Choosing an Airline or Alliance: Why hubs matter?

I have discussed the idea of having one primary airline you credit all your miles on in several previous articles. I have also discussed the importance of Airline Alliances and why the airline you choose should be a part of one of the three Global Alliances. As you go about picking your primary Airline and hence, primary alliance, one very important factor that needs to to be taken into consideration is that of hubs. Hubs form, there is no better way to put it, the hub of an Airline and an Alliances network. If you look at an airline individually, most flights you take will begin or end at a hub. If your origin or your destination is not a hub for that airline, you will be routed thru one for a change of flight. Expanding that to look at an Alliance, no mater what combination of airlines you pick for your trip, you are going to start, end or pass thru a hub.

Do you live in, or fly to a hub city?

So, where you live and where you fly to is probably the biggest factor in your choosing a primary airline. If you live in Atlanta, GA (ATL), Delta should be your first choice, especially if fly mostly domestically in the US. If you pick American Airlines, for example, then all your trips will get routed thru Miami, FL (MIA) or Dallas, TX (DFW) or Chicago, IL (ORD). If most of your travel is international, then you can pick Delta or an International airline from the country of your destination. For example, if you fly mainly to the UK or other cities in UK, you can pick British Airways as your primary carrier, as they have a non-stop to Atlanta from London Heathrow (LHR). Airline Alliance Hubs.JPG

Do you prefer a particular Hub?

If you live in a city that is not an airline hub, then you have more freedom of choice. Look at the airlines that service your airport and choose based on their programs and their hubs. I have a friend who lives in Greenville, SC (GSP). He has to go thru a hub, no matter where he flies. His travels take him all over the world. He chose Delta over all other airlines mainly because he prefers Atlanta, GA (ATL) as a hub over others. If he picks United, he would have to change flights at Washington Dulles (IAD) or Chicago (ORD), both of which he detests changing flights in. (Personally I believe that IAD has improved a lot since the arrival of the AeroTrain. The old Moon Buggies were torture). He did not choose US Airways because, it is US Airways (ahem!), their international network is not worth mentioning and their connections to other Star Alliance carriers at their hubs Charlotte, NC (CLT) and Philadelphia, PA (PHL) are extremely limited.

International Hubs:

When flying internationally, the same holds good. Whether you are flying a domestic airline or an International carrier, you have hubs to contend with. Continental routes a lot of its Asian routes thru their hub in Guam (GUM) and United thru their focus city Tokyo’s Narita Airport (NRT). For example, if you want to fly to Singapore (SIN) or Hong Kong (HKG) on United from Washington Dulles (IAD), all flight to them route thru another domestic hub or thru Tokyo.

Routes and Alliances:

This becomes important when picking an alliance as there are certain routes that no airline in an alliance may fly non-stop. Two examples that I have experienced personally are UK – India and Dubai – India. These are routes that have no non-stop Star Alliance flights. At least, till Air India finally gets its act together and joins Star Alliance. I flew from Delhi (DEL) to London Heathrow (LHR) and being a Star Alliance Elite had a choice of Lufthansa, Austrian, SAS or Swiss Air. All of them required a change of flights in Europe. By the way, I flew on Lufthansa going Delhi – Frankfurt – London (DEL-FRA-LHR). For Dubai (DXB) to Mumbai (BOM), the only flight operated by an airline in an alliance is by Cathay Pacific of OneWorld. Yes, they fly Hong Kong – Mumbai – Dubai (HKG-BOM-DXB). I chose to fly on Emirates as they are a United partner and I was able to earn miles (no Status Miles).

The Big picture.

So, whether you are picking your primary airline and alliance or picking a route for a particular trip, the Hubs will get in the way. Pun intended. Do not ignore this fact. Know the hubs different airlines use and pick the ones that work for you.

My fellow blogger here at – Musings of a Global Traveler has written three articles on the countries served by the three alliances – Star Alliance, OneWorld and Skyteam. He has these cool maps showing the countries served. Inspired by his work, I will post three articles on the hubs that the three alliances have, served by their member airlines. I hope to make some cool maps too. Come back and check it out.

Other articles on Choosing an Airline or Alliance:

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  1. Continental routes very FEW connections via Guam. There are a handful of small Pacific destinations but only MNL and ROR are mainline flights that require transiting GUM versus other connections, I believe.

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