The ABC’s of Airline Alliances

This post could be seen as a natural follow up to our Frequent Flyer Miles for Beginners Page or our Getting Started Page.  I’m going to cover the basics of airline alliances and show you why they are important.

Airlines first started out as regional or national carriers, such as American Airlines or Japan Airlines.  So if you wanted to go from Miami to Tokyo, you would have had to buy two separate tickets, one on American to go across the country to Los Angeles then another on Japan Airlines to go from L.A. to Tokyo. Airlines realized that if they partnered up they could share flights and offer advantages to their customers such as checking a bag all the way through your final destination.  These partnerships eventually became widespread enough that they formed alliances of airlines that could get you all the way around the world!

The major airlines have grouped themselves into three main alliances or networks:

  1. OneWorld Alliance (which includes American Airlines, British Airways and 13 others)
  2. Star Alliance (which includes United and 26 others)
  3. Skyteam (which includes Delta and 18 others)

There are three main things you should know about the alliances.

A. When you buy a ticket on any of the alliance member airlines you can credit your miles to any others of the same alliance. 

For example, say you are looking for a ticket to from Miami to Barcelona in September.


US Air has a flight for $1412 and TAP Portugal has a flight for $1265.  You like the price of the cheaper flight, but aren’t too happy about the idea of ending up with 10,000 miles in a TAP Portugal frequent flyer account since you aren’t sure you will ever fly them again.  No problem!  Since they are both members of Star Alliance, you can choose to credit the miles to your US Airways account instead by simply putting your US Airways Frequent Flyer number in the frequent flyer spot when you purchase the ticket.  This allows you to concentrate all your frequent flyer miles into one airline program so you can redeem them faster for free trips!

Another reason this is great is because these miles will count towards getting status with the airlines you credit them to.  When you have silver, gold or platinum status with an airline you can get perks like free checked bags, better seats, lounge access and even free upgrades to first class!

B. When you redeem your miles, you can redeem them for flights on any of that alliance’s members.

This means that once you get enough miles in one spot, you can redeem them for flights on any of the member airlines of the alliance.

For example, say you were approved for the US Airways Visa that gives you 30,000 miles after your first purchase.  You could take these miles and redeem them for flights on not only US Airways, but also any other Star Alliance airline such as Air New Zealand or Lufthansa.

C. Different airlines can have their own award charts.

For example,  United and US Airways are both in Star Alliance.  For a business class award seat to Northern Asia such as Japan or Hong Kong, United requires 120,000 miles. (you may have to click on the chart to read it)

United Air Chart
United Partner Award Chart

But US Airways only requires 90,000 miles for the exact same flights!

US Air Partner Award Chart
US Airways Partner Award Chart

So if your goal is to make that particular redemption, then you should credit your Star Alliance miles to US Air instead of United even when you fly United!

There are several other tricks to watch out for that I will cover in additional posts when I discuss acquiring airline status, but hopefully you now know the basics of airline alliances and how to use them.

As always, feel free to comment with any questions and follow me on Facebook or Twitter!

Author: John Butler

I live in Miami Beach but love travelling all over the world.