Oneworld moves forward with alliance-wide upgrades

It'll soon be possible to use points from one Oneworld airline, such as Qantas, to upgrade on another, such as Cathay Pacific.

By Chris Chamberlin, October 29 2020
Oneworld moves forward with alliance-wide upgrades
Executive Traveller exclusive

Oneworld is forging ahead with plans to unlock points-based upgrades across the alliance, allowing members of every Oneworld frequent flyer program to secure a business class bump-up with a host of airlines around the world.

Under the plan, a Qantas Frequent Flyer member could use Qantas Points to upgrade on American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and more, as an example: going beyond the current arrangements, whereby Qantas cardholders can only make outright flight bookings using points on the same.

“We think this is a good opportunity to really do something that is relatively substantial,” Oneworld alliance CEO Rob Gurney tells Executive Traveller.

Rob Gurney speaks with Executive Traveller from his New York office.
Rob Gurney speaks with Executive Traveller from his New York office.

“It's always been on our agenda … but we established it as a priority for 2020, to get to a conclusion,” even despite the substantial impact COVID-19 has had on international travel.

Countdown to launch

With 13 airlines currently full members of Oneworld – soon to become 14, after Alaska Airlines joins in early 2021 – that’s some 182 different combinations of airline ticket and frequent flyer program to work through on the upgrade front.

Qantas alone would be involved in 26 of those combinations: such as being able to use Qantas Points to upgrade on 13 other airlines (Alaska included), plus having frequent flyers of those 13 airlines being able to upgrade on Qantas flights using their Oneworld points or miles.

“There's a lot of work that's being done in rounding out what the ideal customer offering is, and just as importantly, how it's executed,” Gurney admits. “We've made a lot of progress on that.”

“I think it'll be 2020 – this year, certainly – in terms of finalising what the offering is and how it's executed, but we haven't got a firm launch date for it yet,” the Oneworld chief elaborates.

That kick-off date remains up in the air for now, although the launch is expected to occur when travel begins to bounce back, with airlines using some their downtime to get their systems ready for those intra-alliance upgrades.

“As we start to see some level of recovery in markets, I think having this ready – to release commercially, around that time – is going to be quite important for us,” tips Gurney.

Oneworld’s member base includes American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines and SriLankan Airlines, with Alaska Airlines joining that list in 2021.

How will upgrades work, across so many airlines?

With the mechanics of the upgrade progress still being worked through, airlines are evaluating how to implement such points-based upgrades in a way that suits not only their business needs, but also the expectations of their frequent flyer base.

Oneworld frequent flyers will be able to secure upgrades on British Airways, among many other carriers.
Oneworld frequent flyers will be able to secure upgrades on British Airways, among many other carriers.

Right now, each airline handles its own frequent flyer upgrades a little differently: some allow upgrades to be cleared and confirmed instantly, others require upgrades to be ‘waitlisted’ for consideration closer to departure, and indeed, some offer both.

When asked whether those different approaches posed a difficulty in creating the alliance-wide upgrade system, Gurney explained that “the program has essentially been designed for the airlines, for their own customer base.”

“Of course, the markets are not homogenous, they're different: they've got different competitive dynamics, so the program is different from market to market … and the policies relating to how those customer components are offered and delivered, differ.”

As such, that mixed approach whereby some frequent flyer programs process upgrades instantly, and others queue them on a waitlist, could be applied when upgrading on a Oneworld partner from those same programs.

Still, “I think we’ve got pretty good alignment across our member airlines around how this is going to work,” Gurney says.

The final hurdle: the frequent flyer

After everything becomes finalised behind the scenes – including how the airlines will compensate each other when upgrades are processed – the final step becomes educating the members of each Oneworld frequent flyer program about the new upgrade system, and how it’ll work for them.

“How can we explain it simply, and how can it be delivered efficiently and effectively?” are just some of the considerations Oneworld will face in the rollout process, Gurney shares.

What it “looks like through the lens of the customer” is also important, as is the need to balance the complex economics for airlines in the background, with simplicity in the foreground for frequent flyers, who’ll be getting their head around the new arrangements.

“If it was really simple, we would have done it before,” Gurney admits, “but I think we've got a pretty clear roadmap of how we're going to get there.”

Previously: Oneworld plans alliance-wide business, first class upgrades

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

18 May 2015

Total posts 44

It will be interesting to know what fare types and classes will be eligible for points upgrades across all the partners

For example, if I book a Qantas Oneworld Award mostly in Business but one leg is in Economy say on Finnair which i believe books into X fare class could i use my QF points to upgrade that leg?

To implement this surely Qantas will need to show fare class being booked to the consumer otherwise it will be very confusing to work out eligibility.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 159

Star alliance UA lh etc  are quite specific about Fare  Classes which are eligible fro UA Plus Points LH EVoucher upgrades Transparency is key to getting your upgrades  make sure you book into th correct booking class

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Sep 2018

Total posts 146

The concern to frequent flyers will always be the amount of restrictions that come with this. Star Alliance already has this feature but the number of restrictions makes it so that only the most expensive, flexible fare classes of each travel class could actually be upgraded, which diminishes its use to last minute travel or business travel where employers or clients aren't willing to pony up for business or first. A very niche case for it indeed. 

05 Jul 2013

Total posts 10

Wonderful!  With this new offer in place, I can go from upgrades not being available on Qantas, to upgrades not being available on any OneWorld airline.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Nov 2012

Total posts 61

That’s the “Law of attraction” in action.  😂

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 159

Can only imagine this being single cabin and quite restrictive (higher fares only) in line with the Star Alliances model, but better than nothing at all

AT
AT

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 328

No question about it, this will only be available on higher fare types which gives them a new selling point other than flexibility, and of course too bad if your upgrade doesn't come through and you've bought the $3000 economy fare. Its always a gamble with upgrades at the best of times but having the option of wait-list and on departure upgrades would help.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 403

Hopefully Qantas might revert to its previous system for international upgrades, where you could confirm this at the time of booking. Then, post 2000, it was changed to allow international upgrades only in the 7 days prior to flight (different times for different FF levels).

It will be a big improvement if the system once again allows certainty on international upgrades at the time of booking.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer - Chairmans Lounge

01 Sep 2011

Total posts 390

I hope the airline you are a frequent flyer with gives you the priority eg if im plat1 with qf and I want to upgrade on qf, I get priority over an AA or BA etc FF.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

21 Jul 2019

Total posts 55

The headline announcement is good news indeed but the mechanics of it will be crucial as to whether it's judged a success or failure by frequent fliers. On an unrelated topic: why on earth is that CX passenger smiling weirdly into his coffee mug? Who does that!

Rxm
Rxm

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Jan 2017

Total posts 54

I won’t hold my breath. It will be theoretically possible but just like now there will hardly be any availability. 


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