Codeshare Flights - The Ultimate Guide

You run a search for a long-haul flight and the result shows an airline logo (say, Virgin Atlantic Airways), a trip itinerary and a note at the bottom, saying: Ticket also sold by Air France, Delta Air Lines, KLM. You wonder what’s happening.

The answer is codesharing. Although it may sound confusing, this marketing arrangement may be beneficial not only for the airlines but also for you as a passenger.

How? Read our guide to codeshare flights to find out.

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What is a codeshare flight?

Codeshare agreements allow several airlines to sell seats for the same trip. Effectively, they share the flight, yet each air carrier issues tickets under its own designator code (say, AF#### for Air France).

Of course, only one air carrier operates the flight and provides the plane and the crew for the trip. This is your operating carrier.

The multiple airlines selling seats on the shared trip are called ‘marketing carriers’.

In the example above, the operating carrier is Virgin Atlantic - which is why you will be seeing the Virgin logo at the top of your search. This means that you will board a Virgin plane and be greeted by a Virgin Atlantic crew on board. Meanwhile, the marketing carriers for your long-haul will be Air France, Delta, and KLM -- they will sell tickets for the Virgin-operated flight under their own codes.

This means you have a choice.

If you are racking up miles for the Air France frequent flyer program, perhaps it will be best to make your reservation with the French air carrier. In this case, the flight number displayed on your ticket will begin with AF###.  The booking/ticket, however, will also include the text ‘operated by Virgin Airways’.

So you will effectively travel on a Virgin Airlines flight but earn points with Air France.


What are the benefits of code-sharing?

Advantages for airlines

Essentially, codesharing is a form of cooperation and business arrangement between airlines which enhances their global presence, market share, and profit opportunities.

Imagine a small air carrier located in a distant area that flies a limited fleet to a few destinations. Through codeshare agreements, even this small player can sell tickets to hundreds of locations all over the world. All it has to do is place its passengers on planes operated by other, major airlines.

Suddenly, our small carrier has a global reach; naturally, its website sells tickets to hundreds of locations, and as a result, it makes more money.

Airline alliances

Such cooperation is a reasonable business move for small airlines but it is also very typical for larger air carriers too. You have probably heard of airline alliances like Oneworld, SkyTeam or Star Alliance. Code-sharing within such alliances is very common. Here are some examples of possible codesharing within alliances:

  • Star Alliance: Consists of 26 members including Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Swiss, United Airlines
  • Oneworld - 13 partner airlines which include British Airways, American Airlines, Finnair
  • SkyTeam - Composed of 19 members, amongst which are Aeroflot, Delta, and Air France-KLM

Some airlines are not part of these alliances but still offer codeshare flights. Alaska Airlines, for example, sells tickets in collaboration with airlines that fly to various destinations around the world. It even has a special Codeshare section on its website.

The very existence of such alliances in the airline industry is proof of how profitable cooperation is for air carriers. However, you are probably much more interested in how codeshares affect you as a flyer.


Benefits of codeshare for you as a passenger

Earn miles

The main advantage of code-sharing is that you can earn miles for your frequent flyer program while travelling on a flight operated by another carrier. For example, a trip on All Nippon Airlines (ANA) would not normally increase your miles under the United Airlines program. However, if you book the ANA-operated trip under a United code, your miles will be counted towards your United balance.

Your whole itinerary on a single ticket

The second benefit of code-sharing is that a whole itinerary can be booked under a single ticket. Imagine a long journey with 2 stops along the way, and different airlines operating each leg of the trip. This would mean crossing terminals looking for the connecting flights, multiple check-ins, different baggage conditions, or even lost bags…

A code-sharing agreement between the three airlines - let’s call them XX, YY and ZZ - would make your life much easier. You can buy your ticket with airline XX for all three parts of your journey and essentially have one booking, which means you get one ticket, check-in only once at the beginning and pick up your bags at the end of your journey. The airlines arrange the rest between themselves.

Save money

A bonus advantage: some travellers share personal stories of saving money thanks to codesharing. An example shows that a ticket on a New York-London itinerary shared between British Airways and American Airlines may be $600 cheaper if bought with the British flag carrier. This is a quick reminder of how useful airfare search engines can be.

In spite of all the advantages listed so far, the fact that several airlines show up on your booking/ticket may be really confusing. The web is full of posts claiming code-sharing should end and teaching you how to avoid codeshare flights.


What are the disadvantages of code sharing?

No rebooking and upgrades possible.

The main drawback of codeshare flights is that such bookings can be extremely difficult to change or rebook, and there can be no upgrades.

Wrong gate/terminal

Because of code sharing, some passengers may go to the wrong terminal and miss their plane. As the operating carrier is not responsible in this case, the passenger is forced to buy a new ticket.

