What are Airline Alliances

To the non-initiated, it is not very clear what airline alliances are. It seems fair to assume that they are only here to benefit their airline members! However, there is more to it and not only do they offer a more seamless experience to international travellers, it also expands your possibilities when it comes to miles spending and earning. As an example, if there was no such alliance and assuming that you had to fly to various countries in Europe, you may have to use Swiss, Lufthansa or TAP Air Portugal. These 3 airlines happen to be part of the same alliance; Star Alliance.

There are currently 6 airline alliances in the world, but only 3 are really worth mentioning. These three serve each above 1,000 destinations, which is key for any serious traveller.

The concept is simple; it ensures that the passenger can earn and spend miles across all members even though he or she is a member of only one Frequent flyer program. Your elite status is also recognised across the network, some alliances have also taken the initiative of having common lounges.

 

 

It has been a real game-changer in the industry as prior to that, airlines where forming small alliances on their own and based on their needs. It was clearly lacking the extended network that we see today through the 3 main competitors:

Source: Wikipedia

For each alliance, you will find someone explaining why it is the best and why the 2 others are useless. It is not that simple, and a lot of times, you should choose an alliance based on your home airline. If you live in Switzerland, it probably makes sense to sign up with Swiss (Miles & More), and therefore to stick to Star Alliance. It is however not always the case as some home airlines tend to be more expensive than foreign ones. Using British Airways from Switzerland or Swiss from the UK is sometimes a good alternative as they are generally forced to price themselves more attractively.

If you live in Japan or in the US, you will have home airlines in different alliances. We would then recommend basing your choice on the network you need and your travel pattern. Also, your preferences for any airline is worth considering. In each alliance, you will find a 1st of the class member. Star Alliance has Singapore Airlines and ANA, Skyteam has Korean Air, Oneworld has Qatar and Cathay, etc. Lastly, more and more miles are earned on the ground with credit cards, hotels, etc. It is thus important to consider this wherever you live.

Looking at the figures above, Star Alliance may seem the more obvious choice given the number of destinations it covers and airlines it contains. However, some travellers complain that it somehow lacks proper integration compared to Oneworld. Another dimension is to consider the airlines status integration. In other words, if you are Silver or gold in one program, how does it translate into the others and what benefits do you get.

Star Alliance

Source: Star Alliance

As you can see above, an airline can have many members but be weaker in some regions such as Latin America. On the other side, Oneworld has fewer members but seems to be able to cover most regions more equally, at least for the main cities. Lastly, one key advantage to mention is the Round the World ticket. Alliances have each their own rules and prices. It is generally issued by the first airline on the itinerary. It is of less interest to a business traveller but important to mention in case you have serious miles to spend during your holiday!

In conclusion, there is no miracle best choice but some homework to do based on various criteria we mentioned above. Start by looking at your home airline then study the direct competition and your travel pattern. A logical solution will quickly emerge.