A few days ago I wrote a post about Lufthansa only releasing first class award space to partner airlines 14 days out, and reader David asked the following:
Any chance of a post looking at award availability for a program’s own members, such as SQ KrisFlyer and LH M&M? How much better is it, and is it worthwhile? Like 2 F awards on a flight? Are there other programs like this?
I might have to work harder to earn more AX MRs and SPG pts. (instead of AA, UA and UR pts.)
With the development of alliances and airline partnerships over the past decade or so, we’ve seen many airlines offer members of their partners’ frequent flyer programs the same award availability as members of their own frequent flyer program. This is great since it really opens up just about any destination in the world on miles, which wasn’t the case before.
For example, Star Alliance uses Starnet, which is a system that displays the award availability that all Star Alliance airlines have access to. Some airlines will block award space and claim that each airline is allocated their inventory, though for the most part this isn’t the case. Instead there’s one common availability “pool” from which any airline can claim award space.
There are several exceptions, though, as many airlines open up award space exclusively to their own frequent flyer members. While I won’t cover them all, here are a few of the most common ones:
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Singapore is one of the biggest exceptions, as they don’t release any longhaul first or business class award space in their new product to partner airlines. Back in July there was a period of about two days where they accidentally released space to partner airlines, though other than that they don’t. They do however release shorthaul business class award space and coach award space to Star Alliance partners on many routes.
The interesting thing is that Singapore actually releases a lot of first and business class longhaul award space to their KrisFlyer members, and the redemption costs are quite reasonable. I wrote a post about that here, so if you have American Express Membership Rewards points or Starwood Preferred Guest points, you can easily redeem for Singapore first and business class.
I find this interesting because on one hand they’re “protecting” award space from Star Alliance partners, but at the same time they’re actually charging their members reasonable redemption rates. So this is one of those cases where I actually think it can make sense to transfer points to a foreign frequent flyer program and redeem that way.
Air France Flying Blue
Air France is out of their damn mind. They don’t release any first class award space to their SkyTeam partners. As a matter of fact they don’t even release it all to their own Flying Blue members. Instead only Flying Blue elite members can redeem for first class, and only at the “flex” level (which is about double the cost of a saver award ticket). That means first class award tickets always have last seat availability, though they’re outrageously expensive. All that for what’s at best an average first class product.
Lufthansa/Swiss Miles & More
As I discussed in my post earlier in the week regarding award availability released to Star Alliance partners, Lufthansa no longer releases first class award space more than 14 days out, Swiss no longer releases first class award space at all and only rarely releases business class award space.
However, they do release a good amount of award space in the above three categories in advance to their own Miles & More members. Swiss award availability can be searched on ExpertFlyer, so I always get emails from people saying they see so much Swiss award availability, but an Aeroplan/United/US Airways agent can’t see it. That’s because the award availability on ExpertFlyer is what’s available to Miles & More members, and not what would appear in Starnet.
As you can see below, next summer Swiss has eight business class award seats on each Zurich to New York flight and two first class award seats on one flight, none of which are available to Star Alliance members.
First class on any of Delta’s partners
I mention this because of the practical implications, and not because it’s a case of an airline actually holding back space. Delta SkyMiles can’t be used to redeem for international first class, which excludes the first class cabins on Korean Air, China Eastern, China Southern, China Airlines, and Saudi Arabian. However, it’s not that those airlines are blocking the space, but rather that Delta isn’t giving their members access to the space. The most efficient way to redeem for first class on those products is through Korean Air’s SkyPass program, which is an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, as I’ve discussed here and here.
There are plenty of other cases of this happening, though mostly they’re milder cases. For example, American and United have some extra coach inventory exclusively for their top tier flyers, and Cathay Pacific AsiaMiles releases slightly more award space to their own members than OneWorld partners. But none of those are really “life changing” in the sense that it’s typically not worth crediting miles to a program just to get access to that extra bit of inventory.
In the above four examples I find Singapore KrisFlyer and Korean Air SkyPass to be the most valuable programs. I like Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer because it’s the only way to fly Singapore Airlines longhaul first and business class on miles, and Korean Air SkyPass because it lets me experience some funky airlines in first class that I couldn’t otherwise fly.
And while I hate to do this, let me make a prediction. I’d be willing to bet we’ll see a trend over the next few years whereby non-US airlines increasingly release award space exclusively to their own members. At the end of the day there’s such an inequality in terms of the number of outstanding miles between the US and the rest of the world, given the huge number of miles earned through credit cards in the US. Not only do I think foreign carriers will think their premium cabins are too accessible (especially due to US airlines often selling miles cheaply), but they’ll also feel like their own members are at a disadvantage, and more may go the route of Lufthansa. Not something I’d like to see happen or that I have inside knowledge on, though if I were a betting man…
Anyway, hope that somewhat answers your question, David. If anyone has any questions on this or has another topic they’d like me to cover, let me know and I’d be happy to try and write something. I’d like to tailor content as much as possible to what you guys find useful, so let me know!