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Non-Alliance Airline Partners: Knowing Is Half the Battle

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Airline partners make award travel much easier, since they expand the network of carriers and routings available to you when redeeming your points and miles. Today TPG Contributor Jason Steele walks us through some of the lesser known airline partnerships, and offers tips for how you can take advantage of them.

The best features of the three major airline alliances are that you can earn miles on any carrier within a given alliance by flying on any other, and likewise you can use miles from any carrier in that alliance for award travel on a flight operated by another. These reciprocal arrangements are easy to understand, even if they doesn’t always work out so well in practice.

In addition to the major alliances, many airlines have non-alliance partners that passengers can use in a similar fashion. Furthermore, some of these non-alliance partners are a bit clandestine. For example, I was using the free WiFi access to the United website during a recent flight, and came across two pages. One showed the non-alliance partners that I was familiar with:

Some, but not all of United's non-alliance partners.
Some, but not all of United’s non-alliance partners.

Then, I stumbled across this page:

This page has several non-alliance partners not included on their other list.
This page has several non-alliance partners not included on the other list.

Notice the difference? The first page is clearly outdated, as it includes EVA as a non-alliance partner, even though the airline has since joined the Star Alliance. Also, it doesn’t show some of the more recent non-alliance partners like Air Dolomiti, Azul, Edelweiss, Germanwings, and Silver Airways.

That got me wondering about what other lesser known, non-alliance partners exist for the major airlines (that are part of a global alliance and participate in point transfer programs), and how one could put them to use. Here’s what I learned.

American
The American Airlines AAdvantage program is part of the Oneworld alliance, and is a transfer partner of the Starwood Preferred Guest Program.

  • Air Tahiti Nui – redeem only.
  • Alaska Airlines 
  • Cape Air – from St. Louis only, redemption on Caribbean routes discontinued.
  • El Al – American is the only carrier that allows partner redemptions on El Al.
  • Etihad
  • Fiji Airways
  • Gulf Air – based in Bahrain.
  • Hawaiian Airlines – includes flights to the U.S. and international destinations.
  • Jet Airways
  • Seaborne – redeem miles only for flights between San Juan, Puerto Rico and select Seaborne markets.
  • WestJet – earn only on this Canadian discount carrier.

Al Nippon Airlines (ANA)
This Star Alliance carrier is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and the Starwood Preferred Guest program.

  • Air Dolomiti – a Lufthansa subsidiary that offers service between Munich and Italy.
  • Air Macau
  • Etihad
  • Garuda Indonesia – a SkyTeam carrier.
  • Hawaiian
  • Jet Airways
  • TAM
  • Virgin Atlantic

Asia Miles
Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program is part of the Oneworld alliance, and is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and the Starwood Preferred Guest Program.

  • Alaska
  • Aer Lingus
  • Air China – a Star Alliance carrier.
  • Air New Zealand – another Star Alliance carrier.
  • China Eastern – a SkyTeam carrier.
  • Gulf Air – based in Bahrain.
  • Jet Airways
  • Royal Brunei

British Airways/Iberia
BA and Iberia are both Oneworld carriers. BA is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and the Starwood Preferred Guest Program, while Iberia is also a partner American Express Membership Rewards. Since you can transfer points back and forth between BA, Iberia, and another program called Avios.com, any points you have in these programs can be used to book multiple non-alliance partners.

Using British Airways Avios, you can book flights on the following partners:

  • Aer Lingus
  • Alaska Airlines

Iberia Avios can be used directly to book:

  • Vueling – a Spanish discount carrier with service to Europe and Northern Africa.

Finally, when you transfer BA or Iberia Avios to the Avios.com program, you can book flights on the following partners:

  • Air Malta – offers service between Malta and several European cities.
  • Aurigny – serves England’s Channel Islands.
  • Flybe – a European discount carrier.
  • Monarch – another European discount airline.
  • Eurostar trains – although not an airline partner, high speed train travel is often a superior alternative to airline service within Europe. See more details here.
Award flights on European discount carrier Flybe are available when you transfer your BA Avios to the Avios.com program.
Award flights on European discount carrier Flybe are available when you transfer your British Airways Avios to the Avios.com program.

Delta
This SkyTeam carrier is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and the Starwood Preferred Guest program.

  • Alaska
  • GOL – a Brazilian discount carrier that offers service to the United States.
  • Virgin Atlantic – Delta is forging a strong partnership.
  • Virgin Australia – offers much better award space than Delta’s single daily flight to Australia.
  • Great Lakes – no MQMs, MQDs, Elite tier bonus, or business/first class bonuses.
  • Hawaiian – only eligible for flights within Hawaii, and offers no MQMs, MQDs, Elite tier bonus, or business/first class bonuses.

Flying Blue
This SkyTeam program is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and the Starwood Preferred Guest Program. You can read more about Maximizing Flying Blue here. Flying Blue is the frequent flyer program of not only Air France and KLM, but also the following airlines outside of the SkyTeam alliance:

  • Aircalin, a small airline based in New Caledonia, which is a French territory in the South Pacific.
  • HOP!, a regional subsidiary of Air France that has hubs in Lyon and Paris-Orly.
  • TwinJet, a French regional carrier based in Marseille.