Remember: carefully read which airline operates your flight, check the plane/crew for your trip, and which check-in desk you have to head to. Look for the right flight time, destination and departure gate on the information screen at the airport.

Rising airfares

Another important disadvantage is that alliances mean a decrease in competition, which always affects prices. Papers have been written on codeshare agreements as a way to raise airfares as early as 2014; forums rant about it even in 2021.


Is my flight a codeshare?

Codesharing is most common on short commuter routes and long overseas itineraries. You can notice that a flight is a codeshare during the booking process - airline websites clearly display the operating carrier for shared trips. The text ‘operated by’ appears in the results of airfare search engines as well.

Considering requirements are very strict, the operating carrier will probably also be indicated in:

  • the booking confirmation,
  • the ticket itself, and
  • the check-in email 24 hours before departure (to help you remember which check-in desk to go to).

If you are in the USA, you can check the website of the Department of Transportation (DOT) for a list of approved codeshare flights.


How to book a codeshare flight?

Irrespective of whether you are studying airfares on the website of your favorite airline or through a search engine, you can easily identify codeshares by finding the text which reads ‘operated by’. Once you have determined the marketing and operating carriers, you can compare prices and conditions, which is highly advisable as airfares may be considerably cheaper with one of the airlines sharing the seats on the plane.

After you have decided on the preferred air carrier, you can book online, on the phone or using an app. If you have any questions, make sure you contact the airline’s Customer Service first. Remember that once booked, a codeshare flight can be very hard to change or rebook.


How to check-in with codeshare flights?

Once you have booked your codeshare air trip with your marketing carrier, your confirmation should show the operating carrier - the airline you will actually be flying with. Once you arrive at the airport, head to their check-in desk.

Online check-in

In most cases you will be able to check-in online; however, a special number (called passenger name record or PNR) may be required. If you cannot find the relevant information in your booking confirmation, it is best to contact the airline - their customer service should be able to lead you through the process.

Once you check in with the operating airline of the first flight, you would generally receive all of your boarding passes. The alternative would be to get them at the airport.

Delayed/Lost luggage

What happens if your bags are missing at your final destination? Baggage delays can be very frustrating and unfortunately, they are not uncommon on long-haul journeys. In case you cannot find your bags once you arrive, it’s best to contact the operating carrier. As this is the airline that handled your trip and bags, they should be able to offer assistance.

Read more about dealing with delayed or lost luggage.


How to find your connecting flight on a codeshare?

As codesharing generally means that airlines have coordinated their schedules, connecting flights should not be a serious issue. Since your whole itinerary is on a single ticket, you should have all your boarding passes before the first leg of your journey. You should not have to worry about your luggage either, as the airline will take care of this. You simply have to remember to check the operating carrier on your ticket and find the corresponding information on the departure board.

Missed connecting flight

Although partnering airlines synchronise their schedules, you may still miss your connection in case of a delay. If this happens, who would be responsible for getting you on a plane to your final destination - the airline you booked your trip with or the operating carrier?

It is recommended that you go to the check-in desk of the airline that was supposed to take you to your next destination. You may also call the air carrier you booked your ticket with - their customer service should be able to help.


Can I claim compensation for a codeshare flight?

If you have missed your plane or have experienced a delay of over 3 hours, with codesharing you may be eligible for compensation of up to €600 under EC 261. If you are booking a trip within or to Europe, the following section may apply to you.

Under EU Regulation 261/2004, passengers may be eligible to receive compensation in case of a cancellation or a delay exceeding 3 hours at arrival. One of the basic conditions is that their flight was operated by an EU-based carrier. How does this work with codesharing?

Imagine you are flying from New York to London. If you usually fly with American Airlines, you may choose to book with them. In this case, your operating carrier will be American. If the plane arrives in London more than 3 hours behind schedule, under EU rules you will not be eligible for compensation.

Let’s now look at a similar example-- a codeshare between British Airways and American Airlines, but in this case, the flight is operated by BA.

You can still book with American to earn some extra miles; however, your operating carrier will be British Airways. In this scenario, if your plane arrives with more than a 3-hour delay you would be eligible for compensation. The difference is that BA is an EU-carrier and EC261 applies to all of its EU-bound flights. What is more, EC261 determines compensation in relation to flight distance, so for a long-haul journey like New York-London, your compensation may reach up to €600.


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How do I claim my compensation?

Sometimes it may be very difficult to figure out if you are eligible for compensation, especially with codeshare flights. Who is responsible, what documentation do you need, which regulation applies? Do not panic!

SkyRefund has a team of travel and legal experts who will help you assert your rights. You can start by entering your trip details in our compensation calculator. Then leave the rest to us - we are ready to take your case to court if necessary.

We work according to a No win, no fee principle. You do not pay any fees for the processing of your claim. Only if we win and you receive the enforced compensation, we will deduct 35% success fee (VAT included).