Continental Airlines is leaving SkyTeam and joining Star Alliance. Virgin Atlantic is considering joining Star Alliance after resisting joining any alliance all these years. Russia’s S7 airlines is joining OneWorld. Airlines seem to make a big fuss of Airline Alliances. Should you care? If you want to maximize your earning of miles and attaining Elite status and maximize your ability of redeem your miles for awards, alliances are something you need to understand and leverage.


Airlines enter in partnerships with other airlines thru two means. The first is a bilateral agreement between two individual airlines. This is know as a ‘Partnership’. The other medium is thru joining a large group of airlines that have formed a multilateral relationship. This is called an ‘Alliance’.

There are three global Airline Alliances: Star Alliance, OneWorld and SkyTeam. Each has multiple members. Star Alliance is the largest with 21 members (going to be 22 with Continental joining it in Oct. 2009). OneWorld has 10 members and SkyTeam 9 (going to 8 with the Continental defection). SkyTeam’s count of members had already gone down by one when Delta purchased fellow alliance member NorthWest. I shall discuss the individual alliances in future posts.

Alliances bring several benefits that traditional partner relationships do not bring:


  • Award Mileage credit: You earn miles on any alliance member when flying on any other. This is different from a bilateral partner relationship where the mileage earning is only limited to earning miles on the two airlines in the partnership. That too may be limited to specific routes as the airlines in the partnership may choose to exclude earning of miles on certain routes where they compete. For example, United Airlines and Jet Airways (of India) are partners, but they have excluded earning of miles on each others programs on trans-Pacific routes. Alliances typically have no such exclusions.
  • Status Miles: As I have discussed in my previous article, Status Miles or EQM are the pathway to Elite status. The key differentiator between an Alliance and a bilateral partnership is that you can fly any alliance member and earn EQM on another member’s program. Bilateral partners very rarely give EQM on each other programs. For example, US Airways and Virgin Atlantic are partners. You can earn award miles on one when flying the other, but no Status miles.
  • Lounge Access: As an Elite on any Airline, you get Lounge Access on any other Alliance Partners’ Lounge when flying internationally. This privilege is not given between partners. In fact, partners do not recognize each others Elite status at all.
  • Priority Boarding and Priority Baggage Handling: Alliance partners give these privileges to Elite status holder of any Alliance member airline. Not there for partners.3650795556_fbda89113a_m.jpg
  • Award Travel: This is probably the most important benefit of Alliances. You can redeem your miles from any airline in the alliance to get award tickets that may include any combination of Alliance member airlines. For example, I have redeemed miles I have on United Airlines for travel to India. United does not fly there, but I have been able to redeem miles to get an award ticket that involved United, Lufthansa and Swiss Air, to get me from the US to India and back!
  • Upgrades: Alliance members also allow using miles from one alliance member to upgrade on another. Usually the ability to use this privilege is so restrictive that it has limited use.

So, my recommendations for leveraging Alliances are:

  1. Pick one Alliance to focus on. This will be determined by where you live and where you typically fly or want to fly. Some airports are dominated (ruled!) by one alliance. Dallas/Ft. Worth is an example – it is American Airlines country. Frankfurt, for obvious reasons, is Lufthansa dominated.
  2. Become a member of the frequent flyer program of one airline in the Alliance and then accumulate your award miles and status miles on that airline’s frequent flyer program for all flights on any alliance member. That way you can maximize you miles earned and reach Elite Status faster.
  3. Stick to the Alliance. Avoid flying airlines that are members of other alliances or are non-alliance partners. The loyalty will pay you handsomely.
  4. Redeem miles with the Alliance members, earn Elite status, enjoy your trips…

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Posted by unroadwarrior | 36 Comments

36 Responses to “Airline Alliances – Why all the fuss?”

  1. […] This post was Twitted by unroadwarrior […]

  2. […] Airline Alliances – Why all the fuss? […]

  3. […] status on United Airlines. This is earned at 50,000 EQM. It also earns me Star Gold status on the Star Alliance. Once I have earned this Elite Status, then I can decide, based on my prediction of travel for the […]

  4. […] defected over from SkyTeam. Their coming over to Star Alliance makes Star Alliance the predominant airline alliance there is, especially in North America. Continental has become the fourth North America based Major […]

  5. […] to always just fly one. If you pick an airline program of an airline that is a member of an airline alliance, it expands your choices of airlines you can fly on while still earning miles on your primary […]

