Codesharing Provides No Benefit to the Traveler


Earlier this week, I published a column on talking about codesharing. You all know the practice. It’s when one airline sells flights on another airline under its own code. This column turned into a great discussion on, and now I’m bringing it here. Why? Because I don’t see a single consumer benefit to codesharing. Anyone else believe otherwise?

Flight status, Heathrow

I suppose I should break this down into two different pieces, because there is one aspect of codesharing that does make sense to me: the regional airline relationship. If you fly Delta from LAX to Phoenix, you’re actually flying on SkyWest Airlines operating as Delta Connection. SkyWest doesn’t sell flights on its own. It’s just a hired service-provider, and that type of codesharing I understand. The operating airline isn’t equipped to really handle ticket sales and shouldn’t have to be. It’s really operated on behalf of the larger partner, and that larger partner’s policies and procedures increasingly apply. So let’s exclude this type of codesharing from the discussion.

It’s the other type of codesharing that I’m targeting here, and I would love to see it disappear completely. You know what I’m talking about. It’s when you buy a flight on United but actually fly on Lufthansa. Or you buy a ticket on US Airways and find it’s actually on United. These types of codesharing relationships have grown dramatically over the years to the point where airlines have started to run out of 4 digit flight numbers. (Ever wonder why you see flights with the same number for a roundtrip? It’s to conserve on numbers.)

From a sales perspective, this makes sense. Consumers are more likely to want to buy a ticket on a single airline and at least at one point, there was bias in the reservation systems to display single-airline itineraries first. This practice also allows airlines to double their presence on screen. Instead of one flight display of American from LA to London and British Airways to Athens, they get two. You’ll now see one option on American and the other on BA, even though they’re the exact same flights. This creates a ton of clutter and really adds no value.

But is there any true advantage to a passenger? I think not. Here are some of the suggested advantages and why they aren’t real.

  1. You can check your baggage all the way through on codeshares instead of having to claim and re-check in the middle.
    This may be true, but this benefit is in no way limited to codeshares. Most airlines have ticketing and baggage agreements with other airlines to be able to check bags through. For example, if you’re flying United to Paris, you can check your bags through to a connecting flight on Air France even though the two have no commercial relationship involving codesharing.
  2. But then I’m subject to a bunch of different baggage policies?
    It’s actually no different. The operating airline sets the baggage policies, so even if you’re on a codeshare, that doesn’t really change anything.
  3. You can buy a single ticket on a codeshare but you’d have to buy two tickets otherwise.
    That’s not true at all. There are interline agreements that allow you to buy one ticket across airlines, regardless of the code.
  4. But it’s a lot more expensive when you buy a ticket on separate codes.
    That’s airline policy, not a given fact. Airlines may provide lower fares that are booked on their codes, but there’s no reason they can’t do the same for interlining. I was just helping one client go from Geneva to LA and found the best business class option to be on Swiss to London and then Air New Zealand to LA. No codesharing involved, but the price was competitive.
  5. When I buy a ticket on one airline’s code, then I can go to that airline to take care of everything.
    This is one of the more dangerous aspects of codesharing. People think the airline they buy from is in charge of everything, but that’s only true when convenient. When it comes to ticketing, whichever airline sold the ticket is the one responsible for changes. It doesn’t matter if it’s a codeshare or not. I just helped someone who had a problem with an Iberia flight on a ticket purchased via Qantas. Iberia said it couldn’t help, and we had to talk to Qantas to get it fixed. But when it comes to things like lost baggage, it goes to the operating airline. The codeshare gives an illusion of responsibility when that’s really not the case.
  6. I can earn my miles on codeshares but not otherwise.
    This actually has nothing to do with codesharing but is really a separate business agreement. Any two airlines can provide any level of frequent flier reciprocity regardless of code. If they choose to do otherwise, that’s a business decision.

While there are no real benefits, there are plenty of downsides. First and most important is the confusion. People simply don’t know who they’re actually flying. Sure, it’s disclosed (required by law in the US) but people don’t always read every detail. It also adds a ton of clutter. One of the biggest complaints on was that codesharing fills departure screens with a ton of flight numbers for the exact same flight so it just makes it more time-consuming to get the information you need.

There’s also the issue of product consistency. Airlines may codeshare but that says nothing about consistency between the products onboard. You might buy a ticket on British Airways, but if you end up on an Iberia flight, you’re going to be disappointed with what you get.

I should clarify that I do see benefits from alliances. They set a basic standard (admittedly, very basic) about what you can expect across the participating airlines in terms of mileage accrual, elite benefits, etc. They also have been working to locate closer to each other in large hubs to make for an easier connection. But codesharing isn’t necessary or even really that helpful to making an alliance work. If you buy a ticket that shows Delta the whole way versus a ticket that has Delta connecting to Air France, the alliance-benefits would remain the same. And if they don’t, that’s a business issue that can be fixed.

In the end, I see no good reason for codesharing, and I wish it would just disappear. Anyone care to argue for why codeshares are good? Am I missing something?

[Photo via Flickr user Samuel P/CC 2.0]

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89 comments on “Codesharing Provides No Benefit to the Traveler

    1. That’s not a consumer benefit; it’s an airline benefit. But is it even still the case? I feel like interline itineraries are actually shown fairly frequently these days (at least when I use Sabre). Anyone know if that bias still exists or whether it’s just on total elapsed time?

