Airline alliances can be one of the best ways to maximize that value of flying. Whether it’s getting lounge access or earning your preferred miles while flying an international carrier, alliances can help you to get more out of all of your flying. Over the next several weeks we’ll cover the basics of alliances so that you can better understand how to take advantage of them.
First off, there are three major alliances: Star Alliance, SkyTeam, and oneworld. United and US Airways are both part of Star Alliance, Delta is part of SkyTeam, and American is part of the Oneworld Alliance.
Even though other airlines such as Alaska, Hawaiian, and jetBlue aren’t part of the three major alliances doesn’t mean that they don’t have partners. Each of those airlines have made individual partnerships with various airlines that act similarly to these alliances. Whenever you fly an airline, make sure to check its partnerships because it may be part of an alliance where you have an account or it may have a private partnership with an airline that you have an account with.
For instance, Alaska is not part of one of the major alliances, but it has several key partnerships that make it an excellent and extremely flexible program. Alaska partners with both Delta and American as well as several international carriers such as Air France, LAN, Cathay Pacific, and British Airways. Virgin Atlantic, which may be joining an alliance soon, is partners with several U.S. based airlines such as Virgin America, Hawaiian Air, and US Air.
One of the biggest benefits, in my opinion, of a frequent flyer program is the ability to earn and redeem miles are “partner” airlines. Often, these airlines are part of an alliance whereby you can fly on other airlines within the alliance, but still receive the benefits of your preferred airline. Alliances can be especially useful if you’re an elite member of an airline. Flying on that alliance will generally get you many of the benefits that you’re used to on your preferred airline such as free checked bags. Also, don’t forget that you can credit miles to any airline with the alliance. That means that if you’re flying British Airways from London to New York, you can credit those miles to American if that’s your airline of choice. This can be especially useful if you often find yourself flying international routes on various international carriers. Yes, fly British Airways, but get credit on American; just enter in your AA number when you make your reservation or at the ticket counter.
As an example of what an alliance can offer travelers, we can do a mock booking of a flight from New York (NYC) to Vienna, Austria (VIE) using United miles. The first thing to do is enter in the information on United’s site:
United doesn’t have any flights into Austria, meaning you wouldn’t be able to use United miles to fly to Vienna without an alliance. Fortunately, United is part of the Star Alliance and some of their partners fly to Vienna. As you can see on the booking screen, there’s a non-stop flight on Austrian Air as well as several connecting flights on Lufthansa and Swiss Air:
This is just one example of how useful alliances can be to travelers: they can open up parts of the world that we may never be able to see without them. Keep in mind that not all websites are equal and that United’s website generally does one of the best jobs of displaying award availability across all of their partners.
Alliances can be very important when choosing which airline to focus your domestic flying on. Many of our dream vacations included international destinations that are very hard or even impossible to get to if we could only fly on the domestic airlines. You’ll also find that business class on an International airline will be as nice if not better than some first class experiences you’ll get with that domestic airline (even on the same route!)
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