When a U.S. airline and its foreign partner each sell seats on the same flight, it's called a "code share." The result is that passengers are ping-ponged back and forth between the two airlines whenever any problem crops up, as problems often do when flying. One carrier's rules about carry-on luggage, for instance, could be substantially different, but it's the rules of the airline operating the flight that apply.
For example, reader "bethpikegirl" has commented about her code share problem: "On a recent flight to Mexico, we were scheduled on AeroMexico through Delta. I thought we were on a Delta flight because that's who I bought the ticket from, and I didn't have the right flight numbers or airline when I arrived at the airport looking at the terminal screens. At first I thought we were not even confirmed as no one at Delta could find us in the system. It worked out, though, once we figured out which airline we were booked on."
U.S. law requires airlines to clearly state when a flight is operated by another airline in their online listings. So it's wise to look at this fine print before you book a ticket.
Here are a few of tips on how to handle code share flights:
For questions about fees and baggage rules... ask the airline whose name is on the tailfin of the plane you're flying.
For questions about re-ticketing flights... ask the airline or travel agency that sold you the ticket. In other words, if your flight is cancelled and needs to be rebooked, it's the airline you bought the ticket from that you need to call.
For earning frequent-flier mileage credit... contact the airline that sold you the ticket. Be aware that the frequent-flier situation can become a nightmare if the operating airline is not part of the same alliance as the ticket-selling airline. For example, Star Alliance frequent-flier programs often do not count the codeshare flight toward status, unless the operating airline belongs to the alliance. If you instead want to redeem frequent flier miles for an upgrade and if the airline isn't helpful, contact a fee-based service, like BookYourAward.com, which knows the techniques necessary to make such a award redemption.
For buying tickets in the first place... know that searching for tickets through an online travel site or a metasearch site like Kayak or Hipmunk makes more sense than using a single airline's site because the bigger sites offer a wider array of pricing on the same code share tickets. Case in point: the same U.S.–Mexico flight could cost hundreds of dollars less through United than through American Airlines, but if you're shopping only on one airline's site you wouldn't see the cheaper fare for the same flight that's available elsewhere.
You can learn more about the problems with code share by reading Brett Snyder's authoritative post on The Cranky Flier blog: "Why code sharing provides no benefit to the traveler," along with a related discussion by experienced travelers in the Airliners.net forum.
Have any code share stories? Sound off in the comments.
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