  1. Without codesharing, American had (until recently with their LAX service) almost no useful presence out of Phoenix (ie: they would only go east). Even with their new LAX service, they still are still very weak out west. For example, If you have a denied boarding voucher that basically states that it is only applicable for flights with an AA flight number, then you cannot get from PHX to SEA on AA without going through DFW or ORD. With a codeshare, you can use that voucher on an AA coded flight operated by Alaska (even now with the option to go thru LAX, AA codeshares LAX-SEA).

    Another case: some corporations only allow employees to book on “preferred” airlines. For example: you must book a connection on a preferred carrier even if a non-preferred carrier has a lower priced nonstop and no preferred carrier has that. With the current sort of extensive codesharing, it means that there are more options: you can choose to fly a Usair nonstop… but only if it gets ticketed under a United flight number, for example.

    1. For the first one, that’s just airline policy and not something that’s an inherent benefit of a codeshare. American could decide that it would allow vouchers to be used on any itinerary including American and its partners regardless of the code on the flight.

      For the second one, it’s also an airline policy. The companies sign with airlines and those are their preferred airlines. United could decide, without codesharing, to include more airlines in the agreement.

      1. Sorry I only just noticed this today. It may or may not be airline policy, but it is much easier for corporations to deal with one airline. e.g. my employer has a deal with BA which involves kickbacks of literally tens of millions of dollars every year, plus route deals on many key city pairs. As part of that, BA flights float to the top of our internal reservations systems, and flights by, say, AA and CX (never mind non-codeshare partners) are unbookable, even if they are cheaper (well, they aren’t really cheaper, because they don’t contribute to the kickback). It is so much easier for us to deal with one airline, and for that airline to offer 20 flights a day to New York, and a whole load of far flung places around the world through one corporate deal, than to have to deal with a bunch of other airlines too. Maybe if the global alliances start offering truly joined up corporate deals, then codeshares would be unnecessary, but I suspect there are massive regulatory, political and frankly IT issues preventing that from happening in the near future

        But I agree, for lay consumers, it’s confusing. However, for every consumer downside, there’s an equal and opposite upside. Wanna fly the Singapore A380 in business class for a cut-price fare? Take the Swiss codeshare via Zurich on a discounted business fare (not available of SQ ticket stock, of course), and save yourself thousands of dollars…

  2. I can attest to some of the headaches that codesharing provides:
    Some examples:

    AA/BA codesharing: BA does not allow free preassignment of seats (at least for non-elites) prior to the 24hr check-in, while AA does. If you book BA code on AA metal, to assign your seats, you must call the airline to get AA’s PNR for your reservation, then sign on their website and choose your seats.

    AA/Etihad codesharing: Etihad (even on their AA codeshare flights) does not accept AA’s boarding passes and requires the passenger to check-in again at the ticket counter (At least at JFK)

    Continental/United: I get free bags on Continental Metal (with a CO flight number) with my OnePass Credit Card, but not on United. So I have to figure out which flights are operated by Continental (even if it says United on the plane, and all seem to have dual flight numbers now) if I want free bags. The same thing goes for lounge usage using an AMEX Platinum (which is only good for CO until Sept. 1)

    One thing that would be nice and easier: ONE PNR across an itinerary, across all carriers. It may require longer PNR’s, but it would be nice to have one reference number to use for all airlines (I guess the ticket number does this, but its extremely long)

  3. I think Delta is the worst with codeshares, at least insofar as to how they display them. You walk up to a Delta gate in Atlanta for a flight to Syracuse, and the gate information scrolls from “Delta 1486” to “Air France 4098” to “Alitalia 6540” etc (I just made up those numbers)…I think it’s the stupidest thing. If I’m not actually flying Alitalia to Syracuse, then don’t put it up on the board at the gate!

    1. When you call MIA’s flight information line & input an AA flight number, you sometimes also get the code share equivalent from QS, IB & BA as well. That’s despite the fact it’s all the same flight.

    2. Andrew,

      That is helpful to those that are. ATL is a fortress hub and all ST sell ATL flights as their own. Either we need to do as Cranky says and have the DL code be ticketed on the other carrier’s ticket stock or just deal with the momentary flash of the alternate flight number.

    3. Andrew, it might work if you are the only passenger in the plane, then you can have any flight number you want! e.g. Andrew 1469!!
      When you share something with someone, you have to deal with it!
      I guess you don’t share your toothbrush with your mates?
      Suck it up!

  4. Oh! Oh! I got one (a downside) too:

    Us ramp guys are *not* equipped to deal with code share flight numbers. I once received a bag off an inbound UAX flight. It was supposed to take “CO” to DTW. Problem is, CO doesn’t fly to DTW. Me, being an airline geek, recognized this as being an NW code-share, but that’s not something I would expect my UAX ramp buddies to know — it was actually quite rare for us to see an off-line transfer, let alone an off-line code-share, and expecting us to be up on every code-sharing agreement beyond Star Alliance was a bit much.

    Back to the story — NW had no more flights leaving IAD that day, so I had no idea where that bag was supposed to go. I ended up calling NW reservations, who told me that code-share flight number was for a flight leaving DCA in about two hours. How the @#$% was I supposed to get that bag to DCA?

    So code shares. I hate them. That bag was tagged improperly six ways from Sunday, and when you have a system designed to move baggage en-masse, having to take that kind of time for *one* bag is an invitation to get the bag lost. That bag should have been tagged to go to baggage claim at IAD.

  5. Codeshare can work in your favor. If airline A and airline B have the same fare it might be sold out if booked as airline A but available if booked as airline B. But once that get that anti-trust business settled and can talk with each other about fares, etc that goes aways as both will always then show the same booking class available or sold out.

