Making sense of mileage earning on the TAM fare sale
Via TheFlightDeal (MY NEW FAVORITE WEBSITE!), there is a great deal to South American cities like Buenos Aires (EZE), Lima (LIM), and Santiago (SCL) from New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and/or San Francisco. We’re talking $300-$400 roundtrip!
However, confusion arises about who is selling the ticket and whose planes are actually flying the routes.
The airline selling the ticket is Brazilian carrier TAM Linhas Aéreas. They are a member of Star Alliance (like United).
However, TAM is currently in the process of merging with Chilean carrier LAN, a member of OneWorld (like American).
The combined airline group, LATAM, is still two separate airline brands in the current short term. That means that TAM and LAN are still separate airlines that belong to separate alliances. Brazilian and Chilean authorities have declared that the new group has to eventually merge into a unified airline. Of course, they also declared that they had to choose one alliance to stick with by August 2012. That decision was deferred to early 2013. It’s highly likely that LATAM will choose OneWorld, because AviancaTaca recently joined Star Alliance and there are anti-trust issues that arise if LATAM joins them.
Why am I explaining this? Because some of the flights that can be booked on this deal are TAM-coded, LAN-operated. This means that the flight number on your ticket is a TAM (JJ) flight number, but you check-in and fly on a LAN (LA) plane. And that affects the mileage earning.
United states that “if you purchase a ticket on a flight that is marketed by TAM but operated by another airline (known as a codeshare flight), the operating airline determines how many miles you earn for your flight.” Because LAN is not a partner of United, you would earn zero United miles on a TAM-coded, LAN-operated flight.
American states that you can “earn miles when flying on LAN Airlines marketed AND operated flights [or] on LAN Airlines codeshare flights operated by oneworld carriers and oneworld affiliates.” However, this is a TAM-coded/marketed flight, so you would earn zero American miles because there is no LAN “code” on this flight.
If the status quo of alliance membership remains, you would have to bank miles from these TAM-coded/LAN-operated flights to either LAN or TAM’s frequent flyer programs (I suggest LAN, for various reasons I won’t get into). If mileage earning is your thing, you should have 24 hours to cancel a current ticket that doesn’t earn miles and rebook another ticket that does earn miles (though I would rebook, then cancel if you really want to make this trip for reasons other than just miles).
It gets kind of complicated, but a good rule to follow is:
For United (and most Star Alliance programs), the METAL matters. Whose name is on the plane determines the miles.
For American (and most OneWorld programs), the CODE matters. You want LAN code on a oneworld partner for AA miles. Not happening with this deal, everything is on TAM code.
If you want to protect yourself on United miles, there are TAM-coded/United-operated flights from LGA/EWR-IAD-GRU (Sao Paolo), then GRU-SCL on TAM metal. You would definitely earn United miles on first two flights, and have access to Economy Plus and redeemable miles bonuses. The Flyertalk Mileage Run thread on this deal has some examples.
BUT, if LATAM decides to join OneWorld before your flight, then all this gets thrown out the window. You would earn zero United miles (because TAM would leave Star Alliance) and earn American miles because both LAN and TAM of LATAM would be in OneWorld.
Maybe this is why Christopher Elliot hates frequent flyer miles.