Since you’re at SavvyMiles you’ve no doubt heard of Delta, United, and American Airlines but you may not be familiar with the airline alliance that each is a member of. An airline alliance is an agreement amongst a group of airlines to essentially work together to provide a more extensive network for passengers to travel on. For example, you might want to go to Nice, France on an award ticket (or a paid ticket). You find the flight you want to take and you book it through American Airlines, but American Airlines itself doesn’t actually service the Nice airport – you’d probably fly on American Airlines to London and then on its alliance member British Airways from London to Nice. See how it makes things much easier than requiring you to buy tickets from both American Airlines and British Airways?
It’s honestly not as important to have an understanding of the alliances if you’re buying airline tickets, but having an understanding of airline alliances will really help you take your award ticket planning to the next level. The reason for this is that you can use your frequent flyer miles for the airline you have the miles with or its other alliance members. This becomes even more important when redeeming for premium cabins (business class or first class) because the best experience to a particular destination might very well be on a partner airline.
Although it’s the smallest of the three major alliances in terms of number of airlines, it’s one of the mightiest with a wide network to destinations that most travelers want to go and offers some of the best premium class award redemptions. My favorites in the oneworld Alliance are American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, JAL, and Qantas. I find oneworld to be great for award redemptions to Asia on Cathay Pacific or JAL. It’s a decent option for flights to Europe but fuel surcharges on British Airways keep it from being the best option. Lack of award availability to Australia due to a limited number of seats released by Qantas is a weakness.
oneworld Alliance members include:
|airberlin||American Airlines||British Airways||Cathay Pacific|
|Finnair||Iberia||Japan Airlines (JAL)||LAN|
|TAM Airlines||Malaysia Airlines||Qantas||Qatar Airways|
|Royal Jordinian||S7 Airlines||SriLankan Airlines|
American Airlines only shows a limited number of partners on its website so I recommend searching for partner awards on ba.com. Another great alternative is to simply pick up the phone and call the AAdvantage customer support and they can help you search for awards.
The Star Alliance is anchored in the U.S. by United Airlines and is the oldest and largest airline alliance. With such a large network the Star Alliance can get you just about anywhere you need or want to go. I consider the Star Alliance to have the strongest award redemptions to Europe with members Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, SAS, and Swiss. Thai Airlines and ANA keep its offerings strong in Asia. With the sheer number of members and total flights I find that awards within the Star Alliance to be plentiful especially if you’re planning on flying in economy class.
Star Alliance members include:
|Adria||Aegean||Air Canada||Air China|
|Air India||Air New Zealand||ANA||Asiana Airlines|
|Austrian Airlines||Avianca||Brussels Airlines||Copa Airlines|
|Croatia Airlines||Egyptair||Ethiopian Airlines||EVA Air|
|LOT Polish Airlines||Lufthansa||Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)||Shenzhen Airlines|
|Singapore Airlines||South African Airlines||Swiss||TAP Portugal|
|Thai Airlines||Turkish Airlines||United Airlines|
In most cases United.com is great at showing star alliance partner award availability so I recommend starting your search there to see what’s possible for your destination.
I don’t think there’s anyone who would try to convince you that SkyTeam is the best airline alliance. Its U.S. member is Delta and it only has a few partners (Korean Air, Air France, and KLM) that I find desirable for award redemptions. While there are a few intriguing redemption options in the alliance, it’s clear that SkyTeam got the last pick at the draft.
Skyteam members include:
|Aeroflot||Aerolineas Argentinas||AweroMexio||Air Europa|
|Air France||Alitalia||China Airlines||China Eastern|
|Czech Airlines||Delta Air Lines||Garuda Indonesia||Kenya Airways|
|KLM||Korean Air||Middle East Airlines||Saudia|
|TAROM||Vietnam Airlines||Xiamen Airlines|
Delta is horrible at telling you how many miles you need to save up for an award since they removed their award charts in early 2015, but they’re terrific at showing you partner award availability. Search Delta.com for all of your SkyTeam partner redemptions.
While the alliances encompass most of the airlines, there are some important airlines that aren’t members of an alliance but do have partnerships with other airlines. For example, American Airlines has partnerships with airlines such as Alaska, Etihad, and Hawaiian Airlines. United partners with Aer Lingus and Delta partners with Virgin Australia.
This may seem like a lot to remember, but I mostly just wanted to make sure you understand how the alliances work in general. While you can use miles to fly on partners, you can’t combine miles between alliance members. For example, you can’t combine American Airlines AAdvantage with JAL Mileage Bank to redeem for one award. You’ll also have to follow the redemption values and rules for the ariline you’re redeeming with. Over time we’ll go into the programs in-depth, particularly United MileagePlus, American AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles, and Alaska Mileage Plan, and you’ll see that particular airlines within the alliances can have more favorable redemptions than others.