    With DL/AF as an example a DL aircraft will have two cabin service so if you book the front business class you will get DL’s best service. But surprise if the flight is booked as the DL code and the aircraft is operate by a 3-cabin AF jet you will find yourself in the business cabin on AF and get a difference service on board.

    Also you could be booking a purely domestic USA travel, you can get options for UA/NH/NZ/LH. But only UA has traffic rights in the USA so you can’t buy a ticket booked as the other carriers. Why are they even there? Because your fare may allow a stop and your could be going to/from another country so you could book LH as an example within the USA as long as it was part of an internation through fare.

    Overall codeshare and change of gauge service are two of the must deceiving things in the airline industry.

    1. I actually just did this. Pulled my usual initial Kayak route search and US Airways offered my route using United flights. US Airways fare was $30 cheaper than UAL.

      Booked through US Airways, then called up UAL to select my seats.

    2. Inefficiency in airline systems and pricing mechanisms does provide an opportunity for consumers to get a lower fare, but these could still apply to interline agreements, could they not? I mean, if there was an itinerary with both United and Lufthansa segments, couldn’t they both file fares that could apply to an itinerary?

      I actually need to look into this more, because I’m not entirely sure how that would work.

      1. Alaska flights sold as American flights regularly are cheaper than the same flight sold as an Alaska flight. I’ve been saving money like that for years. And there’s no American segment involved, often.

      2. In general, I think I am more with you than against you on this argument, but here is one of the two counterexamples that occurred to me. I had this inefficiency work for me where I was on a UA ticket that I had to change, and UA was able to find me a seat on a CO flight under the same booking code only costing me the change fee (and not an additional few hundred for the different code). CO only had Y remaining whereas the UA codeshare had W or whatever I was on. Also, UA seems able to do more for Premier Exec on a UA code than on anyone else (though they did get me moved over to Delta yesterday, I will give them that… Off topic, but what is with UA these days? Every UA flight I have booked for the last month has been delayed or cancelled…).

        The other example also gets to a schedule problem. US was able to make a change for me that UA was unwilling to make (they were just being goofy on that one, I hadn’t powered through to the right people at UA before a nice US gate agent took care of me…) by taking control of a United segment and sticking me on the flight I wanted on a US codeshare.

        If codeshare keeps one more trick in an agent’s bag of tricks that can help me when my itenerary gets screwed up, I am all for it. Otherwise, I am with you that it is just a confusing distraction.

  6. Yes, codesharing can be beneficial for federal employees/contractors flying internationally. The Fly America Act requires federal employees flying on the government’s money to depart and arrive in the US on a US flagged carrier. There is a loophole in that the flight just has to have a US carrier’s flight number (The US flight number has to be on the ticket).

    1. But there’s also a loophole that says if there is no US flag carrier then flying a foreign carrier is acceptable. Given this, I would argue that the codeshare often makes the buyer worse off, and the only entity who wins is the US airline providing the codeshare. Case in point: I was recently trying to fly from DC (DCA) to Toronto, and the only non-stop flight is on Air Canada. AC was selling the flight for $700, but to buy the US-carrier codeshare was going to cost me $1700. Under Fly America, my choice was to buy the US-carrier codeshare or choose a different routing (ultimately I did the latter). In this case the US carrier would have essentially pocketed the extra $1000.

      1. That’s the whole point of Fly America — it’s a hidden subsidy to U.S. airlines. Actually, not quite hidden, even.

    2. Joe don’t get me started on Fly America Act. Like FKBSan said you can pay a lot more to have to booked as a US carrier and WE the TAX PAYER pay for it. If the american people knew about this they would have a fit and their Washington reps would get an ear full. And with some of the alliances as they are UA/LH for example split the revenue so the money isn’t even going all to an american company.

      1. With joint ventures and shared revenue, I wonder why they don’t consistently price the US-carrier code substantially above the foreign code. There’s no competition anyway, right? So why not just force the government to pay higher fares?

    3. You definitely have me on this one. Consumers can fly foreign airlines because of codesharing thanks to the Fly America Act. I think it’s such a ridiculous rule, personally, but that’s a whole different story.

  7. Joe beat me to the punch with the comment on Fly America — huge benefit to anyone flying on federal dollars (not just employees and contractors). Of course, one might argue that Fly America should simply go away, but as long as it’s here, codeshares are very helpful.

    Another benefit has to do with inconsistent frequent flyer benefits and policies. Back in 1999 I flew an Air France–operated, Continental-coded flight from Paris to Newark, and wanted to credit it to my Northwest account. The check-in clerk claimed it couldn’t be done because NW wasn’t partners with AF (that was before SkyTeam), but I convinced her to just put it in anyway, and the miles did indeed appear in my account. I’m not sure if it was a glitch, I know that in later years NW had a specific policy that mileage accural was by the operating carrier, not the marketing carrier, but I’m not sure what the policy was in 1999 (or if there even was an explicit policy).

    Later, in 2008, I flew on a Delta itinerary that included two segments on Royal Air Maroc. By that point I was aware that Northwest gave miles based on the operating carrier while Delta gave miles based on the marketing carrier, yet I stupidly credited the itinerary to Northwest (with which Royal Air Maroc was not a partner) — I was following the general guidance that it’s better to concentrate miles in a single program, not realizing that Northwest and Delta were soon to be combined anyway (the trip was only a month or so after the merger announcement, and details were hazy).

    So inconsistent airline policies can have codeshares work in your favor :-) But overall I agree the benefit is little and confusion can be big. A great example of confusion caused by code sharing is the Morocco time change glitch of 2008 — I described it in detail in a comment on this blog on 2008-10-31.

