Status Miles vs. Award Miles: Airline Partner Earning

With more and more US airlines going from a “miles flown” to “dollars spent” award mile accrual system, extremely cheap flights are becoming less and less rewarding.

The “big three” airlines (American, Delta, and United) all follow this principle in that award miles – those used for redemption for future free flights – are based on how much you spend and what your status with the airline is. As a rule of thumb, you earn 5 award miles per USD spent as a general member, 7 at the lowest tier, then 8, 9 (if there are 4 tiers), and 11 miles per USD at the highest tier. Status qualifying miles, however, are still earned based on the miles you spend in the air.

One thing to keep in mind is that even though you earn status with the airline you credit your mileage to, since you are using that frequent flier number on your reservation, you will not earn status with the actual airline you are flying. That is to say, if I use my KrisFlier (Singapore Airlines) frequent flier number when booking flights on United Airlines I will:

  • Earn KrisFlier miles – minimum earning rate of 100% of the miles flown
  • Earn status with Singapore Airlines
  • Earn StarAlliance status (derived from KrisFlyer status)

However, upgrades will be severely impacted. This is because cross-alliance upgrades are not an advertised benefit for any of the alliances (OneWorld: American, SkyTeam: Delta, or Star Alliance: United). However, if economy is overbooked and there are unsold seats in a higher class of service and they cannot upgrade anyone from their own program, they might take alliance status into account. Since this is at the airline’s discretion, it’s hard to predict, so it is best to assume you will not be upgraded.


With the recent news that American Airlines will be going to a revenue based system, following the example set by Delta and United, many individuals who do not have high levels of status with American have considered crediting miles to other airlines in the OneWorld family. The primary target for this transition has been Etihad as you still earn based on distance flown.

Additionally, their awards chart is extremely competitive. With Etihad buying shares of other airlines, such as Brussels Air, you can get some spectacular deals when it comes to mileage redemption.


Because it was the first of the “big three” to make this transition, many credit Delta with starting the transition to revenue based mileage earnings versus the traditional flown-miles model. Between this change and the removal of award charts, and subsequent change to “dynamic award pricing”, it can be tricky to plan mileage earnings for trips!

FlyingBlue, the frequent flier program belonging to AirFrance (and inherited by KLM after the merger in 2004), is particularly attractive as an alternative in that you still earn redeemable miles based on distance flown, even if at a reduced rate for discounted Economy fares. Additionally, they frequently run sales for their award flights, and will always give at least 500 miles for a domestic flight (750 for international) – regardless of fare and distance flown.

Another option is Virgin Atlantic, which offers at a minimum 75% of distance flown.

Both AirFrance and Virgin Atlantic will add fuel surcharges to tickets, though, depending on which airline partner you are flying with. Both have some very interesting options in that regard: Air Tahiti Nui, Singapore Airlines, and Kenya Airlines, to name a few.

Star Alliance

When it comes to StarAlliance, there are a few options that still offer a relatively high rate of accrual based on miles flown, but the airline that comes out at the head of the pack is Singapore Airlines. In addition to earning 100% of the miles flown, you get access to reasonably priced awards charts (with some of the best in-flight experiences available). The only down-side is that the awards will come with fuel surcharges. A full table regarding earnings can be found on the KrisFlyer website.

Another option is AirCanada’s Aeroplan program. Your mileage earnings will vary based on the fare-class: where discount-economy will come in as low as 50% of distance flown, with higher priced tickets earning more. The award chart is fairly competitive, which is also a nice perk.

Flight Booking Terminology

When browsing various travel-related sites, it is not uncommon to see terms like “stopover” and “open-jaw” thrown around. Along with the term “layover” all three express different levels of flexibility in travel, so it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with all of them. I also mention some more uncommon airline acronyms that are frequently used at sites like FlyerTalk.


We’re all familiar with the infamous layover – also referred to as a connection, among other things. As the name implies, it is when you route through another city to reach your destination. Usually these are short stops, but it is a good idea to check flight histories on FlightAware to make sure you have enough time to deplane and get to the next gate on time. I like to give myself an hour and a half to account for stretching as well as potential delays, to be safe.


A stopover is essence a longer layover, and it is often easier to book them as two separate flights. These offer travelers the flexibility to leave the confines of the airport and explore their connecting city. If you have the ability to use multi-segment booking with the airline of your choice, it is advisable to use that feature as if your inbound flight experiences problems, you will be rebooked on subsequent flights seamlessly (usually!). Some airlines will let you add notes between Passenger Name Records (PNRs) to allow an agent to be aware that one trip is linked to the other.


An Open-Jaw ticket is one where you fly to one city and return from a different one. This allows you the flexibility to arrange the intermediary travel however is most convenient to you. These are particularly popular for within the European Union given the ease of transit between countries and the inexpensive use of British Airlines Avios as it is distance based.

One example is to book a flight from Boston to Paris, and the return from Rome to Boston. You would then book the travel between Paris and Rome separately – maybe by train, plane, renting a car, and so on. This is popular with international travel given the range of prices that you might encounter when flying to and from certain cities, and the ease of travel once within a country.

Other Terms

FlyerTalk has a wonderful glossary that they have maintained over the years, but I’ve listed some important terms to keep in mind (specifically for interruptions) below.

  • IROPS / IRROPS: Irregular Operations – see OSO
  • OSI: Other Supplementary Information- PNR field, can hold a TCP note
  • OSO: Off Schedule Operations – flight changes and schedule disruptions
  • PNR: This is commonly referred to as your confirmation number. Airlines use a 6 character combination of letters and numbers as a shortcut to your itinerary. Other information can be tied to your PNR, such as special service requests. A full list of fields can be found here.
  • TCP: To Complete Party – a note indicating passenger is traveling with another, etc.,  but on two separate PNRs