Flight Codeshare Agreements: Beneficial or Deceptive?

“Code sharing is a pointless lie. I’ve missed flights twice by going to the wrong terminal when my ticket explicitly showed the airline I thought I was flying. Both flights were international and cause me to miss connections and subsequent meetings at the final destination. Code sharing should be outlawed!”

Flight Codeshare Agreements: Beneficial or Deceptive?

What you just read was a comment posted by FlyerTalk member mikegator in this article which I originally wrote on Tuesday, September 4, 2012 pertaining to whether codeshare agreements are beneficial or deceptive to airline passengers — and other FlyerTalk members shared his sentiment.

“There is no competition for instance between LH and UA on transatlantic routes, since they are officially a joint venture structure transatlantically. Specifically, may even mean reduction of choices by more fluent business calculations of the amount of flights needed”, FlyerTalk member FlyinDutchman opined in response to what I wrote, stating that some of the examples I used were not quite right and that codesharing is mostly positive for the airlines while deceitful to customers. “Furthermore, when codesharing, actual booking classes may differ. For instance, a codeshared LH flight operated by SQ will have a different booking class for LH and SQ. Thus, while you might be booking a class eligible for FF miles, this may change due to the flight being operated by the other airline. And nowhere in the process is this new actual booking class mentioned.”

The example which I used to demonstrate that codesharing is a great way to offer more routes economically was the availability of nonstop flights between Washington Dulles International Airport. and Frankfurt departing from the United States on Wednesday, October 10, 2012. United Airlines operated three flights, while Lufthansa operated two flights, combining for a total of five nonstop flights. Sure, United Airlines and Lufthansa essentially competed directly by each offering nonstop flights on that specific route on that day — but because they are both part of Star Alliance, they also engage in codesharing, which economically allows both United Airlines and Lufthansa to effectively offer that total of five nonstop flights.

Upon checking the availability of nonstop flights between Washington Dulles International Airport and Frankfurt departing from the United States on Thursday, October 10, 2017, both airlines each operate two nonstop flights for a total of four nonstop flights.

“There is also the difference in aircraft/service”, FlyerTalk member Phoenixtinct wrote, agreeing with FlyinDutchman and using my example of Lufthansa and United Airlines, stating that “if one is booking on united.com and sees an United flight number (even if it mentions operated by someone else – in this case, LH), one might expect the same configuration/services UA offers – BusinessFirst, GlobalFirst, which LH doesn’t offer. Also, the in-flight service is most likely very different. The types of aircraft probably as well. Moreover, with *A Gold status, you can check 2 bags up to 50lbs. with LH but 3 bags up to 70lbs on UA. Prices are sometimes very different – let’s say LH markets the flight as LH 1000 and UA as UA9300. Even though it’s the same flight operated by one airline – LH1000 might be more expensive for the same class of service on LH.com or elsewhere than UA9300 on united.com or other sites. So, code-sharing is deceptive in so many ways – just mentioning operated by another carrier takes away the convenience mentioned above as you have to check the allowances and fees of the other carrier to know exactly what you’re buying. There is that 1 benefit though – more flight options between city pairs, however, the downsides really outweigh the benefits in my opinion.”

Citing “one of the worst examples of what-you-see-isn’t-what-you-get is airline codesharing” in this article, Christopher Elliott says that “anyone who cares about the truth should be worried about it.”

Claiming that “the government has given the airline industry a license to lie, so they do it”, Elliott went on to say that “If I buy a ticket on United Airlines, I expect to fly on United Airlines. Not Aer Lingus or Expressjet or Qatar Airways. If I’d wanted to fly on one of those airlines, I would have asked my travel agent to book a ticket on one of those airlines, wouldn’t I?”

I disagreed with Christopher Elliott to a point, as I have never booked an airline itinerary not knowing specifically on which airline I will actually be a passenger. In fact, I find codesharing a great way to try out other airlines while still earning frequent flier loyalty program miles — and possibly elite level status — on the airline on which I am a passenger most often.

On the Internet web sites of both airlines, not only is which airline operates which flight clearly stated; but the flight numbers are purposely different. In each case, a three-digit flight number indicates that the airline itself operates the flight, while a four-digit flight number — in this case, beginning with an 8 on United Airlines and a 9 on Lufthansa — indicates that another airline operates the flight. Many airlines have similar systems for numbering codeshare flights. This is one of countless examples with which I believe that codesharing is not deceptive and, in fact, beneficial to the consumer — but I can understand how a person expecting a Lufthansa experience would be disappointed in receiving a United Airlines experience instead.

In fact, airlines can be fined for not disclosing code-sharing of flights, as has happened to United Airlines back in 2009.

While code-sharing can actually strengthen the branding of an airline, some would argue that codesharing actually weakens the branding of an airline, as inferred by FlyerTalk member glob99. I agree with this as well to a point, using the following scenario:

It does not happen often, but what irks me is when a regional airline operates as its mainline partner. Again, the same disclaimers by the airlines are practiced here, clearly disclosing which is the operating airline. The difference here, however, is that when the mainline airline advertises the flight as its own but irregular operations or rude behavior by the staff occur, the mainline airline distances itself from any blame or responsibility — even if it partially or wholly owns the regional airline. If an airline advertises a flight as its own, then it should also bear the responsibility of whatever goes wrong with the flight — even if that means acting as the middleman with the operating airline in question…

…and then there is the case of FlyerTalk member OrvilleWright, who considers one code-sharing experience to possibly be a form of “baiting and switching.”