  8. So a question for people…

    How come you can find a cheaper flight on an airline’s metal through a codeshare sometimes than booking through that actual airline? You would think it would be easier for me to book a United flight on their website than book it on US Air’s and get their flight number…sometimes the difference is a fair amount of money.

    1. It’s a good question. There is an agreement between airlines for bucket-mapping. Meaning, if you book into T class on one airline, that books into V class on the other, or something like that. Each airline files fares, and they don’t always match up perfectly by bucket. So, you will get discrepancies from time to time.

      1. That’s definitely true for some airlines, but AC/CO/UA is a great example of a complete opposite.

        Some flights, say YYC-LAX, would be operated by AC, but sold and marketed under their own brand by all three airlines. The fare levels were the same across all three carriers. However each had their own inventory allotment on each flight.

        So one could find that a few of the lower tier buckets when bought from AC were sold out and the fare actually quite high – whereas CO had it’s full allotment of the lowest inventory class that the fare was significantly less – in some cases $200/person or more.

        My company routinely booked people on routes like that as a CO flight, but operated by AC, as it was $100+ cheaper when bought via CO. Nice and confusing for the consumer!

        1. The Air Canada and CO/UA relationship is a little different because they are working on a joint venture that would share revenue, but there are no separate inventories that I know of. There might be an alignment issue where one is selling fares for less than the other but that’s not separate inventory.

  9. Codesharing allows one or more carrier to market seats on the same aircraft. Which means you have more people generating demand for that segment, and with their pooled resources the codesharing partners can fill enough seats to make a flight viable, whereas on their own they cannot. You cannot overlook this benefit – without codesharing, airlines could not offer as many routes, you would have fewer viable flights overall and thus less choice as a consumer.

    The other benefit is consolidation – codesharing allows partners to work together on a route (not full ATI revenue/cost sharing but some sort of alliance revenue sharing agreement) instead of compete. As they consolidate routes, you as a consumer experience less redundant small planes flying the same route, instead you have a slightly larger plane, you use less airport capacity and less airspace / ATC capacity. Reducing congestion overall is another benefit.

    You can achieve the above with ATI, but that’s very hard to get. You may be able to achieve the above results with interline agreements as well, but I can’t see that being as seamless as codesharing. I for one think the negatives of codesharing are being blown out of proportion.

    1. I’m not sure if I agree that it generates more demand. If someone want to fly to Nice and they’re United loyalists, does it matter if they connect to a Lufthansa-coded flight or a United-coded flight? Not really. At least, it shouldn’t matter. That person still wants to go to Nice.

      As for consolidation, that is definitely not permitted. Without ATI, airlines are not allowed to cooperate on scheduling or fares. And without a joint venture, the airline does not keep any of the money for that codeshared flight. So if there’s enough demand for both airlines to operate on a route, they will because otherwise they’re giving money away.

      1. I agree with AS, the whole point for codesharing is to share resource. Yes it is true that without ATI, airlines are not allowed to talk to each other in terms of scheduling and pricing, however, with codesharing, it offers different airline passengers to fly in a single plane rather than a few different planes.
        Also one big thing about codesharing you guys have forgotten, is the Marketing do make a profit in the form of Commissions. Even though it is minimal compare with operating the plane itself, it does get money for virtually nothing!
        Why flying to a point where you need to setup a base and put people there and have to spend millions of dollars to get your brand up (which usually means losses for the first few months) when you can use your partner metal (which is not filled to 100% load anyway) and provide your passenger a destination where you wouldn’t normally be able to provide? (I know interline agreement would provide similar benefits, but normally without the commissions!) Codeshare also provide the marketing carrier to attract more local passenger where it based by marketing more destinations in its network without the big amount of dollar spend in metal and marketing. Finally, as AS mentioned, Codeshare also minimise “Wing tip” flying where two airline compete on the same route flying at the same time.
        I love codesharing, and I hope codesharing will expand 10 fold in the next 10 yrs! (I am working towards that lol!!)

  10. Youneed to watch the fares too, when DA and NW were merging I wanted to fly from NYC to MCI (Kansas City) While looking to book DA, they had the flight listed as operated by NW. I went to the NW web site and they were selling the flight for $35.00 cheaper. And as far as the US and UAL code share, all you have to do is pull up a flight list and the fares that are twice the cost are the UAL flights. quite easy to tell

  11. Continental/United Codeshares.
    (1) Flew Continental after merger with United on a B fare which nets 1.5x elite miles. The website said I would get 1.5x elite. One segment was a United code share. United internally booked it as a K fare and I lost about 2,000 elite miles. When I contacted Continental, they told me that the code share partner determined how many miles the passenger received.
    (2) Continental agents tell me that you cannot upgrade United segments with miles.
    (3) On the Continental website, most of the flights that come up are United. Moreover, the Continental (non-codeshare) flights are more expensive (in my small sample).

