How to Use Status From One Airline While Crediting Miles to Another (and Why You’d Want To)

Reader Joe asked,

I am US Chairman, and I have a trip to Alaska this fall (EWR-SEA-ANC). I would like to somehow get into First. I’m thinking I could do an Elite Match with AS to qualify for an upgrade. But I need the AA EQM’s to re-qualify for top AA status. Can I change the FF #’s after securing an upgrade?

This is an interesting challenge but one that has broader implications for members looking to use one airline status for benefits (perhaps they have status through a status match with a foreign airline and want waived checked bag fees and lounge access) while crediting miles to their main US program.

Why Airlines Status Match

Airlines will often give customers with elite status on one airline status on their carrier — or at least an expedited way to earn that status — to make it easier for the customer to switch allegiance and shift their business to the matching airline.

There’s a lot of both fraud (faked statements showing status) and folks looking to match for a single trip. As a result things have really tightened up and most US airlines will do temporary status (that may not be ‘full’ status) while you fly enough to keep the status, rather than just outright giving status.

Alaska’s Status Match Approach

Alaska Airlines though will not only provide matching status through the end of the calendar year (historically their “cut over” to where a match lasts through the following year is quite late, October or November). And they’ll even match top tier elites from American, Delta, and United to their top MVP Gold 75K level with an email request to elite.flyer@alaskaair.com.

Using Status From One Airline While Crediting Miles to Another

Here’s where things get tricky, and it’s not just limited to Alaska and American as in this question, or to using status for upgrades while earning miles with another airline.

Say you have elite status with airberlin or with Turkish — a oneworld and a Star Alliance airline that offer status matches. You use the status with those programs to:

  • Access American’s (airberlin) or United’s (Turkish) lounge, even on domestic trips. That’s pretty much no probably, agents will generally just accept your elite status card for access although the occasional agent will complain that you don’t have the number on your boarding pass.
  • Get free checked bags. You need the elite status account in your reservation in order for the airline’s computers to waive checked bag fees.

Once you’ve checked in and had your bag fee waiver (or even once you’ve gotten into the lounge if the agent oddly so insists) you can have your account number switched to the program you want to credit to.

You already have your boarding pass that shows priority boarding due to your status, and you have a card to flash in any case. (Turkish says that they won’t mail credentials until you take a flight with them, but recent reports are that they will anyway.)

But What About Upgrades?

The same technique applies, but it’s a but more complicated.

You need your upgrade to clear before taking your Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan number out of the reservation. Upgrades on cross country flights like Newark – Seattle can be quite a challenge to get, so I wouldn’t assume that this clears early or in advance at all.

That means you’ll be standing at the gate hoping for an upgrade, and then will have to in real-time convince an agent to change your account number while trying to get the flight out. (You might try calling instead.)

The next problem you face is that if you take your Alaska number out of the reservation, it won’t be there to assist with an upgrade for your return trip.

Even airlines whose reservations support the capability to have more than one frequent flyer number entered, and a different number associated with different flight segments, present a challenge. I’ve rarely seen agents actually perform this procedure correctly.

There are occasionally reports of miles being credited to an account where members have been able to get the mileage credit backed out, and then were able to submit to another program for credit. This is a hassle in the extreme and not guaranteed to work.

Another Specific Idea for This Trip

It’s a long shot that there will be advance upgradeable space available on any given Newark – Seattle flight but if there is ‘U’ inventory available then find someone who has status with Alaska and confirm the upgrade with an MVP Gold Guest Upgrade instead. That’s much cleaner — you do not have to use an Alaska account number at all to accrue miles when confirming an upgrade in this manner.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Honestly these days with airlines only giving out one status match or so, I don’t think it’d be worth it for one trip to Alaska. You can get lounge access with amex plat and you never know when you might move to west coast and you’d regret using your status match for a single flight.

  2. EWR-SEA is not going to have complimentary upgrade space available, most likely.

    Want first, buy first.

  3. So Gary, to clarify, are you saying to use the old BP even after you get the new? I’ve always used the new (and lost the boarding priority), but if the barcode is in fact the same then it makes more sense to use the old.

  4. How does one credit different segments to different programs? A little while ago I had a British Airways transatlantic flight, with a short domestic segment operated by American. I wanted to credit to Alaska, but they don’t allow mileage accruals for codeshares. In the end I decided it didn’t make sense to try to switch account numbers while making a short domestic-to-international connection across different terminals, so I just put the BA account in the reservation, thinking I’d just forfeit the miles from the short domestic segment.

    To my surprise, however, miles from the BA-coded AA-operated flight posted in the Alaska account.

  5. Finally, something with which I have experience.

    A few years ago I had status matched with USAir and had flown enough to keep it. On a subsequent flight I was given an upgrade for the return due to the USAir status. At the gate I changed my FF number to United to get the miles there. It never happened, and in fact the miles went to USAir. I called them and they said that once they give the upgrade they lock the mils to the USAir account.

    This may not always be true, but it sure was then. Just to be sure I tried it on a subsequent flight and it was the same situation.

    YMMV, of course.

  6. I’m pretty sure there is something in most FFP’s terms and condition that prohibit the change of FF number after the upgrade.

  7. Random question, but do any of the ‘majors’ match Southwest A-List status? If not, they should, especially given WN’s growth of late and generous policies.

  8. I ‘ve had this problem on a recurring basis. I’ve got BAEC Gold (= OW Emerald) from living near HKG in 2014, but I’m in the USA now and working on Exec Plat. with AA.

    I can flash my BA Gold card and access the first class (purportedly) AA lounges and AC, but getting the other benefits has been a bit of a hassle. ON a flight recently, the first class check in attendant allowed me to reap the benefits by printing out a boarding pass using my BA number (hence, premium boarding and baggage benefits), and then she went back in and changed the number to my AA number. The flight did indeed credit to AA.

    However, on a recent flight on US out of SLC, I tried to have the US attendant do the same gambit. She told me that it was against the contract of carriage rules to do that, and I could be penalized by the program for changing the FF# after reaping the benefits of using the number first entered. She dug out the language from the internet and read it to me – and called a supervisor who confirmed it. Actually what she read me was (she acknowledged) the opposite situation, where I’d first have entered a US/AA# and then changed it to BA afterwards to credit the flight. She explained that the airlines compensate each other for these benefits, the same way they compensate each other for award tickets booked on an airline partner.

    Funny thing was, then she went ahead an upgraded me to F on my domestic flight without my paying for an upgrade anyway, and I’m not entirely sure if that was a simple courtesy or a function of my emerald status.

    When I got to the gate, I changed the FF# back to AA, and it indeed credited to AA. I think US might be tighter on these rules than AA/BA, and perhaps the agents are more schooled on this topic.

    Calling this “Having your cake and eating it to.”

  9. I am in a similar situation to the comment posted by Greg. I am flying out this week on AA from EZE to BNA. I am chasing status on AA, but I recently got matched to mid-tier on LATAM. I would love to have free upgrade at least to Main Cabin Extra, but I also need to use this flight to earn EQs with AA.

    based on what Greg said, should I change the ticket to my LATAM number and then have them switch it at the gate after I have checked in and (hopefully) got my extra leg room?

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