In the aforementioned article, Christopher Elliott stated that “airline apologist (sic) have done a pretty good job convincing regulators and the flying public that codesharing is good. They use meaningless buzzwords like “synergy” and promise customers nonexistent benefits.”


Codesharing is the practice of two or more airlines applying a flight number to the same flight, thereby sharing the flight. This business arrangement is officially known as a codeshare agreement between airlines, which helps to save money for all airlines involved in the arrangement because they are able to pool their resources instead of operate independently with their own equipment and employees. For example, one airline can market the flights of a codeshare partner as if it were its own flight. In fact, other modes of transportation can also engage in codesharing, such as companies which operate trains.

Christopher Elliott has not backed off his stance pertaining to codesharing agreements, as he called for their “deaths” as recently as Monday, November 28, 2016 in this article.

Upon reflection, I wonder if some people might compare the level of “deception” to that of mandatory resort fees or carrier-imposed surcharges…

…and if they do, they will be happy to know that two fewer codeshare agreements will be in place effective as of Thursday, March 1, 2018 when American Airlines is formally ending its codeshare relationships with Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.

I personally have never had an issue with codesharing agreements — other than the aforementioned regional aircraft example — but are flight codesharing agreements considered beneficial or deceptive?

Photograph ©2008 by Brian Cohen.

7 thoughts on “Flight Codeshare Agreements: Beneficial or Deceptive?”

  1. Rjb says:

    Codeshares are useless to everyone except the airlines. There are no benefits to customers that could not be duplicated by the alliance (i.e. Pick the airline in the alliance for FF credit). Many negatives.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Although I do not disagree with you, Rjb, I recently purchased a few codeshare flights and was not unhappy with them at all. One of them was with WestJet, with which the last segment was operated by Delta Air Lines; and I was just fine with that. In fact, I liked that I could book both segments — the first being WestJet — with one purchase instead of having to purchase two tickets separately.

      Moreover, I knew they were codeshare flights from the time I gathered more details about them using the Google Flights tool; so I knew exactly what I was going to get well before the time of purchase.

      1. Lrdx says:

        What’s the point of the Delta flight having a WS flight number, when you can buy tickets that have both a WS and a DL segment? What’s the difference between a ticket for WS123+WS456 and a ticket for WS123+DL456?

  2. USBusinessTraveller says:

    I’m with RJB. There’s no benefit to the passenger that can’t be provided within alliances or (outside alliances) bilateral frequent flier agreements. Code shares are a marketing gimmick that allow airlines to pretend they’re flying services they’re not.

    And sometimes code shares result in worse service such as not being able to select seats in advance because the operating carrier’s reservation system doesn’t allow it (yes Lufthansa I’m looking at you) whereas multi-carrier/interline tickets with native flight numbers do.

    They worked 20+ years ago on a much smaller scale when (a) online booking wasn’t established so full service travel agents could explain it, and (b) pre-JVs and alliances meant that there were far fewer codeshares. But now they’re just an annoyance.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      The only part of what you wrote with which I disagree is when you say “There’s no benefit to the passenger that can’t be provided within alliances or (outside alliances) bilateral frequent flier agreements”, USBusinessTraveller.

      Using the WestJet and Delta Air Lines example — to which I referred with Rjb — I liked the convenience of purchasing both segments of my trip at once with a codeshare agreement rather than having to purchase them separately through each airline. That would not have been possible with a bilateral frequent flier agreement in and of itself unless I purchased the ticket through a third party such as Orbitz or Expedia or Travelocity — which introduces a potentially new set of problems and issues — and WestJet is not a member of SkyTeam, so there would have been no way for me to put both the Calgary to Toronto and Toronto to Atlanta segments on one itinerary with one purchase, as Air Canada is a member of Star Alliance.

      Yes, I am aware that I could have booked a ticket with Air Canada and United Airlines on one itinerary. In fact, the outbound segments of my itinerary was via United Airlines through Chicago. However, there were scheduling, routing and pricing conflicts on the return portion with which I would have rather not bothered.

      Otherwise, I agree with the cogent points you have raised; and I can see why codeshare agreements are not popular in general.

  3. Zmaster says:

    Codeshares are only “deceptive” to people who can’t read. They are great to everyone else and as Brian said – open up availability of trying other airlines while still earning mikes in your program of choice. I recently flew MIA-SAN Alaska codeshare on American. Was cheaper than the AA metal itself, nonstop and earned more miles – all on a route Alaska doesn’t fly. What’s not to love ?!?!? If you don’t understand them or how to use them, don’t fly them. But don’t blame your ignorance on the codeshare itself.

  4. Naoyuki says:

    I think it would be better if codeshare flights are presented to the consumers in a more explicit manner: For example if American has a codeshare agreement with Iberia, instead of saying:

    **AA Logo** American flight number XXXX (Operated by Iberia)

    most consumers would probably prefer seeing something like:

    **IB Logo** Iberian flight number YYY (AA codeshare partner flight)

    I am not sure most consumer would care to know if IB YYY has a different flight number in the internal AA booking software.

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