    1. I have observed exactly the same things that you mentioned. Your small sample is right on the money!
      1. After having been a recipient of UA bad service, a few years ago, I switched loyalties to CO. Now on CO website, a majority of the flights that show up when one tries to book are UA operated; and the CO options are consistently more expensive. Since I am sure that UA staff still have UA attitudes, I don’t book those flights. Just this morning, I ended up booking on DL as the only reasonably priced options that I was getting on CO website were UA operated flights. (I still book CO operated flights, however).
      2. CO’s induction into Star Alliance has actually been instrumental in making me a simultaneous Platinum on DL. For international itineraries, my employer pays for Business Class travel. Most of the Star Alliance carriers do not offer Elite Bonus Miles or Business Class Bonus on the lowest tier of Business Class fares (‘Z’ in most cases, but on Turkish, even ‘J’). Additionally, on code share flights, you never know which class of service the operating carrier will book a Business Class flight. So until the miles are posted to your account, you don’t know how many elite and base miles you will get on code share flights. Consulting CO’s One Pass desk prior to booking is no help as they will tell you that they won’t know until the miles post.
      I fully agree with Cranky that code sharing provides NO value to the traveler..NONE! In addition to all the factors he has mentioned, even with supposedly “seamless” check in my experience is that in many cases the carrier who is checking you in cannot even the see the seat map for a connection flight that may be operating under its code (but with a different operating carrier). If you cannot even do a seat change, I fail to understand how that is “seamless”.

      1. Had the exact opposite experience – crappy service on Continental, always try to book United flights, yet the Continental metal was always significantly cheaper.

  12. I only fly to Europe. The only airline I will fly now is Icelandair. They don’t do this stuff. Luckily I live in one of their hubs. Glad I don’t have to fly in the US anymore.

  13. There are definitely pros and cons to code-sharing. One pro is that if I am using (for example) AA’s desk-top schedule to check flight schedules it will show me all flights with AA codes, even those operated by other carriers (it will not show me flights operated by partners without AA codes).

    Thus, for example, flying from NYC-SEA, I would get the AA flights via ORD and DFW in both cases. But, without code sharing, I would not get the AA/AS conenctions via SEA or SFO.

    Internationally, I can find flights from NYC to ATH via LHR, MAD, BUD in a single search because AA has its flight number on connections operated by others from the connecting cities (LHR, MAD, BUD) to ATH. Without code-sharing, I’d first have to know to look at LHR, MAD, or BUD, then do six individual searches (NYC-Europe-ATH) to come up with a price. Could it be done? Yes, but the code-sharing makes it a one-step process rather than a 6-step process

  14. A mildly annoying issue arises with incompatible frequent flier cards between airlines in an alliance. The NWA kiosks in the check in area suggested to use your frequent flier card to retrieve your e-ticket details. Unfortunately the KLM flying blue cards did not work.
    To add more injury to the insult, the flying blue cards also did not work for check in on flights flown by KLM, where NWA did ground handling.

    1. The harm is in the confusion. A lot of people get confused about which airline is flying each flight, and that can make an already stressful situation worse. Are people dying because of codesharing? No, so it’s not that kind of harm.

  15. Maybe I’m just an odd duck but I’ve almost never found the codeshare being cheaper. I fly AS from time to time because they have some N/S service from SJC which is close to me. Thanks to their recip-elite bennies with DL, I get a cheaper price than if I booked on DL stock and AS metal and decent seats.

    I got caught on a UA-ticketed but US metal codeshare once and said never again. 6 hrs from the east coast to west with no IFE and crappy seats.

    To those why fret about multiple PNRs, I suggest using TripIt. Negates the downsides of avoiding codeshares.

    1. Buy whatever ticket suits you, but always pick the “Foreign Metal” airplanes. They are better, a lot cleaner, far better service and smiles and the food is usually pretty good on the long hauls. So, buy Amerian to be loyal, but Select the foreign metal birds for your flight, even if yo have t owait a day on some spit routes. Buy U.S., fly foreign, in most cases. -C.

  16. I think it’s funny when you have say five flight segments booked as five different airlines, and not one flight is actually operated by the carrier it’s booked as.

    One bad thing is codeshare partners are not always near each other so you can tell a taxi driver you are flying airline A and be dropped off at the terminal only to find out that airline B is the actual carrier and then have to hoof it over to the other side of the airport.

  17. Personally, I have bought several codeshare tickets for significantly less than the fare offered by the carrier who was operating the flight. You’d probably call these “mistake fares.” In some cases, the confusion caused by codesharing can work in favor of the customer! But, obviously, not always.

  18. As a former federal employee, I benefited from codesharing under the Fly America act. It provided increased flexibility.

    I don’t fully know all the technical issues in codesharing, but sometimes airlines allocate a specific number of seats to the codeshare partners. This is particularly true on international carriers where availability and pricing may be related to which airline “owns the seats.” It’s not just one big bucket.

    If you are accumulating miles on a particular alliance, it is an advantage to have codeshares on international flights where they typicaly alternate departure times which could not be justified by a single airline.

    1. I don’t actually know of any codeshares that work in that way today, though there might be some internationally that others can enlighten us on. Anyone know of any codeshare agreements where the marketing airline actually purchases a block on the operating airline and sells from separate inventory?

  19. Well, one upside I found was FF miles on CO during the CO/NW codeshare days. I was flying to see some friends in TUS from STL. I could have taken CO via IAH and return with one stop. A two stop option popped up during my search via NW STL-MEM, CO MEM-IAH-TUS and return the same. Added some time to my journey, but I received approximately 1,000 extra miles and even with the extra two segments the fare was actually nearly $100 less! Sometimes with a little research the codeshare complications can work to your advantage.

  20. I think peeps are conflating airline alliances with codeshares. They often accompany each other but are not required to do so.

    Flights on DL ticket stock that include:
    -all DL operated coded,
    -all AF/KLM operated and coded, or,
    -a mix of DL and AF/KLM with each coded as the operating carrier

    all yield the same amount of miles. Codesharing is mostly a marketing ploy to inflate the number of destinations served.

    I’ll concede that if you have a business who requires one carrier and doesn’t all any others from even that alliance, it would have some impact.

