One key skill for travel-hacking, churning, and manufactured spend is to understand the nuance of terms and conditions to find an opening that you can plow right through. For airline travel hacking in particular, when you’re maximizing things like: mileage earning, elite qualification, same day changes, checked bags, upgrade certificates, and fuel dumps, you need to understand the three types of carrier associated with your ticket because they all play into the maximization game in a different way.

Carrier Types

The three types:

  • Marketing carrier: The airline marketed as flying the route (the carrier named on your boarding pass)
  • Operating carrier: The airline actually flying the route (the name of the carrier on the airframe registration and safety cards)
  • Ticketing carrier: The airline issuing a ticket (the carrier that issued the ticket, determined by the first three numbers of your ticket)


It’s possible to have a ticket where all three of these are the same, and it’s possible to have a ticket where all three are different. A few examples:

Making it Real

A few hints about how this can be useful:

  • Travel banks might only work on one or two carriers, but flight credits work on others
  • You may earn many more miles or status dollars by booking the a flight with a different marketing or ticketing carrier than operating carrier
  • Lounge access can be tied to ticketing carrier or marketing carrier
  • Airfare surcharge rules can be tied to the country in which a ticketing carrier or operating carrier is based

Happy hacking!

Pictured: The three types of taco in a proper hard-shell taco meal.