The recent SQ-MH partnership will allow more codeshare flights between the two airlines. Here's why that's a big deal.
Opinions expressed reflect the view of the writer (this is his story).
Singapore Airlines (SQ) recently announced it was signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Malaysia Airlines (MH). The MOU, which the airlines undertook to “explore a wide-ranging strategic partnership”, could involve:
- Significant expansion of codeshare flights
- Enhancements on frequent flyer program front
- Cooperation on cargo and maintenance, repair and overhaul services
The press release was otherwise light on details, but that didn’t stop the internet from losing its collective mind. The biggest complaint was the possibility of “paying SQ prices and getting MH service”, with some comparing it to a bait-and-switch.
Having flown Malaysia Airlines in both Economy and Business Class, I think that’s a bit harsh. Sure, it’ll never be my first choice, but it’s not nearly as bad as some are making it out to be.
That said, people have the right to get what they pay for, and this incident raises an important question: what exactly is a codeshare flight, and do I need to be worried about ending up on one?
What is a codeshare flight?
In simple terms, a codeshare flight is marketed by one carrier but operated by another.
Codesharing allows airlines to offer flights to destinations they don’t actually serve. Suppose you want to travel to Budapest in Hungary. Singapore Airlines does not operate any flights between Singapore and Budapest, but it can still provide one-stop service between the two cities by codesharing with Lufthansa.
If you book this itinerary, Singapore Airlines will fly you to Frankfurt on SQ26, where you’ll catch a connecting flight, SQ2140, to Budapest. SQ2140 is sold by Singapore Airlines but operated by Lufthansa. The aircraft will be Lufthansa’s, the cabin crew will be Lufthansa’s, the seating will be Lufthansa’s. The only Singapore Airlines affiliation will be the “SQ” affixed to the flight number.
In theory, codeshares benefit passengers by offering them more destinations, as well as opportunities to earn frequent flyer miles on a route their regular airline doesn’t fly.
In practice, however, codeshares can be confusing, because they’re not exactly intuitive for less seasoned travellers. I’m buying a ticket on the Singapore Airlines website, the flight number has “SQ” tagged to it but... it’s not Singapore Airlines?
Although codeshare flights are fairly easy to spot for Singapore Airlines (because they always have a four-digit flight number), few know the implications of being on a codeshare flight. That’s what we’ll explore in this post.
1. Codeshare flights cannot be upgraded with miles
Here’s the first major restriction of a codeshare flight: it cannot be upgraded with miles.
This means that if you book a Singapore Airlines codeshare operated by Lufthansa (or vice versa), you won’t be able to upgrade your seat with KrisFlyer miles (or Miles & More miles), even if award space is available.
2. Codeshare flights may suffer from product inconsistency
Codeshare flights are based on the premise that “economy class is economy class” and “business class is business class”, but we know that’s not quite true.
A customer booking a flight from Singapore to Frankfurt may see three different options: SQ2008, SQ326 and SQ26. If he doesn’t know what a codeshare is, he may book himself on SQ2008.
Imagine his surprise when he steps onboard the plane and instead of Singapore Airlines’ award-winning Business Class...
...he was met with Lufthansa’s inferior Business Class instead.
Product inconsistency can go beyond just seats in the cabin, because different airlines may adopt different policies towards checked and cabin baggage allowances, serving free food and drink, and even inflight entertainment.
This means a customer who buys a codeshare expecting SQ service standards may end up disappointed.
3. You may not receive your elite benefits on a codeshare flight
Singapore Airlines has two types of codeshare flights.
The first type is codeshares operated by Star Alliance carriers, such as ANA, United, Air Canada, and Egyptair.
The second are codeshares operated by non-Star Alliance partners, such as Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, Flybe, S7, and Eurowings.
Why is it important to draw this distinction? Because depending on the operating carrier, you may or may not be able to enjoy your benefits as a KrisFlyer elite member.
If the operating carrier is part of Star Alliance, KrisFlyer Elite Gold, PPS, and Solitaire PPS, members will enjoy Star Gold benefits like priority check-in, boarding and lounge access.
However, if the operating carrier is not part of Star Alliance, your status means nothing.
With the limited exception of Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, and Vistara, with whom SQ has reciprocal benefits agreements, you will not be able to enjoy any elite benefits on these flights. It doesn’t matter if you’ve flown a million miles in First Class with Singapore Airlines; when you fly Alaska Air, you’re just one of the masses.
4. You may not earn KrisFlyer miles on a codeshare flight
If your codeshare flight is operated on a Star Alliance carrier, you’ll most likely be able to earn miles in KrisFlyer. The number of miles you earn depends on the fare code.
However, if your codeshare flight is operated on a non-Star Alliance carrier, you’re out of luck. With the exception of Scoot, SilkAir, Alaska, JetBlue, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, and Vistara, you won’t be able to earn KrisFlyer miles on any other codeshare flight.
5. Codeshare flights can further complicate flight disruptions
Flight disruptions are problematic in and of themselves, but codeshares add an additional layer of complexity to the equation. A weather delay or mechanical issue can throw your itinerary into disarray, and a missed connection may be challenging to rebook if it’s on a codeshare flight.
That’s not to mention compensation for lost luggage or a flight delay -- should you be seeking it from the operating carrier, or the carrier with whom you entered into a contract (marketing carrier)?
Questions like these can befuddle consumers, who may be bounced between operating and marketing carriers when something goes wrong.
Malaysia Airlines is not part of the Star Alliance, which means that codeshare flyers may forgo their KrisFlyer benefits and miles when booked on an SQ/MH codeshare.
That said, it’s entirely the prerogative of the two airlines to mitigate such issues by working out mutual mileage crediting and benefits, and one hopes that’s part of the bigger announcement that’s to come in the next few months.
Perhaps a bigger issue is the difference in cabin quality. Mileage accrual and elite recognition can be sorted out through mutual agreements, but cabin quality remains a more fundamental issue. Malaysia Airlines may not have the worst cabin products, but they are clearly no match for Singapore Airlines’.
Ultimately, if you don’t like the idea of paying for a Singapore Airlines flight but getting a Malaysia Airlines plane, it’s not that difficult to simply look out for four-digit SQ flight codes. And if you do book a codeshare flight, set your expectations accordingly by learning about the limitations involved.
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