    1. That’s not at all what codesharing is about – if there were no codesharing there wouldn’t be new flights popping up all over to compensate or anything. If anything, codesharing makes it easier to search for more flights and options to find lower prices.

  21. It seems like just about everything a codeshare was designed to do can now be done through an alliance without the need for a codeshare. Codeshares also cause clutter and confusion. My proposal would be to give each flight one number for the operating carrier, and one number for all codeshares. For example, “United Airlines flight 56 / Star Alliance flight 2301”. That will reduce the clutter and make everything more clear.

    1. that is a great idea! I’d take it a step further and make the first digit of the alliance flight number represent the operating carrier and then use the operator’s flight number behind the identifitier. In your example United 56 = Star 2056, and United 123 becomes Star 2123 while LH 123 becomes 1123, etc. Then when you get to the airport you automatically know which counter/terminal to go to and what flight number to look for at the gate

      1. In theory, that sounds good but it would require going to five digit flight numbers. There are just too many flights to make it work otherwise.

        But remember, not all alliance partners codeshare anyway, so it would be confusing to say that United 123 is Star 2123 when someone can’t actually buy that through all Star airlines.

  22. Does anyone know how the process actually works – for example, if you buy a ticket from the codesharing airline, does it get to keep the revenue or does it have to pay it over to the operating carrier? Are the seats taken on consignment by the codesharing airline or does it commit to buy them?

    1. The way it generally works is that the airlines decide on a settlement agreement. Let’s say you book a flight from San Francisco to Lima where you fly American to LAX and then LAN (under an AA code) to Lima. The airlines will agree on how to determine the revenue split. It’s usually a function of distance flown in some way. So, American would keep a small portion of the money because it has such a short percentage of the total trip. LAN would get a bigger portion. If American sells a ticket on a codeshare where it doesn’t carry a passenger, then it likely gets no money.

      (Of course, if it sells a ticket on BA or Iberia, it still gets a piece because they have a joint venture.)

      1. If an airline keeps no revenue where it doesn’t actually carry the passenger why bother codesharing the flight? I fly often on a flight operated by AC and frequently monitor it’s fare with UA’s fare for the AC operated flight. Most often, UA’s fare for the AC operated flight is higher. Once in awhile, the fares will be the same, but I have never seen UA charge a fare lower than AC’s. If UA doesn’t get any revenue, why does it bother putting it’s code on the flight when the flight is not departing from a UA hub and thus, there is next to zero chance that it will be transporting any pax connecting to the codeshare flight.

        1. Well, UA gets revenue on its other flights. Let’s say you want to fly from Chicago to Whitehorse. If United sells that ticket and it operates the flight from Chicago to Toronto, it will still get a piece of the revenue. So it puts its code on something with the hope that it will be able to get something out of it. Sometimes that’s not the case and then it’s just a waste.

          1. The real answer to the revenue question is that it depends on the type of codeshare. There are three major varieties of codeshare agreements:
            1) Block space – In this case, the codeshare partner buys a fixed number of seats per flight from the operating carrier and then is free to sell them as they see fit. In this scenario, the codeshare partner keeps all of the money for selling the seats, though they also carry all of the risk, since they have to pay the operating carrier even if they can’t sell the seats.
            2) Seat Swap – Same as above, but the airlines swap seats on each other’s flights, rather than paying cash for them.
            3) Free Flow – This is the most common scheme. The codeshare partner can sell seats freely within the availability set by the operating carrier. The fares are determined by the marketing carrier. The operating carrier keeps all revenue from the sector, except for a predetermined commission amount that they remit to the selling (marketing) carrier.

  23. The business integration and connections benefits to code-sharing are fine. The biggest annoyance is really just the fake flight numbers. If I buy a ticket from Dallas to Spokane, WA (which is not served by American), connecting through Seattle, I want to be given one boarding pass that says American #1157, and another that says Alaska #690 (perhaps with the American code-share number in smaller text below it). Everything else can stay the same, but when the average Joe (non-aviation geek) gets two boarding passes with the AA logo and flight numbers, he can get really confused when told to go to the Alaska gates in Seattle.

  24. You’ve definitely nailed down all the negative aspects of codesharing – the operative word being – all – ……All of it is useless. As an employee of one of the Star Alliance carriers, it is frustrating beyond belief when passengers come into a terminal and expect to check in with USAir or United or Air Canada and are at the wrong airline – all because their itinerary uses a codeshare number — i.e., what shows as USAir flight 2186 BOS to LAX is really UA 456 BOS to LAX.

    Although 99 percent of the time their printed itinerary shows “operated by” the true carrier, this has no meaning to the passenger when the wrong Airline LOGO precedes a flight number. Also this information is generally printed in very tiny print that most people would not notice.

    Secondly, passengers become very irate that they have wasted time being dropped off at the wrong airline/ terminal; they argue with ticket counter agents all the time, insisting that they ARE on United or USAir or whatever. We become combatants trying to explain the codeshare, Star Alliance, partnership lingo over and over again; truly everyone is banging heads against the wall or with each other. It’s even bad when the other airline is in the same terminal but if it is not in the same terminal, it really gets to be a battle. You can imagine the person standing in the wrong place and has little or no time to get to the correct airline for check-in.

    Why can’t airlines just print the itinerary as it should be carrier by carrier – the passenger doesn’t care that United is getting part of LH’s piece of the pie or vice-versa. Ugh, I can stand it. !!

  25. When two airlines codeshare outside of a joint venture, aren’t they in some sense competing with each other to sell the same seats? It’s a bit strained, but you can argue that codesharing (without a joint venture) actually leads to competition.

