Later this year, Oneworld plans to introduce alliance-wide upgrades on a select group of member airlines. As reported by Executive Traveller, implementing the feature has been in the works since 2020, and Oneworld now has plans to go live with it in 2024.
When the feature becomes available, loyalty program members from Oneworld partners will be able to upgrade to a higher class of service on a number of different airlines using points from various programs.
Oneworld to Launch Alliance-Wide Upgrades
In 2024, Oneworld plans to introduce alliance-wide upgrade awards to some of its member airlines. The plan has been in the works for a few years, and it appears that the alliance is getting closer to making it a reality.
Once implemented, this means that you’ll be able to use points from one program, such as British Airways Executive Club, to upgrade the class of service on flights with a different Oneworld carrier, such as Qantas. There will be a number of conditions tied to upgrades, which have yet to be detailed.
At the outset, alliance-wide upgrades will only be possible with a few Oneworld carriers; however, it’s not yet known which airlines will be eligible for alliance-wide upgrades.
Likewise, there isn’t any information about which fares will be eligible for upgrades, how upgrade inventory will be tracked, or which loyalty programs you can use to book alliance-wide upgrades.
It’s likely that you’ll be able to upgrade all the way to First Class, and with carriers such as Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Qatar Airways in the Oneworld alliance, there could be some intriguing possibilities.
However, without knowing the eligible fares, the costs to upgrade, and the availability of upgrades, it’s impossible to say how good of a deal Oneworld’s alliance-wide upgrades could be.
Given that you likely won’t be able to upgrade from discounted fares, and that there will be restrictions as to which flights have upgrade space, it’s not necessarily going to be a slam-dunk deal.
On the other hand, it’s a feature not currently available in the Oneworld alliance, and when it launches, it could be of use to some passengers.
More details about the timeline and structure of Oneworld’s alliance-wide upgrades are expected later this year.
How Do Alliance-Wide Upgrades Work?
Oneworld won’t become the first alliance to offer these kinds of upgrades once they’re introduced.
Many Star Alliance carriers have offered Star Alliance Upgrade Awards since 2005, and to better understand how Oneworld’s might work, let’s take a look at how Star Alliance Upgrade Awards work.
To be eligible for a Star Alliance Upgrade Award, you need to book into an eligible fare class to begin with.
Generally speaking, this means that you need to buy a full-fare economy, premium economy, or business class fare, which typically means that it’s much more expensive than the lowest fares in each class of service.
If you book an eligible fare, you’ll be able to move up one cabin of service (e.g. economy to business class in a two-cabin aircraft, business class to First Class), but you wouldn’t be able to move from, say, economy to First Class and bypass business class on an upgrade award.
Furthermore, you’ll only be able to make a Star Alliance Upgrade Award if there’s “Saver”-level award availability to begin with. This means that the seat to which you’d like to upgrade has to be available to book with points in order for you to upgrade to it with an alliance-wide upgrade award.
For example, if you’d like to use United miles to upgrade an EVA Air flight to business class, you’ll need to book your EVA Air flight on a “Y”, “B”, or “K” fare, which happen to be Economy Up and Premium Economy Up fares.
Round-trip flights between Los Angeles and Taipei booked in an Economy Up “B” fare might cost $2,025 (USD).
The same flights booked in business class to begin with might cost $5,485 (USD) on a Business Basic fare.
Booking these flights using miles would cost 216,400 miles, plus $39 (USD) in taxes and fees.
To use a Star Alliance Upgrade Award, you’d need to pay 30,000 miles per direction, in addition to the Economy Up “B” fare of $2,025 (USD).
So, for 60,000 miles and $2,025 (USD), you can wind up in the same seats that’d otherwise cost $5,485 (USD) or 216,400 miles plus $39 (USD) taxes and fees.
That’s a pretty good deal, but it’s worth noting that the number of flights on which “Saver”-level awards are available with EVA Air are few and far between.
Plus, you could also just book those flights at more competitive award prices through a program like Aeroplan, with which each direction in business class costs just 75,000 Aeroplan points.
On the other hand, in many cases, full-fare economy “Y” and “B” fares, as well as full-fare premium economy fares, might have a very similar cost to booking into business class to begin with.
You’ll always want to compare the costs between the fares, and if there’s a small difference between them, then you’re better off booking into business class (or First Class) to begin with.
Therefore, Star Alliance Upgrade Awards, and likely the Oneworld counterpart, are rarely a slam-dunk deal. However, they can be useful if you’d like to preserve your points balance and don’t mind paying out-of-pocket for flexible fares to begin with, or if you’re restricted from booking into premium cabins to begin with.
Prior to the launch of the most recent iteration of Aeroplan, it was possible to use Aeroplan points for Star Alliance Upgrade Awards. However, since the Fall 2020 launch of the new Aeroplan, these upgrades haven’t been available to Aeroplan members.
Previously, one popular use of Aeroplan Star Alliance Upgrade Awards was also with EVA Air. As shown with the United example above, these can wind up as a great deal, because the fares that are eligible for Aeroplan Star Alliance Upgrade Awards aren’t astronomically expensive, the number of points required to upgrade was also quite reasonable, and “Saver”-level award availability was better than it is now.
Assuming that Oneworld’s alliance-wide upgrade awards will be similar to Star Alliance’s, expect to be able to find some pockets of value; however, it’ll likely come paired with a number of stipulations that prevent it from having widespread applicability.
Later this year, Oneworld plans to launch alliance-wide upgrades for select member airlines. Once launched, you’ll be able to use points from one loyalty program to upgrade flights with a separate airline.
The full details about the launch, including the dates, airlines, and programs, are expected in the coming months.
Oneworld alliance-wide upgrades won’t necessarily be a great deal; however, it’s a feature that some travellers may be able to benefit from that’s not currently available in the alliance.