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We’ve all been on an airplane watching the in-flight safety welcome video when we’ve heard something like, “American and its Oneworld Partners thank you for flying with us.”
We know of airline alliances. Yet, many travelers don’t know why they’re important or, even more, how airline alliances add tremendous value to airline loyalty programs.
In fact, airline alliances and partnerships are the keys to maximizing the value of the airline miles you earn and redeem for award travel.
Why should I know about airline alliances?
Carriers like United, American, and Delta have partnered with alliances and individual airlines around the world to extend their flying networks. By doing so, they can offer more flights to more places.
For example, if United does not fly a route on one of their own planes between 2 southeast Asian cities, partner Thai Airways or ANA likely does and can offer United customers the flight.
But, a wider flight network is far from the only airline alliance benefit.
These alliances and partnerships have reciprocal earning and redeeming loyalty program benefits. So, within the same alliance, you could fly with a paid ticket on Airline X but earn miles for Airline Y.
Much of the same applies when you’re redeeming those miles for award travel later on. You can typically use Airline Y miles to fly on other alliance airlines. You can even use those miles back on Airline X.
Later on, you can use your United miles to book an award flight on United or their alliance partners, including Air Canada.
In addition, airlines form individual partnerships that work in much the same way. United and Aer Lingus are not in an alliance together, but the two airlines themselves have agreed to work together.
This benefits both airlines’ customers with an expanded network, as well as ways to maximize how miles are earned and redeemed.
What are the major airline alliances?
Star Alliance, Oneworld, and SkyTeam are the world’s 3 major airline alliances.
The Star Alliance has the most partners. United Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance.
Oneworld has the fewest partners, but plenty of great redemption value. American Airlines is a Oneworld member.
The SkyTeam Alliance includes U.S.-based airline, Delta.
How can I make the most of airline alliances and partners?
The most important airline alliance lesson is to remember your airline miles cannot be transferred from one airline to another.
United miles will always be United miles. You can use your United miles on another Star Alliance airline, but you can’t convert them to be something other than United miles.
You use your United miles to pay for flights on the United website. You follow United rules and pay United prices…even if the flight is flown by a partner.
For this reason, it’s important to think about which are your primary frequent flyer accounts. Any miles earned from flying on an airline or one of its partners should funnel into a few main accounts.
It won’t do you much, if any, good to have small miles balances spread out over many frequent flyer accounts. These separate accounts cannot be merged and therefore won’t be large enough to redeem for an award flight.
Choose a couple of airlines in each alliance and accrue miles to those accounts, even when flying one of their partners.
For example, Finnair and American Airlines are partners. If you fly on Finnair, you can credit the miles earned to your American Airlines account.
Simply add your AAdvantage number to your Finnair reservation or ask an agent to add it for you at the airport.
What good will it do to have a small balance of Finnair miles?
Better to funnel your earnings to an account like American Airlines, where you’re already earning miles.
WheretoCredit.com is a popular site for looking up where to credit paid airline tickets.
But just because WheretoCredit shows the highest earning potential is with a particular airline, does that airline make sense for your travel goals and the loyalty program accounts where you’re already collecting miles?
It does no good to have a small balance of miles in a random airline account that you’ll never use. So, look at the best earn rates but also what makes sense.
What about flexible points programs & airline alliances?
Another thing to consider is the transferable points credit cards you have and who their transfer partners are.
There are plenty of ins and outs to learn when it comes to redeeming your miles and maximizing value with airline alliances and partners. My course Booking Award Flights Made Easy is an in-depth course with video tutorials about how to best maximize partner alliance awards.
For now, let’s keep things simple using the example from above.
The only way to earn more Finnair miles would be to fly more Finnair flights, credit Oneworld Alliance flights to Finnair, or transfer Capital One miles.
(This basic example also fails to examine if the Finnair program is even a good-value loyalty program…which it’s not.)
Compare this with another example. Let’s say you purchase a plane ticket on Airline X and WheretoCredit tells you the highest earning potential is with Virgin Atlantic. Ask yourself:
- Am I planning any travel on Virgin Atlantic?
- Was I thinking about transferring any Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, or ThankYou points to Virgin Atlantic?
If the answer to either or both of these questions is yes, then it likely makes sense to take advantage of the high earn rate.
Not only will you earn miles toward an upcoming trip, but it’ll also save you from having to transfer more valuable transferrable points.
But, if the answers are no or not sure, it might be better to credit the flight to another partner, even though the earn rate is less. Better to use those miles earned than have them stranded in a random loyalty account!
How should I start making sense of airline alliances?
As a miles and points beginner, the MOST important redemption rule to remember is this.
When redeeming for an award flight, you follow the award chart and itinerary rules of the airline with whom you have miles.
If you have United miles, you follow United rules even if you’re flying on partner Swiss Air.
For this reason, it’s worth looking into the programs you plan to accrue miles with to make sure you’re ending up with a (relatively) favorable award program.
For example, British Airways and American Airlines are both Oneworld partners. However, British Airways prices award flights based on the number of miles flown, rather than a fixed amount.
For this reason, BA is a solid airline program for short-haul flights.
But, because of British Airways’ high taxes and fees on award tickets accruing miles into an American Airlines account will likely be better if you’re trying to earn an award flight from the U.S. to Europe.
Ironically, flying on British Airways from the U.S. to London can come with very high fees making it not the best way to get to London.
Knowing about airline alliances is an important step to getting the most value from airline loyalty programs.
As you learn more about miles and points, you’ll gradually understand how to earn and redeem airline miles by maximizing alliances and partnerships effectively.
What are your airline alliance questions?
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To learn how to leverage airline alliances to get the most from your points and miles, find out more about my course, Booking Award Flights Made Easy.