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Shifting Airline Alliances: Which Is Best – Oneworld, SkyTeam or Star Alliance?

by on February 24, 2014 · 20 comments

in Oneworld, skyteam, star alliance

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Airline alliances are constantly changing – whether it’s mergers or new strategic partnerships, the landscape continues to evolve and in 2014 there will be some notable additions and exits from the major alliances. However, bigger isn’t always better, so deciding on the best alliance for you may take some careful analysis based on factors that impact your travel plans the most, like geographical coverage in the areas you fly, fare class earning between partners, and whether the alliance members actually release award availability on the routes you want to fly.

all

Use airline alliances to your benefit and get more miles.

I have broken it down into the three main airline alliances: Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance, and then also added in Alaska Airlines since it’s a major US frequent flyer program and has several great international airline partners, as well as both American and Delta here in the US. Remember, before you book tickets or fly, always check the policies for partner airlines and alliances to make sure you are aware of all mileage earning policies and opportunities. Also, since Alaska doesn’t officially have an alliance with their partners there is generally no elite status recognition. However, they do have special benefits with American and Delta and offer elite status earning on all partners.

Overview

Here’s a quick table outlining the scope of each alliance including daily departures, destinations an annual passengers. Read on below to find out the specifics on each alliance and my thoughts on the miles to use in each.

Oneworld SkyTeam Star Alliance Alaska
Daily Departures 14,244 15,189 17,808 18,500
Destinations 981 1,024 1,348 N/A
Annual Passengers 475 million 569 million 610 million 625 million

Just a quick note: These figures are based of prospective alliance membership by April 1, 2014, so they are subject to change based on route network consolidation.

oneworld

Oneworld

Current Airline Partners:

  • airberlin (including NIKI)
  • American Airlines (including AmericanConnection, American Eagle)
  • British Airways (including BA Cityflyer, British Airways Limited, Comair , OpenSkies and SUN-AIR of Scandinavia)
  • Cathay Pacific (including Dragonair)
  • Finnair (including Flybe Finland)
  • Iberia (including Iberia Regional Air Nostrum, Iberia Express)
  • Japan Airlines (including JAL Express, J-AIR and Japan Transocean Air)
  • LAN (including LAN Argentina, LAN Colombia, LAN Ecuador, LAN Express and LAN Peru)
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas (including QantasLink and Jetconnect and some Jetstar)
  • Qatar Airways (new)
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines Globus, LLC.

Coming Soon:

Oneworld's flight stats.

Oneworld’s flight stats.

Stats

The smallest of the alliances, Oneworld has just 13 current members with 3 more joining in the coming months. According to its own statistics, and including soon-to-join members, Oneworld services:

Destinations: 981
Countries: 151
Daily Departures: 14,244
Fleet: 3,283 aircraft
Annual Passengers: 475 million

Of those, the top 5 member (and member-elect) airlines with the most flights are:

1. American Airlines
2. US Airways
3. Iberia
4. British Airways
5. TAM

Award travel notes: Oneworld is arguably the best alliance for redeeming for international and domestic US three-cabin first class awards. Six carriers have solid international first class cabins: American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, JAL, Malaysian and Qantas, and American is the only carrier in the US regularly operating three-cabin first class flights between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco and Miami and Los Angeles. Note: Qantas first class award availability is generally very scarce, the others open up a decent amount if you’re flexible.

Intra-continental coverage:
Strong:
North America, Europe, South America, Australia/New Zealand
Moderate:
Asia, Middle East
Weak:
Africa (the only intra-African routes are on a British Airways subsidiary)

Credit Cards to Consider:

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The Citi Executive AAdvantage card comes with 100,000 American miles when you spend $10,000 in 3 months, Admirals Club (and now US Airways Club) lounge access, and you can earn 10,000 elite-qualifying miles when you spend $40,000 in a calendar year.

The British Airways Visa comes with 50,000 Avios when you spend $2,000 in 3 months, and earns 2.5 Avios per $1 on BA purchases, 1.25 Avios per $1 on everything else, earns a 10% discount on BA purchases, as well as a Companion Ticket when you spend $30,000 in a calendar year.

The Chase Ink Bold and Ink Plus both offer 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points (which can be transferred to BA) when you spend $5,000 in 3 months.

Skyteam

Sky Team

Current Airline Partners:

  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolíneas Argentinas
  • Aeromexico
  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • China Southern
  • Czech Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Middle East Airlines
  • Saudia
  • TAROM
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Xiamen Airlines

Coming Soon:

Garuda Indonesia (projected join date of March 5, 2014)

SkyTeam currently offers over 15,000 daily departures.

SkyTeam currently offers over 15,000 daily departures.

