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Which program should I use for miles from a Swissair flight?

SmarterTravel

Dear Tim,

I’m going on my first Swissair flight next month. I have signed up for Qualiflyer. Should I (or, can I) ask for the mileage to be credited to AA (American) or do the miles stay in that program but could be used later on AA?

Thanks in advance!!

Robert

Dear Robert,

For your upcoming Swissair flight, you can elect to earn miles in either the Qualiflyer program, or in the American AAdvantage program. You must, though, choose before you fly?thereafter, there’s no changing your mind.

So, which program should you have your miles credited to?

In general, you’re better off joining a program hosted by an
airline based in your home country. That’s not just blind nationalism. Rather it reflects the common-sense expectation
that (a) any given program will be designed to meet the needs, first and foremost, of its largest customer segment?in most cases, the “home” market; and (b), you’ll have easier access to the program’s customer service operation in that program’s country of origin.

So if you live in the U.S. (or, more generally, in North
America), the scales tip in favor of AAdvantage. Whereas if
you live in Switzerland (or elsewhere in Europe), Qualiflyer
gets the nod.

Going beyond that conventional (and rather generalized) wisdom, you might want to compare award levels for the two programs. As a point of comparison, here are the miles required for award tickets in various classes of service between the U.S. and Europe:

CONVERSION COST COMPARISON

AAdvantage Qualiflyer
First 125,000/250,000 150,000
Business 90,000/180,000 100,000
Economy 40,000/120,000 60,000

AAdvantage uses a multi-level scheme, with the lower level
available on a limited basis, subject to capacity controls and
seasonal restrictions, and the higher level available without
restrictions. Qualiflyer imposes capacity controls and
blackout dates on all awards. So assuming that each program’s
restrictions are identical (unlikely), the AAdvantage awards
look to be the better deal.

And as a final thought, compare the earning opportunities
associated with both programs. AAdvantage is the industry
leader in this area, offering a longer partner roster
(companies awarding AAdvantage miles when you purchase their
goods or services) than any other program. However, a
significant number of those partners are U.S.-only merchants…
which brings us full circle, back to the “join the local
program” advice.

Hope that helps.

Tim Winship
Contributing Editor
SmarterTravel.com

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