Reader question: which frequent flyer programs release award space exclusively to their own members?

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.


Plenty of saver award space!

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.


Plenty of first class “flex” award space

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.


Miles & More availability


Starnet availability

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.

Conclusion

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!

Comments

  1. Cathay Pacific AsiaMiles releases slightly more award space to their own members than Star Alliance partners

    So that means you can now redeem UA miles on OZ, NH, TG, LH, AND CX F. WOW

  2. “they’ll also feel like their own members are at a disadvantage”

    I think this is the reason why LH, LX and the like have tightened up award availability to *A partners. They want don’t want to hear from their best customers that they can’t get first class award seats. They might lose loyal customers over this issue, whereas they lose nothing by shutting down F space to non-customers.

    The credit card bonuses here really have been very generous. But I thought you’ve been saying they’ve been getting a bit less generous. Do you see that trend continuing?

  3. @ snic — For a few months (between March and June) I think we saw a decrease in the number of great credit card sign-up bonuses. And there’s certainly a trend whereby we’re not consistently seeing mega 75,000-100,000 mile/point sign-up bonuses as we’ve seen in the past. But at the end of the day credit card sign-up bonuses are huge, and more and more consumers are taking advantage of them and putting spending on credit cards.

    Even if the amount of sign-up bonuses decreases, I think we’ll still see a trend whereby miles earned through non-flying means become a larger percentage of overall outstanding miles in the US.

  4. Lucky,as you mentioned air france release only first for its platinium member at 5x required economy miles or 2.5 business class miles,which is outrageous thinking 4years ago it was double economy miles.
    Despite Mea and saudi joining skyteam air france will show all flight via paris or rome,try to fly beirut to jeddah or dubbai and you will have to fly via paris!!”!crazy,try to fly london,paris,frankfurt to seoul and you will never see the trace of korean air,all flights are via parus or amsterdam,what the use of alliances???

  5. Do *A partners all charge different amounts to other airlines when a seat is redeemed by a member of another airline’s frequent flyer program, or is there a standard charge for O, I or X alliance-wide?

    If non-US airlines feel like their premium cabins are too accessible, then they could simply charge other airlines more for them, thereby earning more revenue, assuming it’s not against the rules of *A.

  6. @ mdr — Sadly that’s something I don’t know, since they don’t release that info. I suspect they have standardized prices, though I could be wrong. The issue with them raising the prices on US airlines is that in turn US prices can then raise prices on foreign carriers (since foreign carriers need United/US Airways for domestic travel and some routes not served by them). So I think something like that would be a race to the bottom for both sides.

  7. So it it worth transferring SPG points to M&M for the better availability, or do the fuel charges not make it worth doing so?

  8. @ Michael T — Between fuel surcharges and their higher redemption rates I don’t think it’s worth it. At least for me, I prefer waiting till closer to departure and booking then, or booking a different product instead.

  9. I’ve haven’t been in the community as long as you, but do you recall any situation where this has occurred before? Like maybe when DL started started blocking first class redemptions? (A long time ago)

  10. @ Jeff — Are you referring to airlines restricting award space only to their own members? I think Lufthansa and Swiss are the most recent example.

  11. Thanks Lucky, this is super helpful. I guess I should have been more careful with my AX MRs last year…too many pts to CO and BA (about 450K total in 2011). I should have transferred them to SQ. Oh well…

  12. I can see the restricting of awards for foreign airlines happening in the future which I’m guessing would change elite frequent flyers’ points collecting strategies. But I’d say wouldn’t it depend on the airline? Since the well-known, established foreign airlines who have a reputation for high-quality service that travelers flock to (Singapore, Cathay, Emirates), or those who have such a huge network or are based in frequently traveled routes (British Airways, Air France), it’d be advantageous for them to restrict their inventory somewhat since they can charge and not have a reputation for having their first/business class be mostly non-revs. Travelers will still flock to them due to a good established reputation.

    But for airlines that are a bit out of the way or not as well-known or looked into (ie China Eastern/Southern, TAP Portugal, Aeroflot), it’d seem to be a foolish way to diminish yourself from the eyes of customers even more if your message is “you can access our award space only if you join our FF program.” The customer has probably already gone out of their way to fly your airline. Seems that those airlines would have missed an opportunity to promote their product or gain a future loyal customer, and to get more passengers on their planes in the long-term, wouldn’t it be a good move for these airlines to make award space at least a bit more accessible?

    Just my two cents…

  13. I know this is me being lazy, but would you be able to do a Reader’s Digest post on these various foreign programs. I am thinking about transfering AMEX MR points to SQ but really know nothing about the program. I know I could pull my finger out and research myself but thinking others may have the same questions and figure you are the expert.

  14. “They do however release shorthaul business class award space and coach award space to Star Alliance partners on many routes.”

    Lucky- what routes would these be? I’ve been looking to see if I can book any on the United website but to no avail – it looks like all that’s showing is economy, even on short haul routes…

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