Almost every flight you take is part of an “Airline Alliance.” Since the formation of the first alliance—Star Alliance—in 1977, these networks have dramatically changed where and how we can fly. Here, we’ll break down what the 3 global alliances are and exactly how travelers like you can benefit from them.
Star Alliance is the original alliance formed by 5 founding partners: United, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Thai, and Scandinavian (hence the 5 point star logo). Since its founding, it has expanded to include the most airlines of any alliance: 26.
Most US frequent flyers will be introduced to Star through United Airlines, and thus will most likely earn Star Alliance Elite Status through United MileagePlus Program. United’s Premier Silver = Star Alliance Silver status, and Premier Gold (and up) = Star Alliance Gold Status. Earning Elite Status for Star Alliance grants access to its collection of over 1,000 airport lounges, (and thus access to its collection of over 1,000 airport lounges, extra baggage allowances, preferred boarding, and seat assignments.
Although SkyTeam is the newest alliance. Since its formation in 2000, it has quickly expanded to transport the most passengers per year, despite having less partner airlines than Star Alliance (19). Its leading partners include Delta, Air France, and Aeromexico.
For US flyers, Delta’s elite Medallion program lines up with SkyTeam where Silver Medallion = SkyTeam Elite, and Gold Medallion (and up) = SkyTeam Elite Plus. However, Delta’s SkyMiles aren’t the only mileage program that can be used to achieve SkyTeam Elite Status. Flying Blue is the unified frequent flyer program for Air France, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, TAROM (Romania’s airline), Kenya Airways, and subsidiary airlines. Given the wide range of Flying Blue partners, its Elite Status can be easier to achieve than Delta’s depending on your location.
Oneworld is the smallest airline with 13 partners and whose dominant airlines include American Airlines and British Airways. Although it lost its only Latin American partner LATAM May of 2020, it’s recent addition of Royal Air Maroc gives it a significant African presence.
As for their Elite Status for US flyers, American Airlines’ Elite Gold = Oneworld Ruby, Platinum and Platinum Pro = Oneworld Sapphire, and Executive Platinum = Oneworld Emerald.
Onenote (get it?) is that for US based frequent flyers American Airlines’ AAdvantage program miles are generally difficult to redeem on other member airlines. The amount of partner flights and the available awards inventory displayed on their site are both low. Same goes for member British Airways.
How Can You Benefit?
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.
For example, if a flight gets cancelled, 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. If you have connections on multiple airlines, it’s generally the first carrier’s policy.
Finally, one of the most significant benefits for flyers are 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.
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. This is especially useful to know, as certain codeshare and mile sharing benefits can extend beyond the alliance itself. For example, you can transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to JetBlue’s TrueBlue mileage account and use those miles to book Emirates flights.
Want to maximize your credit card points, rewards, and miles for flights? Download our app Card Curator, created by our founder John Garner, to make your dream travel lifestyle an affordable reality.
30 second bonus: Codeshare 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. Codesharing is the foundation of alliances, but can happen outside of an alliance as well (for example, SkyTeam has no Australia airline partner and thus relies on codeshares to serve the region). You can tell when a flight is 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 the flight itself is actually operated by British Airways.