Whether you’re sitting on a stack of Qantas Points, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles or any other Oneworld member's frequent flyer curreency, you’ll soon be able to use it for an upgrade to business class – or in some cases first class – on airlines across the entire Oneworld alliance.
Rival Star Alliance has long allowed members of one airline’s frequent flyer program to upgrade another airline’s flight, but to date, Oneworld hasn’t had a formal alliance-wide upgrade: relying instead on direct agreements between specific airlines that choose to allow this.
Oneworld Vice President Corporate Communications, Ghim-Lay Yeo, confirms to Executive Traveller that the alliance plans “to have the (upgrade) programme evaluated and developed by the end of 2020.”
As to its alliance-wide roll-out, “we do not yet have a definitive timeline,” adds Yeo.
Alaska Airlines joins alliance as upgrades come online
Of course, with Alaska Airlines now on-track to join Oneworld by the end of this year, introducing alliance-wide upgrades around the same time would make for an even happier end to 2020 for the alliance, after what has already been a significantly disruptive year for Oneworld's entire stable of member airlines.
The challenge for Oneworld will be getting each member airline to sign off on a harmonised alliance-wide upgrade policy, as under current arrangements, each airline sets its own rules and restrictions on upgrades, where these are available.
For example, Qantas Frequent Flyer members can upgrade both domestic and international Qantas flights using Qantas Points.
But while domestic upgrades can be confirmed instantly, international upgrades run on a request-only basis, and aren’t considered until closer to departure.
Other airlines, like Qatar Airways, allow international upgrades to be confirmed when requested, but apply some other restrictions.
For one, Qatar Airways doesn't 'upgrade' a traveller's lounge access when they upgrade their flight, beyond the lounge their original booking or frequent flyer status would have provided access to, if any.
Qatar Airways upgrades are also prohibited from business class to first class on Airbus A380 flights between Doha and London, when the A380 is in service.
Whether Oneworld’s airlines will all move to standardise upgrade policies for all frequent flyer members, or will operate one set of rules for their own frequent flyers and another rule for members upgrading via other frequent flyer programs, remains to be seen.
How Star Alliance’s global upgrades work
Should Oneworld mirror the alliance-wide upgrade policies in place at biggest rival, Star Alliance, travellers may find the upgrade process highly restrictive, being useful only for a very small percentage of flyers, and out-of-reach for most travellers.
For passengers stuck in economy, for example, most Star Alliance airlines only permit upgrades via other frequent flyer programs for travellers booked onto the highest-priced economy tickets.
Such tickets are often close to business class fares – and can even be more expensive than entry-level premium economy airfares – which significantly limits those who can upgrade.
For travellers booking business class and seeking a first class bump-up, the system has more utility: but some Star Alliance airlines have an outright ban on first class points upgrades from other airline programs.
Singapore Airlines, for instance, does not permit upgrades from business class to its Boeing 777-300ER first class or Airbus A380 Suites Class cabins, for those using points or miles from most other Star Alliance programs.
Even where upgrades are permitted, time restrictions often apply, with some Star Alliance frequent flyer programs denying alliance upgrades requested less than seven days before departure, again ruling out many business travellers who travel at short notice.
While it’s hoped that Oneworld’s upcoming upgrade policy will have fewer restrictions than seen at Star Alliance, the devil will ultimately be in the detail.