Qantas, BA to join Oneworld upgrades program

Qantas Points and BA Avios will enable premium economy, business and first class upgrades on other Oneworld airlines.

By David Flynn, June 4 2024
Qantas, BA to join Oneworld upgrades program

Qantas and British Airways are next in line to join Oneworld’s multi-airline upgrade platform, adding new power to Qantas Points and the Avios currency of BA and its siblings.

Oneworld CEO Nat Pieper says the expansion represents “a new valuable way for the alliance’s frequent flyers to use their mileage points to upgrade across oneworld member airlines.”

However, it seems the lofty goal of true alliance-wide upgrades – using the miles or points of any Oneworld member to unlock upgrades on any other member airline – remains some time away.

Instead, the starting position will be for airlines to enter reciprocal partnerships with one another.

That’s already the case with Qantas and American Airlines, at least as far as members of American’s AAdvantage program being able to use their miles for upgrades on Qantas flights.

And now it’s set to become a two-way street, with Pieper confirming “the reciprocal benefit for Qantas Points upgrades on American operated flights will go live later this year,” while a statement from Oneworld described the timeframe as being “in the coming months.”

Speaking to media at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) AGM being held this week in Dubai, Pieper described American-Qantas upgrades as “the first phase” of the scheme, with more airlines to follow.

“British Airways and Iberia are also very close to launching the reciprocal partnership in this program,” Pieper revealed.

The bilateral agreement would allow members of the BA Executive Club and Iberia Plus loyalty programs to use Avios for upgrades across both airlines – a measure no doubt made easier by not only the airlines’ mutual ownership under IAG but their shared use of the same Avios currency.

That also bodes well for the cross-airline upgrade potential of other Avios-fuelled Oneworld members such as Finnair and Qatar Airways.

“As the CEO of Oneworld, I’m committed to harnessing the power of partnerships between Oneworld’s member airlines to deliver even greater benefits to our customers, across our network of 900+ destinations globally.”

There’s no word yet on when the Qantas-American or BA-Iberia upgrades will be launched, or how many points will be needed.

Oneworld’s Customer Experience chief Gerhard Girkinger maintains that cross-airline upgrades are “a core element to the customer proposition and what we want to provide our customers.”

“It's going to be in a smaller scale initially, and then grow from there,” Girkinger has told Executive Traveller.

No plans for a ‘Oneworld Miles’ currency

So how would these Oneworld-wide miles or points upgrades work, in practice?

Girkinger ruled out the introduction of a virtual Oneworld ‘currency’ – invariably referred to as Oneworld Miles or Oneworld Points – to act as a baseline for the conversion from the miles or points of one member airline to another.

“Technically, we really don't get involved in that at all. We will provide the framework and the infrastructure” for cross-airline upgrades, Girkinger told Executive Traveller, but “the airlines will decide of how they want to do it.”

As a result, participating airlines will decide their own exchange rate between their respective rewards currencies "like it is today for redemptions… it is largely still based on what the airlines would bilaterally agree, (so) the concept really doesn’t change.”

But wrangling the frequent flyer programs of each airline to build an interweaving upgrade mechanism covering each fare type and travel class is no easy matter.

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 some carriers offer both.

Airlines will also need to balance their stock of available reward seats to meet the demand of their own customers along with passengers wielding points from other airlines.

Would Oneworld-wide upgrades be immediately confirmed, or see travellers waitlisted with their fingers crossed?
Would Oneworld-wide upgrades be immediately confirmed, or see travellers waitlisted with their fingers crossed?

The points and miles upgrade puzzle

Another complication is which fare types would be eligible for alliance-based upgrades.

For example, rival network Star Alliance has long allowed members of one airline's frequent flyer program to upgrade on flights operated by other Star Alliance airlines, although travellers must book full-fare flexible economy to qualify for business class bump-ups.

Qantas polled its own frequent flyers on the concept as far back as 2019, with surveys sketching out options such as setting a minimum for points-based upgrades across airlines at the more expensive standard and flexible economy fares rather than “discount economy or economy sale fares.”

There is also the matter of whether these upgrades can be confirmed instantly upon request, or must be waitlisted for consideration closer to departure.

That’s all part of the puzzle which Girkinger is attempting to unravel for travellers, although the pace of things naturally changed with the arrival of the pandemic in 2020.

“It’s similar to our lounge program being delayed,” he admits. “That’s no secret. We said that we were working on an upgrade programme” in 2020, and it’s “been a work in progress.”

“(And) having seen our proposition that we would like, it's also going to be what I would argue (as) superior to what the other alliances offer today.”

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1199

I can just see Qatar welcoming upgrades to Qantas points holders.........not!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 Jun 2022

Total posts 6

“Girkinger teases”…no true a phrase has ever been uttered from One World. They have dangled many  incentive-based carrots the faces of One World customers for years. Once again guilty of over-promising and under delivery.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer - Chairmans Lounge

01 Sep 2011

Total posts 412

I hope when this comes in that FF's belonging to a specific airline get priority over FF's of another OneWorld carrier and its not a free for all.

03 Mar 2023

Total posts 16

Isn't Avios becoming a bit of a de facto OneWorld currency?  At least for a few of the airlines.  I'm a Finnair Gold FF and they've transitioned to Avios, joining Qatar and BA.  Seems to make sense.

08 Feb 2018

Total posts 160

What a load of rubbish. How hard can it be? Upgrade from this class to that class with that airline between those cities costs that many Qantas points. 

Process the upgrade, deduct the points, Qantas pays other airline the agreed amount. Jeez it’s not rocket science

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