Oneworld plans alliance-wide business, first class upgrades

You’ll soon be able to use your Qantas Points for a business class – or even first class – upgrade on any Oneworld airline.

By Chris Chamberlin, July 24 2020
Oneworld plans alliance-wide business, first class upgrades

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.

Use your Qantas Points for a confirmed business class upgrade on Australian domestic flights.
Use your Qantas Points for a confirmed business class upgrade on Australian domestic flights.

But while domestic upgrades can be confirmed instantly, international upgrades run on a request-only basis, and aren’t considered until closer to departure.

Read: The ultimate Qantas domestic, international upgrade guide

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.

Also read: Alaska Airlines joining Oneworld: what it means for Qantas flyers

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Mar 2014

Total posts 157

This is the best news in ages!

16 Jan 2018

Total posts 107

This has been a long overdue enhancement! This will definitely make the others consider their program benefits and I'm fairly certain the other alliances will bring in something similar.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Aug 2014

Total posts 120

Finally! Hopefully this ends up being useful, not impossibly restrictive.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Dec 2016

Total posts 18

Potentially great news.

As I understand it you have to book the most expensive economy seat to be able to upgrade to business with Qantas so wouldn't be that different to star alliance

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Mar 2019

Total posts 14

The middle fare levels can be upgraded too.

AT
AT

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 326

Would be good to hear from *A members here on their opinions of how doable the upgrades work in real life in *A programs. I'm OW Em with QFF and though I think this is great news when we can travel again, I'm also thinking will it be like hens teeth, especially the J-F.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 159

Generally *A upgrade awards work well!

Amt
Amt

12 Nov 2018

Total posts 13

Never met anyone that's succeeded in a star alliance upgrade on another carrier... there are too many restrictions to protect Lufthansa and Singapore premium seats from UA credit card mileage millionaires. Some success on ANA I've heard.

CX go as far as blocking the most typical premium economy fare from mileage upgrades.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 159

I've upgraded many time to First from Business on Swiss and Lufthansa using United miles and United GPUs You just have to watch which fare class you purchase to be eligible to upgrade

08 Oct 2011

Total posts 49

I have once upgraded from business class (D) to first class on TG flight NRT-BKK using my SQ KrisFlyer Miles in Mar 2013. The eligibility is the business class fare must be D or C.

NB
NB

11 Oct 2017

Total posts 9

Trying to obtain international upgrades on Qantas is really not possible no matter what they say.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Dec 2016

Total posts 20

Disagree with NB I have upgraded trim premium to bus on my last 6 flights to Japan no problem at all

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

21 Aug 2013

Total posts 135

I disagree also with NB, as my partner & I also both upgraded to business from a mid-range economy fare (NOT full Y. Or anywhere near it) from SIN to MEL on QF. Just a mix of patience, knowledge and luck.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Dec 2016

Total posts 18

Interesting. I thought it had to be full flex economy

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

21 Aug 2013

Total posts 135

Nope. Currently G, K, L, M, S and V.


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