Stats

According to SkyTeam’s most recently released information, dating to June 2013, its 19 current member airlines offer the following:

Destinations: 1,024
Countries: 178
Daily Departures: 15,189 (just a tick above Oneworld)
Fleet: 2,853 aircraft with a further 1,475 affiliated aircraft
Annual Passengers: 569 million

The top 5 airlines in the alliance with the most daily departures are:

1. Delta
2. Air France/KLM
3. China Southern
4. China Eastern
5. Alitalia

Award travel notes: SkyTeam is possibly the least-friendly alliance, with numerous members blocking awards on partners (Delta blocking all international first class, Air France only allowing their elite members to redeem for first class and Korean with rolling blackout dates). Delta also recently hacked SkyTeam earning ratios and disqualifying all partner spend on non-Delta issued tickets from their Medallion Qualifying Mile program and only releases low-level award availability to partners, which can be very scarce- especially on international flights.

Intra-continental coverage:
Strong: 
North America, Asia, Europe, Middle East
Moderate: 
Africa
Weak: 
Australia/New ZealandSouth America

Credit Cards to Consider:

Though public offers on the Delta Amex cards aren’t terribly high at the moment, you should check through the Card Match Tool to see if you are qualified for a higher sign-up bonus. Delta and Flying Blue (the frequent flyer program of Air France/KLM) are also 1:1 transfer partners of Amex Membership Rewards, so if you have a card like the Platinum or Premier Rewards Gold, you can transfer your points into either program. Korean Air is a 1:1 instant transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards if you have the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold or Ink Plus cards.

star alliance

Star Alliance

The largest of the airline alliances, there are some big changes coming to Star Alliance thanks to the exit of US Airways and TAM, and Air India’s prospective joining of the program.

Current Airline Partners:

  • Adria Airways
  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air New Zealand
  • ANA
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian
  • Avianca
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EGYPTAIR
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Air
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Scandinavian Airlines
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • SWISS
  • TAM Airlines (projected exit date March 30, 2014)
  • TAP Portugal
  • THAI
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United
  • US Airways (projected exit date March 30, 2014)

Coming Soon:

  • Air India (rumored join date June 2014, but who really knows with their recent FAA downgrade)
  • Avianca Brazil (rumored joining date summer 2014)

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 4.03.41 PM

Stats

We’ve added Avianca Brazil’s flight statistics, but have taken out the flight stats for soon departing members US Airways and TAM since they will be leaving the alliance shortly. I also did not add Air India since their addition could easily be delayed (yet again) into 2015 and beyond.

Destinations: 1,348
Countries: 195
Daily Departures: 17,808
Fleet: 3,927 aircraft
Annual Passengers: 610.4 million

The top 5 airlines in the alliance with the most daily departures are:

1. United
2. Air Canada
3. Lufthansa
4. Air China
5. Turkish Airlines

Award travel notes: While Star Alliance has a lot of members, there are also blocking issues between partners. The following carriers are known to be very stingy with premium cabin partner award availability: Air New Zealand (especially between the US and New Zealand), Lufthansa (holding almost all first class space until the last minute) and Austrian/Singapore/Swiss releasing very few first and business class international awards. Additionally, United penalizes their frequent flyers by charging a premium to book partner flights in most circumstances, and Aeroplan has devalued their program several times int he past couple years and charge hefty fuel surcharges on many partners.

Intra-continental coverage:
Strong:
Africa, Asia, Europe, North America
Moderate:
Australia/New Zealand
Weak: 
Middle East, South America

Alaska

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Alaska Airlines

Although not one of the three formal alliances, Alaska has several partners on which you can earn and redeem miles from its Alaska MileagePlan Program.

Current Airline Partners:

  • Aeromexico
  • Air France
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Emirates
  • Era Alaska
  • Fiji Airways (formerly Air Pacific)
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • LAN
  • PenAir
  • Qantas

Alaska does not currently provide stats on its global partner network, but by some measures it should be as extensive as the three formal alliances thanks to the fact that it partners with both American and Delta – the airlines that operate the most flights within their alliances – as well as other heavy hitters like British Airways, Air France/KLM and non-alliance airlines whose networks aren’t available to the alliances, like the ever-expanding Emirates, and Fiji Airways. Our research based on individual airline data indicates roughly 18,500 daily departures and 625 million passengers flown a year.

Award travel notes: While Alaska did recently devalue its program, it paled in comparison to some others like Delta and United and did not impact partner travel at all. Perhaps the biggest downside to Alaska’s faux alliance is that you cannot mix partners on award tickets, but you can include Alaska and a partner on an award. Alaska has pretty good award availability o their own and combined with their numerous partners, like Emirates and their swanky first class, it is an option you shouldn’t overlook when deciding on a loyalty program.

