Friday, November 14, 2008

SkyTeam now offering cross-airline mileage upgrades

When you come down to it, miles are only good for two things: free tickets and upgrades. Free tickets have their place. When you're a frequent flyer, though, you may value a larger seat and a tasty meal higher than yet another trip on a plane. Some would cite being confirmed for a Business Class upgrade when you're anticipating a full-day flight to Australia as one of the great joys of travel.

That's why the recent announcement by SkyTeam that it will now offer mileage upgrades across member airlines is such a big deal. Up until now, a Continental OnePass member (for example) could get premier check-in and baggage privileges checking in with Air France, but he or she couldn't use OnePass miles to upgrade on that Air France flight. Now, that same passenger can request an upgrade. Here's how it works:
  1. Purchase a regular full-fare Coach ticket on any of the ten primary SkyTeam airlines.
  2. Three days before traveling, call to verify that Business Class seats are available and provide mileage account information.
  3. The host airline will verify and deduct mileage and confirm the upgrade.
As exciting as this is, Star Alliance has had upgrade awards across member airlines for more than a year now. SkyTeam is playing catch-up rather than breaking new ground.

Limiting eligibility to full-fare (Class Y) economy tickets is also a bit of a gimmick, since these generally cost at least as much as the deepest-discounted Business Class fares. Many business travelers--and especially government travelers--are forbidden to book premium-class tickets even when they're apparently cheaper, and those are the people whom this will benefit. It's rare for leisure travelers to book full-fare tickets, especially internationally.

Even so, this latest change opens up new possibilities for SkyTeam passengers, and in that regard, it's a rare expansion of benefits at a time that most things are contracting. For that reason alone, it's worth a nod of appreciation.

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