

How are airline partners helpful to me?

Airline partners can be helpful in two ways. The first is for earning miles. If you’re planning a trip and your airline doesn’t fly directly to your destination, is sold out, or has high prices, check to see if its partners have better flight options. You can still earn miles on your preferred carrier when flying on a partner, as long as you provide your frequent flyer number during reservation or check-in. You get the flexibility of choosing between airlines without giving up mileage-earning toward an award seat.

The second is for redeeming miles for a free ticket. Many travelers are complaining that award seats are hard to come by these days. If your airline does not have award seats available, ask if seats are available on a partner. You can also combine flight legs on different partners to make up one itinerary. Phone agents don’t always check partners automatically, so you’ll improve your chances if you ask them about availability on specific partner carriers.

Which airline has the best partners?

No one airline can claim to have the best partners, but certain airlines may have better networks for your travel needs. For instance, the six major U.S. airlines each have between 17 and 22 airline partners, giving you options for a wide array of travel plans. However, smaller airlines don’t hold up as well. America West has six partners, Midwest four, Frontier three, and Southwest zero. If you’re looking to maximize your partner options, these carriers won’t serve you as well.

But size isn’t everything. America West, for instance, is the only U.S. airline to partner with both of England’s biggest carriers—British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. If you’re hoping to use miles to travel to London or other destinations in Europe, you might be able to do so cheaply and more easily with America West than with a more major airline.

Another consideration is destination. While most carriers have significant networks among European carriers, the numbers drop for carriers to more exotic locales and, surprisingly, the U.S. If you want to use miles for U.S. travel, the Continental-Delta-Northwest alliance is your best bet. Among those three airlines, Northwest has the greatest number of U.S. partners, as it also has relationships with Alaska, America West, and American Eagle, among others.

For Asian carriers, United and Delta have five partners apiece. While Delta partners with China Airlines, China Southern, Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines, and Singapore Airlines, United partners with Air China, ANA, Asiana, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways. Depending on your itinerary, one of these carriers may be better for you than the next.

Delta and Northwest are the only airlines to partner with African airlines, South African Airways and Air Kenya, respectively. American tops the list for South American partners. But don’t forget that airlines fly to other countries and continents than their own. For example, British Airways flies to 168 destinations in 75 countries, and Air France flies to 184 destinations in 85 countries on five continents. Some quick research will tell you which of your airline’s partners flies to your intended travel destination.

But a word to the wise when venturing into foreign mileage-earning territory: Read all terms and restrictions before you book. Some airlines only allow partner mileage-earning on certain routes or certain fare classes. Make sure your scheduled travel does not contain these taboo elements, or you’ll end up with miles in the wrong program or, worse yet, no miles at all. And that would defeat the purpose of flying on an airline partner in the first place.

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