Oneworld plans rollout of alliance-wide upgrades by end of 2021

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

By Chris C., June 3 2021
Oneworld plans rollout of alliance-wide upgrades by end of 2021
Executive Traveller exclusive

Frequent flyers of Oneworld's 14 member airlines can soon secure points-based upgrades across the alliance, with the collective now planning a 'start date' within the next six months.

The initiative will see Qantas Frequent Flyer members able to upgrade flights on Oneworld's newest member Alaska Airlines, along with Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Qatar Airways, and more.

Members of other Oneworld programs could similarly request upgrades across the alliance, including on Qantas domestic and international departures.

“We are targeting to have the programme launched by the end of 2021,” Oneworld Vice President Corporate Communications, Ghim-Lay Yeo, tells Executive Traveller.

The arrangements “will deliver greater value to member airlines and customers in the future as international travel recovers.”

Your Qantas Points could be the ticket to a Qatar Qsuite upgrade, once international travel returns.
Your Qantas Points could be the ticket to a Qatar Qsuite upgrade, once international travel returns.

However, Oneworld is yet to lock down the mechanics of the upgrade process among its member carriers.

Such agreements were previously expected to have been finalised by the end of 2020, representing a delay to the negotiation process approaching six months.

“Oneworld is working closely with member airlines and stakeholders to finalise an alliance FFP upgrade proposition,” Yeo explains in June 2021, “and will share more details accordingly”.

Oneworld not the first with alliance-wide upgrades

Rival network Star Alliance has long allowed members of one airline's frequent flyer program to upgrade to business class – and even first class – on flights operated by other Star Alliance airlines.

However, such upgrades require travellers to book full-fare flexible economy to qualify for business class bump-ups.

That makes Star Alliance's model a better proposition for business travellers already booking those expensive fare categories, or indeed, booking business class by default, which could allow them to upgrade to first class instead.

Oneworld is yet to be drawn on the mechanics of its own upgrade system.

This includes which fare types would be eligible for alliance-based upgrades, and whether these upgrades can be confirmed instantly upon request, or must be 'waitlisted' for consideration closer to departure.

As to how many frequent flyer points or miles will be required for an upgrade, that will depend on the traveller's 'home' frequent flyer program, in the same way that each frequent flyer scheme sets its own redemption rates for outright flight bookings on partner airlines.

PREVIOUS [December 29, 2020] | 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 14 airlines now full members of Oneworld – Alaska Airlines being the newest addition to the list – 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 C.

A Brisbane-based contributor to Executive Traveller, Chris Chamberlin 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 45

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 271

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 155

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 101

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

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 252

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


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 367

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 469

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 404

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 118

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!


Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Jan 2017

Total posts 59

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

07 Nov 2020

Total posts 36

In my experience it's next to impossible to get an upgrade on a QF international flight using points.  Other OneWorld airlines are much, MUCH better, particularly Finnair.

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