Qualifying for Elite Status on Partner Airlines Becomes Increasingly Difficult Effective as of March

Was there not a time where airline alliances touted “seamless integration” amongst its partners where members can benefit from flying as passengers on any airline — regardless of which frequent flier loyalty program they are members?

The business class cabin of an Airbus A330-300 aircraft on Turkish Airlines while on a flight to Istanbul during autumn of 2012. The earning of elite qualification miles for premium class airfares on Turkish Airways by MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program members remains unchanged — for now, anyway. Photograph by FlyerTalk member yycworldtraveler.

The latest “enhancement” of earning elite qualifying miles on partner airlines has been implemented by United Airlines. Sure, members of the MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program who have flown as passengers on Turkish Airlines prior to March 3, 2013 will earn 100 percent elite qualification miles towards elite status if the fare class was G, P or W — but as of March 3, these fare classes will no longer earn any elite qualification miles on Turkish Airlines and possibly on other Star Alliance airline partners.
Similarly, Delta Air Lines implemented reductions in the earning of elite qualification miles in certain fare classes on SkyTeam alliance partner airlines as of March 1, 2013…
…so what is going on here? Why are the frequent flier loyalty programs of some airlines reducing the number of elite qualification miles their customers can earn on partner airlines within an alliance? Is it to save money? Is it an attempt to incrementally increase the difficulty of alliance members to earn elite status? Should elite status be based more on revenue and less on how often one flies as a passenger? Have there been inequities which need to be corrected?
In this case, the change seems to be due to an inequity between the United Airlines MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program and the Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles frequent flier loyalty program. Seth Miller of The Wandering Aramean weblog notes that the G, P and W “fares don’t earn points in the Turkish Miles & Smiles program and that, over the past year or so, they’ve not been crediting properly to United without significant manual intervention. That said, it is still disappointing to lose the option.”
Perhaps I am imagining things, but I thought that airline alliances were meant to enhance — no, I use that word in its correct and proper definition — benefits for frequent flier loyalty program members: Earn miles and elite status on these other airlines! Convenient flight connections between partner airlines! Airport lounge access!
While these claims do selectively exist, they are not pervasive worldwide in any of the three major airline alliances. I suppose it is much more difficult to align benefits and conveniences between different frequent flier loyalty programs than originally thought.
With the cost of airfares for international flights — even many of the least expensive ones — usually being significantly higher than airfares for domestic flights, it would seem to be unfair to reduce the amount of elite qualification miles one can earn on certain fare classes on partner airlines. Worse, it would seem especially unfair for a member of a frequent flier loyalty program who lives outside of the base country who flies mostly on partner airlines to increase the difficulty of earning elite status — but then, you might question why that person does not switch to the frequent flier loyalty program of the airline in the country where he or she is based.
You might wonder why an airline would reward one of its frequent flier loyalty program members for flying as a passenger on another airline. To me, it is simple: it is part of a reciprocal arrangement where the partner airline does the same for one of its frequent flier loyalty program members flying as a passenger on that airline in return. It all “evens out in the wash” — right?
I keep thinking that one day, this trend of “enhancements” — the airline definition, not the correct and proper definition — will be interrupted by an airline whose management has creative foresight to buck the trend, differentiate itself from the “pack” and start implementing changes where as many of its frequent flier loyalty program members will benefit while the airline profits…
…but am I delirious? Or — if in fact it will happen one day — will that be within our lifetimes?
Am I wrong? What are your thoughts?
  1. Brian , this imo is much ado about Nothing. I believe ever since Any carrier joined the Miles game there were Always certain Fare Basis that earned Zippo.
    Instead of everyone beig happy it took TK so long until they finally put their foot down and stopped issuing miles (paying for them ) in the other programs, everyone bashes UA..
    For the longest of time Ive always found a great cheap fare on Orbitz under ‘Multiple Carriers’ yet once I checked the fare basis in practically every case at a min at least flying 1 way wasnt gonna earn me Zippo. Be it TK or OK or MA or LO spread among all 3 Alliances, and makig it not worth my while to actually purchase that tkt . TK finally woke up, and it seems everyone feels UA should still give the credit even if TK says no and wont pay for it,I really have no idea what everyone is drinking nowadays, just please keep it far away from me.
    Its not up to UA to decide what TK must accept as an Earning fare basis

  2. Maybe it was different when award programs were in their infancy but as long as I’ve been flying (regularly since the mid-90’s), the US based carriers were really the only ones that ever gave full RDM/EQM’s on every published fare. Cheapo economy tickets not getting full (or any) credit has long been the norm in programs outside the US. Given these international loyalty programs still seem to do relatively well and with the focus shifting more towards revenue and away from BIS loyalty I’m honestly not surprised US based carriers are slashing earnings on cheaper fares, whether on their own initiative (Delta) or because other carriers aren’t willing to compensate the crediting airline (Turkish/ United).

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