The other non-alliance partners of Flying Blue include:

  • Alaska Airlines, which is a huge advantage when booking award flights to Hawaii and parts of Alaska beyond Anchorage.
  • Air Corsica, a small carrier that operates service to the Mediterranean island of Corsica.
  • Air Mauritius, an international carrier based in Mauritius, which is an island in the Southern Indian Ocean off the coast of Madagascar.
  • Bangkok Airways, which serves several cities in Asia.
  • Chalair Aviation, a French regional carrier based in Caen.
  • Comair Limited, a regional carrier in South Africa.
  • Copa Airlines of Panama, which is a member of the Star Alliance.
  • Jet Airways of India.
  • TAAG,which accepts Flying Blue miles for flights between Paris and Luanda.
  • Transavia, which offers charter service, and books awards by phone only.
  • Ukraine International Airlines, which serves Europe, Asia, and even New York-JFK.

Japan Airlines (JAL)
This Oneworld carrier is a transfer partner of the Starwood Preferred Guest program. It’s non-alliance partners include:

  • Emirates
  • Bangkok Airways
  • Hokkaido Air System – a Japanese regional carrier.
  • Jetstar Japan –  a Japanese discount carrier.
Emirates is a non-alliance partner of JAL.
Emirates is a non-alliance partner of JAL and Korean.

Korean Air
This SkyTeam carrier is a transfer partner of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. It’s non-alliance partners include:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Emirates
  • Etihad
  • Hawaiian

Singapore
This Star Alliance carrier is a member of all four major point transfer programs, including American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and the Starwood Preferred Guest Program. Outside of Star Alliance, Singapore also partners with the following airlines:

United

This Star Alliance carrier is a member a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and a 2:1 transfer partner of the Starwood Preferred Guest Program. United has numerous non-alliance partners, including:

  • Aer Lingus – which has outstanding award availability.
  • Aeromar – based in Mexico City with service throughout Mexico and to the United States.
  • Cape Air – a small regional carrier with flights in New England and the Caribbean.
  • Great Lakes – can only redeem for flights that connect to a United flight or to or from Denver.
  • Hawaiian Airlines – redeem miles for flights within Hawaii only.
  • Island Air – a Hawaiian inter-island carrier.
  • Jet Airways
  • Air Dolomiti – a Lufthansa subsidiary that offers service between Munich and Italy.
  • Azul – a Brazilian discount carrier.
  • Edelweiss Air – a small carrier based in Zurich that is a subsidiary of Swiss and Lufthansa.
  • Germanwings – the discount division of Lufthansa.
  • Silver Airways – a small carrier flying turbo-prop aircraft to smaller destinations in the Southeast, mid-Atlantic, and seasonal service to the Bahamas.
  • Amtrak. – you can earn miles when you book connecting service from United between Philadelphia, Wilmington, Stamford, and New Haven to anywhere United Airlines flies from Newark International Airport..

US Airways
This Oneworld carrier is a transfer partner of the Starwood Preferred Guest program. Since leaving Star Alliance earlier this year, US Airways has retained several of its former partners.  The current list of non-alliance partners includes:

  • Jet Airways
  • Aegean Airlines – another leftover Star Alliance partner. 
  • Air China – yet another leftover Star Alliance partner.
  • Hawaiian Airlines – (inter-island and South Pacific flights only).
  • South African Airways – another leftover Star Alliance partner.
  • TAP Air Portugal – another leftover Star Alliance partner.
  • Shenzhen Airlines – another leftover Star Alliance partner.

Sweet spots
Among all of these possibilities, there are some that jump out at me as being particularly useful or noteworthy:

1. Jet Airways. This Indian carrier seems to want to be allied with every airline (AA, ANA, Asia Miles, Flying Blue, JAL, United, and US), but without joining any alliances. In addition to offering service to and around India, Jet Airways flies from Brussels, Belgium to both Newark and Toronto for 20,000 miles one-way in economy class, or 40,000 miles in premiere class. Their award chart also has some good values among their long list of destinations within India.

2. Aer Lingus. Like Jet Airways, this Irish carrier also appears frequently on the list above. One of the best ways to book their flights is using British Airways Avios. BA awards are distance-based, and flights between Boston and Dublin fall just within the 2,500 mile cutoff where a round-trip economy class award costs just 25,000 points, or a business class award costs 50,000 points.

3. Azul. This  large and rapidly growing Brazilian carrier was created by the founder of JetBlue (Azul is Portuguese for blue). This is a very important United Airlines non-alliance partner, since the Star Alliance offers no South American partner other than Avianca of Colombia. Furthermore, Azul recently announced the purchase of wide-body jets in order to offer service to North America.

Azul is rapidly expanding and has announced service to the United States.
Azul is rapidly expanding and has announced service to the United States.

4. US Airways awards including Star Alliance carriers. Despite having joined the Oneworld Alliance, US Airways can’t seem to break up with six of its former Star Alliance airline partners. While no end-date has been announced for these partnerships, they are unlikely to survive beyond when the merger with American is completed (if they last that long).

5. Hawaiian inter-island flights. Hawaiian is another carrier that likes to align with several different partners, although many are for inter-island flights only. Furthermore, Hawaiian offers nearly unlimited award availability, so it’s easy to get from whichever island you arrive at to wherever you need to go. Even better, United offers one way awards for just 6,000 miles. See Best Transfer Partners for Flights to Hawaii for more info.

Have you made use of these or other non-alliance airline partnerships? Please share your tips for maximizing these award opportunities in the comments below.