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How To Jump Frequent Flyer Programs Seamlessly

When a frequent flyer program isn’t working out, it’s not working out. Now here’s how to ditch the bastard and keep all your benefits intact. If you’ve put in the hard work and attained some status, there’s no reason to be shackled to golden handcuffs when it’s no longer suiting your needs.

Sometimes switching is as easy as pie by doing a status match. If you’re trying to go to a different airline in another alliance—say you’re moving from United to American, so therefore switching from Star Alliance to Oneworld—it will be a fairly easier transition, though each airline will have different requirements before completing the match.

Things get slightly more complicated when, say, you’re cheating on your current airline with another airline in the same family. As a general rule, status matching between the same airline alliance is not encouraged, because it’s viewed as customer poaching. Very, very occasionally, it does happen and an airline will temporarily bend the rules, but as a whole, the practice is frowned upon.

The easiest method, though, by far, involves getting the reservation agent to input two frequent flyer numbers. This loophole uses two fields called FQTV and FQTS in the airline’s ticketing system. To sum it up pretty briefly, FQTV refers to frequent flyer program that the miles should be credited to; FQTS refers to the frequent flyer program for which status benefits to use. This reportedly works pretty well for most Star Alliance airlines, like Air New Zealand, TurkishScandinavian (SAS) and Singapore Airlines.

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not quite as easy as that. Though United used to allow it in the past, that option hasn’t been available since the merger. In this particular case, though I have status with United, I have wanted to switch to Asiana for a while for numerous reasons. (Asiana has a pretty good program if all you care about is getting to Star Alliance Gold.) The main kink in switching has always been figuring out how to slowly transition to Asiana Club while still retaining my United benefits.

To test out a few methods, I first called in United Reservations to see what they could do for me. The two phone agents I got insisted I would lose all benefits for my Los Angeles flight, including my upgraded first-class seat, if I swapped out my frequent flyer number. I ended up passing to be on the safe side, but thought I would try another method instead.

On another flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I decided to try again – except this time, I would switch out the frequent flier number after I had checked in. I checked in online and after showing up at the airport, I approached the gate agent to switch out my number. This was fairly successful; about the only thing it changed was my boarding group from Group 2 to Group 5. The agent, however, was nice enough scratch out and write in my correct group. Even if he hadn’t done that, though, having the frequent flier card should have been enough for me to board with my proper group.

The upgrade list before and after I switched out my frequent flyer card.

The upgrade list before and after I switched out my frequent flyer card.

I decided to check some of the other benefits to see if I would lose them. My seat assignment in the economy plus section of the plane didn’t change and, amazingly, taking my frequent flyer number out didn’t kick me off the upgrade list. In fact, I later jumped up the upgrade list from #15 to #14. The biggest thing for me about ditching United was trying to figure out how to keep all the benefits I rightfully earned last year while still being able to work toward status on another airline.

On my return flight, though, I had to switch back to my United frequent flyer number to check in (I’ve never been a big fan of auto checking-in), and had to go about the process manually again to switch out my number to Asiana again however. It was a slight pain in the butt, but without the use of FQTV and FQTS, I really had no choice.

So while I could go on and on about United’s golden handcuffs, there’s really not much reason to ditch an airline if you’re not happy with them. Airline frequent flyer programs change all the time and sometimes, so much that there’s not a real reason to stay on. Besides, if an airline thinks how much you spend is worth more than being loyal—by introducing spend requirements and herding in hardcore customers together with credit card holders—then I also get to decide and vote with my wallet.

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