Intra-continental coverage:
Strong: North America, Australia/New Zealand, Europe, Middle East
Moderate: Asia, South America, Asia
Weak: Africa

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Traveling Hack

    what do you guys think is the best alliance for RTW trips?

  • JDB

    This is a great summary, thanks for putting this together. Helps me to narrow my CC focus based on places I would like to travel to

  • RTW7Months

    Oneworld is hands down the best deal for RTW, when using miles. You can book a trip with up to 16 segments and 50,000 miles and some of the rules for paying cash don’t apply to RTW trips using miles.

  • -

    Torn, torn, torn! :-/ UA is strong in DC area but AA with no QD’s and good reviews seems to be the way to go, despite their rather skimpy membership list in 1 world.

  • Chris P

    Been flying UA as Premier Gold. looking at past 4 years. UA pricing for DC area has been sky rocketing. I dont see good fares in DC area most of the year comparing to PHL, NYC. THis year so far, AA had much better deals. Plus AA do have the upper hand at DCA if you are in the city.

  • C

    Thanks TPG for putting this together. This will be a go-to reference for me!
    If you could modify the post with just one more piece of information, that would be fantastic. In addition to the “intracontinental coverage” (which I assume means travel within the continent), could you also add “coverage from North America to” categorization? Meaning, how is the coverage/options for travel from North America to: Asia, Middle East, Europe, Africa, etc.

    Thanks in advance!

  • brian9778

    For the AA Executive card: Are the 10,000 EQMs earned after $40,000 spend converted miles (from regular miles to EQM) a la Barclays US Airways Mastercard or additional miles (+10,000 EQM)?

  • thepointsguy

    They are not converted, and it’s just EQM’s, not bonus miles.

  • Jason

    To clarify, Air India was not “downgraded” by the FAA – it was the overall FAA safety rating for the Indian aviation sector. All Indian airlines impacted equally

  • brian9778

    Thanks, Brian!

  • AnthonyOrner

    I Just used 110K US dividend miles to book an around the world trip. While i did bend some rules I ultimately got a RTW from NYC-Tapei-Phuket-Bangkok-Johanessburg-jfk I still have not booked my intra-africa flights to capetown kruger and victoria falls. I wanted to get to use star alliance for my big trip before US airways is moved to oneworld. — All segments in business class

  • - -

    I am indeed in the city. Add to that the inclusion of all the USair routes and I think the decision may be becoming clear. I think it’s worth noting too the ability to “divide loyalty” between airlines/alliances with whom one flies rev, and the one which they accrue points and fly non-rev, Example: Rev=AA/1W and NonRev=UA/*A

  • - -

    Indeed I am in the city. Factor in also the reach that adding US will provide and the overall positive reviews I’ve heard about AA and I think the choice is becoming clearer. Further, I think it is possible to have “divided loyalty” between rev and non-rev; i.e. AA=Rev, UA=NonRev.

  • Niki

    I’d love to see a similar post, but covering all the major sweet spots for each airline/alliance.

  • Chris S

    I wouldnt say oneworld has a strong position in Europe. They are the weakest there especially comparing to Star and skyTeam. Look on the map: just 3 oneworld members and their hubs (LHR, MAN, HEL) situated almost in 3 corners of the continent + airberlin – which is an ex holiday airline (mostly connecting Germany/Austria/Switzerland with holiday destinations in the Mediterranean, their only strength is good intra German network). So if you wish to travel around Europe oneworld is the least possible to offer you any connection. The strongest and the best is Star (with 9 European members and their 10 hubs situated in different parts of the continent). skyTeam might still be ok, but not as good as Star and not as weak as oneworld.

  • Austin

    Alaska changed their award rules a little while ago and you can now mix and match partners with a different one in each direction.

    http://www.alaskaair.com/content/mileage-plan/earn-use-miles/partner-award-travel.aspx

  • Traveling Hack

    any idea how much oneworld RTW is for all biz class?

  • april

    Since some airlines (e.g. British Airways or Air France) are part of 2 alliances, could you use points collected with these airlines on either of their partner alliance airlines?

  • Brian

    I like how you rated each alliance (and Alaska) based on intercontinental strengths, but those appear to be based on N. America. Like me, many of your readers live outside N. America, but we lack the experience and knowledge you possess.

    Would you be willing to create a matrix of the 3 (4) alliances and how they rate between each continent/region? I imagine something like a 3 x 7 table with each cell containing a 1, 2, or 3 or maybe… red, yellow, green colored dots.

  • Brian

    I just realized you’d need a table for each alliance that is 7×7. Sorry for any confusion.

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