Traveling just isn’t the same anymore. And we’re glad about it. Since the creation of the world’s 3 international airline alliances nearly 20 years ago, travelers have had a treasure trove of new points to earn and opportunities to take advantage of. Here we’ll tell you exactly how you can benefit from your choice alliance, be it Star Alliance, SkyTeam, or Oneworld.
Airline Alliances share information and resources among each other—ranging from flight routes to airport lounges and booking systems. This both helps the alliance financially by expanding its global presence, and benefits travelers with more routes and a streamlined flight-booking process.
All in all, it’s a win-win system.
The way alliances do this is through code-sharing. This is the sharing of an airline’s flight “codes” with another airline—usually when one airline who doesn’t have flights to a specific destination decides to partner with another airline who does.
You can tell when a flight is a codeshare when there’s an “Operated by” on the ticket.
In the example below, I booked a flight from NYC to London through American Airlines, yet you can see that the flight itself is actually operated by British Airways.
Codesharing is the foundation of alliances, but can happen outside of an alliance as well. For example, SkyTeam has no Australian airline partner and thus relies on codeshares with domestic Aussie airlines to serve the region.
One of the most significant benefits for flyers is the points accumulation between airlines within an alliance.
Flyers with elite status are recognized by all alliance partners. For example, as a Delta Air Lines Medallion member, you get priority treatment from all other airlines of SkyTeam. This means that you get access to priority check-in and boarding, extra baggage allowance, SkyTeam’s airport lounges, and guaranteed reservations on sold-out flights.
If a flight gets canceled, travelers can also get put onto the next flight operated by an airline alliance partner. Alliances also allow for bag interlining: where checked bags for one airline (ex. Delta) will go through to your connecting flight with another airline (ex. Korean Air).
Note: If you’re ever wondering about which baggage policy applies across different airlines, the policy of the operating airline usually is the one that applies. And if you have connections on multiple airlines, it’s generally the first carrier’s policy.
Most airlines globally are in an alliance, with notable exceptions being global powerhouses like Emirates, Air Asia, and Virgin Atlantic, and some domestic airlines like Southwest and JetBlue.
However, certain codeshare and mile sharing benefits can happen outside an alliance. For example, you can transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to JetBlue’s TrueBlue mileage account and use those miles to book Emirates flights. Another instance would be Emirates’ Skywards program, which offers mileage collection and redemption with 9 other airlines (who are also not in the 3 global alliances).
You can only benefit from your understanding of alliances.
As long as you type in your frequent flyer number of your principal airline (for US members this would likely be the Delta, United, or American Airlines number), you can earn miles faster and cheaper.
It’s clear that earning miles on an airline-by-airline basis without accounting for alliances does you no good, and those small mileage balances will probably expire and go to waste before you ever get to use them.
Go big or go home (otherwise stated: go big and go abroad)!