    1. Yes, technically they are competing with each other, but there is an understanding that if you codeshare, you aren’t going to go and undercut your partner everywhere. If you do, that codeshare won’t last very long.

  26. “It’s actually no different. The operating airline sets the baggage policies, so even if you’re on a codeshare, that doesn’t really change anything.”
    This is not true!!! When the passengers bought a ticket with a Marketing Carrier, most of the time the Operating Carrier honors the terms and conditions of the Ticketing Carrier (means they get the same baggage policies and conditions of the Marketing Carrier if it is also the ticketing carrier)

    1. My understanding is that this baggage policy harmonization happens in multi-segment tickets, where the policies of the first (operating) carrier apply to all subsequent segments. But this is true of interlining as well.

      1. What Ron says is correct. This has nothing to do with codesharing, but it’s actually fairly confusing. Here’s an example I’m not sure I know how to answer. Let’s say you’re flying United from Chicago to LA, then Asiana to Seoul. In that case, I assume that United’s international baggage allowance would apply? So even though the United segment is domestic, it’s an international itinerary. Is that right? But again, it doesn’t matter which code there is as long as there’s a baggage agreement.

      2. Baggage policies are maddeningly inconsistent when codeshares are involved. A personal example – I flew from DFW to KOA last fall; AA flight to HNL, and then an AA codeshare with HA, with an AA flight number, the rest of the way. I have status on AA, and thus don’t have to pay baggage fees, but have no status on HA, and so am theoretically subject to the fee for bags on the interisland hops. Flying out of DFW, my bags were tagged direct to KOA, and as such, no baggage fee was charged since the first segment was on AA. But coming back, I had to check in with HA, and they charged me the fee for the flight to HNL. But they didn’t charge me anything for the HNL-DFW segment, even though they checked the bag through to DFW, and I shouldn’t have been exempt from any fees on HA. So I’m not sure it’s as simple as the policies of the first carrier apply.

        1. I agree that baggage policies are inconsistent, but this is not the fault of codeshare — they would be (and are) inconsistent even in just a normal interline relationship.

          For codeshare, I do know examples where the MARKETING carrier’s baggage allowance applies, even when the flight is operated by another airline. This happens especially frequently when a foreign carrier’s code appears on a US domestic carrier’s flight. The foreign carrier typically does not charge for checked bags and the domestic carrier will usually (sometimes?) follow that policy. See the recent codeshare between JAL and JetBlue for an example.

  27. The only benefit of a code-shared flight group (with some connections?) **Might** be to pick foreign-operated flights for the longest legs. The most simple example is this: You want to fly from the middle West Coast of the U.S. to, let’s say Frankfurt. You fly a major branded U.S. feedier (regional) carrier to the U.S. embarkation city. From there to Frankfurt, both the U.S. major (legacy) carrier AND the code-share partner operate theo own, owned and staffed aircraft. For the most part, the code share is a schedule convenience thing. Either branded and staffed airplace will get you to Frankfurt safely and for within a few bucks of (or exactly) the same price. Even for the same ‘code-shared’ ticket, the owned and operated physical airplace makes one heck of a difference! Sad to say it, but in **ninety percent** of cases, that Foreign Flag carrier will treat you better. THeir airplanes will be cleaner. Their seats are (usually) better, their service is Always better and their food will Always be of a hugher standard. Always. Code-shares have some booking convenience advantages, but YOU, the seat-warmer still have some choices. For that really log leg, investigate a bit more and find out what company’s hardware and flying staff are physically operating the flight. Picking the non-U.S. operator will improve your overall experience. As much as I hate to say it, the service (and food) on U.S. based code-hare operators sucks, when compared with that of their partners. Yes, even on profitable, lon-haul international routes, the U.S. flagged carriers just don’t get it! Think ‘Plastic Pat,’ and dry, cold toast. Enough.

  28. I didn’t know all these little intricacies when it came to ticketing. It’s not so much of a benefit for us, consumers…but more for the airlines and whatever they do in their accounting department lol. I think just as long as this doesn’t affect flights, I don’t mind. But I wouldn’t be happy if I saw all those flights cancelled and taking the risk that my flight would follow right behind.

  29. I love code shares. If not for code shares, we wouldn’t have been able to work out several award trips to and within Europe. Also, it makes it easier to use miles. Code shares also “cured” some problems we’ve had due to missed connections. We’ve had some flights where my airline awards were not directly usable on non-code share airlines but we were able to fly on them because they were code shares with alliance airlines. I call those “brother-in-law” airlines.

  30. A day, maybe two, late and a dollar short, but thanks to you, Cranky, for your blog on code-shares. If there is a “Travel Pulitzer,” you deserve it. Terrific!

    The comments to your blog are good, too, but I agree 100 percent with your responses to them. Most importantly, I believe, is that the use of code-share is a totally unnecessary confusing aspect of air travel today. My suspicion, unproven, is that it is a deliberate attempt to thwart competition, and DOT’s rules.

    As you noted so well, anything of real value from the use of code-share could, and should be handled as a matter of airline policy, and most importantly in airline alliance agreements. DOT ought to use this blog and the comments to open a docket and find code-sharing a violation of DOT consumer regulations.

    As an aside, and since reference was make to Fly America and how code-sharing allows government-funded traveler use of a foreign-flag carrier so long as the ticket shows the US-flag as a code share, now isn’t that a joke? Fly America in name sounds patriotic but its enactment had little to do with patriotism. As typical in this industry, it was about airlines, specfically US-flag airlines, not being able to get along with each other. So, another law, and more regulations to see how they could be favored by this airline or that one and that puts us right back where things where before the law was enacted. [But, that’s a whole another topic!]

