Whether you’re new to points and miles or an AvGeek, knowing more about airlines can help you achieve the best trip possible.
At a glance
Alliances are partnerships that let airlines offer benefits, like elite status and redeemable miles, on partner flights. The three major alliances are SkyTeam, Star Alliance and Oneworld. Transferring points from one airline to another in an alliance lets you use them to get where you want to go, even if the airline you originally earned the points or miles with doesn’t fly to your destination.
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Sometimes airlines will allow you to use points to upgrade to premium economy, business or another higher class of service. Eligibility usually depends on which specific ticket fare class you purchased (e.g. J, W, Y) and the individual flight. Read more information here.
This is the ultimate question, but it doesn’t have an easy answer. Some airlines offer better value for redeeming points than others, but this changes year to year (if not more often). Take a look at this article for more information.
In some instances, you’re better off booking award tickets through partner programs instead of the airline that you actually have points with. Partners are usually, but not always, those within the same airline alliance. For example, you can use Virgin Atlantic miles (instead of Delta ones) to book flights on Delta, Alaska airlines miles to book Cathay Pacific awards or United miles to book flights on EVA or Singapore.
A sweet spot is what experts call high-value areas in award charts, where award travelers can redeem points for an especially good value. They vary by airline or hotel brand. For more on sweet spots, check out this article.
There are three major airline alliances: Star Alliance, SkyTeam and Oneworld. In the US, the three largest airlines are part of one of these alliances (United, Delta and American, respectively). Airline alliances exist to enhance route connectivity, and allow airlines to offer flights on other airlines within their alliance with relative ease. If you have points with an airline within one of these alliances, you should be able to redeem points on one of their partners. In fact, that’s one of the best ways to do it.
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