Alliances, airlines, and miles, oh my!

It’s impossible to talk about most major airlines without mentioning the alliances that they are members of. Carriers have long engaged in strategic partnerships with competitors in order to pool resources together, expand operations at lower costs, and offer greater amenities to their customers. There are three major alliances, Star Alliance, oneworld, and SkyTeam, that all shape the landscape of the industry. In addition to that, there are some other important players that aren’t affiliated with them, like Alaska Air, Emirates, and various low cost carriers. This subsection is filled with information about these consortiums and companies, and tutorials on how to maximize your value when traveling with them.

But what exactly is an alliance? Why are they useful? What sort of benefits can I expect? Do you have other questionsConsult the Airline Alliance FAQs here for answers!

Star Alliance

Star AllianceMany argue that Star Alliance is the best of the three alliances. With 27 member airlines, it is bigger than both oneworld and SkyTeam, and it correspondingly has far and away the most expansive route map. With the exception of intra-Australian routes and the South Pacific, a Star Alliance carrier has a large presence in any given region on the planet. In addition to that, many airlines have both lucrative frequent flyer mile programs and top-tier first and business class products. These conditions incentivize higher flying on the Star Alliance airlines; it’s usually the easiest on these carriers.

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oneworldoneworld is the smallest of the three alliances (14 member carriers), but it is far from lacking. It provides customers exceptional coverage in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Oceania, but unfortunately it does lack in Africa. There are some excellent member airlines of oneworld too, such as Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways and Japan Airlines, which all complement American Airlines’ massive domestic route network in the United States. Although there are lots of world-class products available, they can be a bit challenging to attain with miles/points.

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SkyTeamSkyTeam is the youngest of the three alliances, but despite that, it boasts a relatively large number of members (20). As a result, travelers can fly to most everywhere in the world (sans Oceania) with ease. Access to Europe and Asia is particularly strong. Award availability is also pretty decent, and some programs, like FlyingBlue of Air France and KLM (and others), have some fantastic bargains, even in the United States. Bear in mind that some refer to SkyTeam as the “leftover alliance,” because some of its carriers are considered second-tier in terms of their service offerings, accommodations, and overall reputations. Be wary of this as you look to fly higher.

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Non-Alliance Airlines

LCCs.jpgOf course, you can also fly on airlines that are not members of Star Alliance, oneworld, or SkyTeam. Some major ones, like Emirates and Etihad, as well as the entire Virgin brand (Virgin Atlantic, Australia, America), do not affiliate with any of the alliances, just as many regional and low-cost-carriers do not either. That’s not to say that these companies are completely isolated; many opt for unique partnerships with other airlines, some of which are in alliances. In turn, these practices create neat opportunities for higher flyers, like low air fares and/or high-quality award redemptions on premier carriers.

Tutorials & Guides