  31. The benefit is mostly for people who aren’t willing the change their carrier. They get more flights to choose from.
    Of course you can’t generate a benefit by simply putting an additional number on a flight that you couldn’t achieve with other measures. Codesharing is a marketing tool. Compare it to livery for example. There is no benefit for a passenger just by having your aircrafts tail painted in some colors. But everyone does it. You can question a lot of the stuff marketing departments do by asking “where is the benefit for the customer”.

  32. I’ve actually never heard of codesharing. I could see how it would be very frustrating though, and I think it seems kind of sneaky which I don’t like. I agree with you, if I book a flight on Delta for example, I’m not expecting to be on a flight with a different airline (unless the plane’s nicer, in which case I’m not complaining). :) I’m going to keep an eye out for this though.

  33. The “joint marketing” and “codesharing” snafus continue to be a pox on Delta-Air France. I made reservations directly with Air France (because of previous problems with Delta) that are on Air France metal. A five minute change in scheduled departure time resulted in booking being automatically “hijacked” by Delta. Delta never informed me of a change in booking number. It took three telephone calls to Air France and two to Delta to find original booking. Trying to find my booking number, Delta staff keep insisting I initiated transfer! Not true — I was trying to avoid Delta’s reservations system. To add insult to injury, Delta site will not accept my Skymiles numbers; seats selected so easily on Air France website no longer showing on Delta site and cannot be confirmed except by telephone; and, TSA Traveller information cannot be entered. Two months later, still waiting for Delta to properly link tickets to Delta booking number.

  34. When travelling with sports equipment such a bicycles be very wary of codeshares.
    Most airlines charge extra for bicycles, but if you book a codeshare, each airline might require it for their leg. This has happened to me on Air Canada / Lufthansa codeshares. Air Canada charged a fee then Lufthansa charged me a further 50 Euro for the next leg.

  35. I know you mentioned about Delta flights operating on another airline, but incase you didn’t know, Delta created an alliance with Virgin Atlantic called SkyTeam. With that more airlines can save money by using someone elses code in the alliance group. This is taken from Virgin Atlantics website:
    “We fly to some amazing destinations, but if you’re heading somewhere we don’t fly to directly, don’t panic. We’re part of a network of like-minded airlines, with flights that link up neatly with ours.
    If you book a flight with us to a destination we don’t fly to directly, rest assured you’ll be enjoying a great trip from beginning to end – even if it’s not our name on the plane the whole way.”

    This also allows airlines to sell tickets for flights that other airlines operate.

  36. It’s prob too late for me to jump in here, but I’ll give it a go. #6 caught my attention and I would like to add onto it.

    Yes, you can earn miles in and outside of code shares. But earning them in code share is a HUGE benefit!!! Because then it’s combined with up to 20-30 airlines rather than just reserved to one. In which case, you can receive benefits with more optional airlines instead of just one.

    Also, with code shares you can buy one ticket with one airline and you can travel from one side of the world to the other. Without a code share, you’d be forced to buy many tickets with possibly different airlines.

    1. reesa roo – Neither of those are true. Frequent flier arrangements are separate from codesharing. Also, you can buy one ticket with multiple airlines on it – it doesn’t have to be a codeshare as long as they have a ticketing agreement with each other.

  37. Code sharing is NOT co-service! Just booked on code share between United and ANA through United. Who said United would take care of changes? NOT TRUE and THE CUSTOMER IS LEFT TO FEND FOR HIMSELF WHEN DELAYS OCCUR! I had no idea that when the united flight was delayed, causing a missed connection, that United would not service the ticket! They denied all responsibility and passed onto ANA, who had nothing to do with the delay and was not reachable until the flight arrived at Japan and wheelchair service could hustle the elderly around Narita. Huh? No WAY, no more codeshare! Co-sharing is not co-service, it’s passing the buck.

  38. On the phone with United trying to re-protect a passenger. flight is booked on United/actually an Air Canada. United can’t see that the flight has been cancelled. The agent does not want to help. Wants me to call Air Canada, who is not answering phones currently, and who would tell me to call United anyway.

  39. I might have to take a codeshare flight from orlando fl to naples italy we would go on delta to rome then alitalia to naples with 5 hour layove in rome. Ive never done this before. Do you think luggage get easily lost during this code share flight?

  40. When I call AA air, they told me call BA air, vise versa.
    They toss you around like a ball instead helping you, and you got stuck not able to check in
    online,get a seat. and both airlines don’t care, They have co share airline to dump your issue.
    That’s my experience and still pending..

  41. Now the real issue is : Airlines should train their employees for give correct information.
    not sure if they are stupid and can’t learn or employer is stupid and do not train them properly.
    I spent over an hour on the phone and lost working hours, They put me on hold and made %$#@
    dollars as workers.. Thank you for screw up my time away. airlines..

  42. Agree, bad experience with code share if you ever have to change anything. I booked a flight on Turkish through United. Wanted to change the day of the return flight. While Turkish was easy to reach, they said changes have to be made through United since they issued the ticket. United’s online change flight link wouldn’t work because it’s a code share, they have no email address to change reservations, called the HK office who said sorry need at least 24 hours notice, so wouldn’t do anything not even try. So, called the US number, after going finally getting through, agent said could not help with code share flights, transferred me to a web agent, after being on hold again, the agent had issues trying to check on their system, put me on hold for a while, them my international roaming credit ran out and got disconnected. Really bad service for any changes in my experience.

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