Executive Traveller exclusive
Frequent flyers of Oneworld’s 14 member airlines can look forward to securing points-based upgrades across the alliance this year.
The initiative will see travellers able to use their points in the loyalty program of one airline in the Oneworld family to upgrade into premium economy, business class of first class on any other airline across the group.
Although first planned for 2020, and then delayed to “the end of 2021” due to the impact of the pandemic, Oneworld says its on track to roll out the much-anticipated platform this year.
“We are actively progressing in developing the Oneworld upgrades programmes,” a spokesperson for the group tells Executive Traveller.
The arrangements “will deliver greater value to member airlines and customers in the future as international travel recovers” – as will plans to open the first Oneworld-branded airport lounge, originally slated for late 2019 but now also back on the cards.
But wrangling the frequent flyer programs of 14 airlines 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 would 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.
“If it was really simple, we would have done it before,” Oneworld CEO Rob Gurney told Executive Traveller in 2020,“but I think we've got a pretty clear roadmap of how we're going to get there.”
“There's a lot of work being done in rounding out what the ideal customer offering is, and just as importantly, how it’s executed.”
How will upgrades work across so many airlines?
Oneworld has not detailed the mechanics of its planned upgrade system, such as 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.
There’s also the matter of whether these upgrades can be confirmed instantly upon request, or must be 'waitlisted' for consideration closer to departure.
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.”
The survey also flagged the possibility of these other-airline upgrades being made available on a last-minute basis as little as “within one day of the scheduled flight.”
Unlocking the miles and points puzzle
As to how many frequent flyer points or miles will be required for each 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.
Whether Oneworld’s airlines will adopt a single set of alliance-wide upgrade policies, or 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.
And 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 said.
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.
Still, “I think we’ve got pretty good alignment across our member airlines around how this is going to work.”