  6. […] an Airline Alliance is your best option. I have discussed this in detail in my article describing Airline Alliances. It is the only way to have a large set of airlines (25 for Star Alliance!) that you can earn and […]

  7. […] As I discussed in my article on Airline Alliances, picking the right alliance is an important part of your ability earn and redeem miles. It is […]

  8. […] here goes back to choosing an airline miles program which is by an airline that is a part of an alliance. You can then redeem your miles on an award on any of the alliances members. You do not need to […]

  9. […] on may not charge high fuel surcharges, but if you book an award ticket that involves partners (alliance or otherwise), the fuel surcharges are charged by the airline you will be actually flying […]

  10. […] EQM by flying the airline whose frequent Flyer program you are earning miles on, or on any of its alliance partners. In order to maximize Status Miles, only fly the airline you are earning status on and on its […]

  11. […] only by flying or paying money. I have been upgraded by US Airways multiple times for being a Star Alliance Gold, even when I have no Elite Status on US Airways itself! They have my appreciation for […]

  12. […] on one airline to earn miles on and more importantly, one alliance to fly on. I have United as the airline that I earn all my miles on and as United is a part of Star […]

  13. […] of the actual flight is. Given all the relationships airlines have, both within and outside the Airline Alliance they belong too, this can cause problems when it comes to earning miles too. For example, as a […]

  14. […] when flying Open Skies. It is important to point out here that Open Skies is not a part of the OneWorld Alliance that British Airways belongs to, so you cannot earn miles on other OneWorld airlines when flying […]

  15. […] Airline Alliances – Why all the fuss? […]

  16. It’s posts like this that keep me coming back and checking this site regularly, thanks for the info!

  17. […] not allow them to merge with a foreign owned airline. This merger would require US Airways to leave Star Alliance and join OneWorld. That itself is a long and arduous journey for US Airways. I am personally hoping that this won’t […]

  18. […] on. Sure, one can travel from Houston to Auckland today, but it will be via another hub city. As Star Alliance hub cities, Houston and Auckland are ideal for a direct route, but are still ‘thin’ in […]

  19. […] Airlines and its sister airline Horizon Air have been a standout in a world dominated by Airline Alliances. Alaska Airlines has ‘gone it alone’ (or with its one sibling) and built up a […]

  20. […] program. Like almost all other middle eastern airlines, Emirates Skywards is not a part of any Airline Alliance. They have a great list of partners. All that and more in the next […]

  21. […] I figured it out, I picked one airline in each alliance and earn miles in those three […]

  22. […] did not understand the value of alliances and how they operate at all. I would earn miles on whatever airline I flew. I got lucky with […]

  23. […] from Washington DC area to India, a trip I make at least once a year. With Air India planning to join Star Alliance, I was even more excited, as we could now earn and redeem my United miles on this flight. […]

  24. […] flights. These will be especially valuable once Air India finally completes its process of joining Star Alliance, allowing for earning and redeeming miles on United, my primary Mileage Program. I am also hoping […]

  25. […] It’s current claim to fame is its multiple-year (or is it decade) effort to join Star Alliance. It has already been invited into the alliance, in an effort sponsored by it’s close partner […]

  26. […] consuming it would be. I really thought I had it easy. After all, I had enough miles on all three Airline Alliances to redeem for the award trip. So I thought I would have multiple options to choose from. Instead it […]

  27. […] South American airline that already flies to IAD is Avianca. It is expected to join Star Alliance. That will take IAD’s Star count up to nine! Anyone else foresee a Star Alliance lounge at […]

  28. […] It has a large international presence and has superb service. So far it has resisted joining an alliance. It’s two main competitors in India have both joined an Alliance. Kingfisher joined OneWorld […]

  29. […] was so easy! First the red carpet boarding for Global Services/1K followed by Premier Executive and Star Alliance Gold members. The rest of the passengers boarded by zones: Zone 1 catered to all remaining elites; zone […]

  30. […] they do actually make this July-end deadline) of the longest any airline has ever taken to join an Alliance. This long drawn out path to Allianceship, if I may, has further tarnished Air India’s […]

  31. […] to fulfill the basic requirements required by Star Alliance to be a member of the worlds largest Airline Alliance. Fish does a great job documenting the challenges Air India faced and continues to […]

  32. […] Airline Alliances – Why all the fuss? […]

  33. […] Read my earlier posts to learn more about the reason to pick one airline and how to pick an Airline and an Alliance. […]

  34. Gold says:

    Thanks for finally talking about > Airline Alliances – Why all the fuss?

    – UnRoadWarrior < Liked it!

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