Airline Loyalty and Awards Beginners Series: Airline Alliances Explained

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Airline Alliances

Airline Alliances


This will be a new series that aims to help anyone interested in learning how to maximize airline miles and frequent flier programs. Each week I’ll cover a different topic with the idea that each post will build your knowledge until you’re a pro. I would love to know what questions you have and ideas for specific topics. Feel free to send suggestions via Twitter @bethanyatMtM or in the comments below.

How Do Airline Alliances Work?

With a few exceptions, each airline is part of a larger alliance. There are three main alliances: SkyTeam, One World and Star Alliance. The Alliance’s Member airlines allow travelers to earn and redeem miles on other member airlines flights. For example, Delta and Air France are members of Sky Team, thus I could book an Air France Flight and earn Delta Miles. I can later use those Delta miles to book an award ticket with Air France.

Alliances should be distinguished from partnerships. Partnerships are formed between airlines who may or may not be in the same alliance. They work in much the same way as alliances but may have more or less reciprocity. An example of a partnership where the members are not part of the same Alliance is Hawaiian Airlines and Japan Airlines. Virgin Atlantic is not part of an alliance but has a partnership with Delta that allows you to book award tickets on Delta flights.

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Code Share Explained

Most airlines participate in some form of commercial code-share agreement. Code sharing is a marketing arrangement in which an airline places its designator code on a flight operated by another airline, and sells tickets for that flight. Airlines form code-share arrangements to strengthen or expand their market presence and competitive ability by allowing carriers to expand their service offerings at reduced costs.

Why Do you Need to Know About Airline Alliances?

Airline Alliance Benefits

Alliances allow airlines to expand their route by offering code share flights with partners who have different flight routes. To demonstrate, if you’re a loyal American Airlines traveller looking to fly to Nagoya, you’re in luck because fellow alliance member Japan Airlines flies there and you can purchase your ticket through AA.

Alliances allow passengers flexibility in earning and redeeming frequent flyer miles by increasing options regardless of the operating or marketing carrier. You can also use miles to book award travel on member airlines.

Elite members are benefited by alliances because they extend perks like extra bags, lounge access and priority check in.

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3 Major Alliances: One World, Sky Team and Star Alliance

Airline Alliances 


One World Airlines

Airline Alliances 

Star Alliance Airlines

  • Adria Airways
  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • ANA
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Avianca Brasil
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Air
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • SAS
  • Shenzen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss International
  • TAP Portugal
  • Thai Airways International
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United

Airline Alliances 

Sky Team Airlines

  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • Aero Mexico
  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • China Southern
  • Czech Airlines
  • Delta
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • MEA
  • Saudia
  • Tarom
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Xiamen Air


Airline Alliances and partnerships are the foundation for maximizing miles and award travel. In the coming weeks we’ll start to build on these principles and hopefully give you the tools to book amazing trips at even better prices.


  1. @bethanyatMtM
    Great topic to start a mega series. Would love to hear whats status and which alliance you are part off and sharing more of your experiences with each will be a good intro. In this day and age, the big 3 (AA, DL, UA) have repeatedly devalued their elite programs, it gives lesser reason for the consumer to continue patronizing them. Alliances are a great way of crediting elite/miles away to other foreign FFP by flying these domestic metal domestic to gain benefits (ie lounge access and free checked bags) that their own FFP had made it so hard to obtain.

    Also, listing sweetspots on each alliance on how to fast track would also be really helpful to us points and miles enthusiasts.

  2. Bethany I would like to ask you a related question concerning using frequent mileage. I have over 200,000 frequent flyer miles with American Airlines. If I decided not use my mileage by paying for my airfare using an airline in the One World Airline alliance of which American is part of, can I book a flight with say Japan Airlines and have say half of the frequent flyer mileage to be credited with Cathay Airlines and the other half to be credited with one of the other airlines in the same alliance, i.e. Malaysia Airlines? The idea behind doing this
    to ensure I update my frequent flyer mileage account with each of the above named airlines.

    • The thing with airline alliance is, you can only choose to put in 1 FF# upon booking the ticket.
      Each reservation can only credit miles to that 1 FF# you entered. You cannot split your miles earned to 2 separate FF#, unless if your flight has 2 legs, maybe you can book each stop separately per ticket/reservation, then you can earn your miles on each respective FF#.

  3. You are not misunderstanding anything, that is entirely correct. Of course you have to look at each airline partners earning charts. I’ll do a separate post on this but there are some tools to help you figure out what our the best options for crediting your mileage account. is a favorite of mine they also have a browser add on that I love.

  4. Clarification please on Star Alliance. Let us say I buy a ticket direct with COPA Airlines. When I am on the COPA web page and enter my information, I can put down my United Mileage Plus number and those miles will be credited to my Mileage Plus account? Or am I misunderstanding the concept?


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