Skip to content

What are airline alliances, and who's in them?

April 02, 2021
6 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

If you are an even moderately frequent flyer, you have taken advantage of the perks that airline alliances offer passengers. And if you've flown at all in the past two decades, you have heard their name spoken in an onboard announcement: Thank you for flying Air X, a member of the Y Alliance.

There are three of them: Star Alliance, SkyTeam and Oneworld, in order of size. They make connections and mileage collecting and spending easier. Since their appearance in the late 1990s, they have been a welcome innovation for flyers who have elite status, which gets recognized by all partner airlines. If you're a Delta Air Lines Medallion member, for example, you can get priority treatment from all other airlines that are members of SkyTeam.

Not everybody is a fan. Weekly magazine The Economist calls them price-fixing cartels, asserting that those benefits have come at the cost of higher fares because alliances reduce competition.

Pretty much every major airline is in an alliance, with relevant exceptions among the big global players being Emirates, Virgin Atlantic and TPG Awards winners Etihad and Virgin Australia. Several large regional airlines also aren't in; that's the case of Southwest, JetBlue and WestJet in North America, Ryanair and EasyJet in Europe, and Air Asia.

Code-share flights and mutual collections of miles don't happen just between alliance members, though. Often, airlines outside alliances partner up with one another. You can for example transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Emirates' Skywards program, and use the resulting miles to book a flight on JetBlue.

Related: Your guide to airline partners and award charts

So, here's a list of what airlines are in which alliances. You'll notice that each one of the big three U.S. legacy carriers was a founding member of each one, and Oneworld is the only alliance with two U.S. carriers, having welcomed Alaska Airlines on March 31, 2021.

Star Alliance

The first airline alliance was founded on May 14, 1997, when Air Canada, Lufthansa, SAS, Thai Airways and United Airlines came together in a globe-spanning partnership. From its first day, Star served every inhabited continent, in a clear illustration of why alliances exist: You can travel pretty much everywhere on alliance carriers. Wherever you're based, if you are a frequent flyer there's an alliance with a value proposition for you based on the perks of loyalty and seamless connections.

Star has since grown to 26 members, flying 727 million passengers. It's the biggest alliance by most metrics. It's also the only one with at least one full member from every inhabited continent. Members include:

Sign up for our daily newsletter
  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA)
  • Asiana
  • Austrian Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Air
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss Airlines
  • TAP Portugal
  • Thai Airways
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines

Related: Book This, Not That: Star Alliance Award Tickets

Like in the other two alliances, Star members paint one or more of their planes in special alliance colors. It's become a tradition for alliance airlines, and those planes make coveted targets for aviation geeks with cameras, who collect images of as many special-color planes as possible.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 08: An Air China (Star Alliance livery) Airbus A330-243 in runaway at Shanghai Pudong International Airport on September 08 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Yu Chun Christopher Wong/S3studio/Getty Images)
An Air China Airbus A330-200 at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in 2018. (Photo by Yu Chun Christopher Wong/S3studio/Getty Images)

SkyTeam

The newest alliance, founded in 2000 by Aeromexico, Air France, Delta Air Lines and Korean Air, has since grown to be the second largest by airline members and people carried on its planes.

Its 19 members, based on all continents except Australia, fly 630 million passengers a year. Airlines include:

  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolíneas Argentinas
  • Aeromexico
  • AirEuropa
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • Czech Airlines
  • Delta
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • MEA
  • Saudia
  • Tarom
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • XiamenAir

Related: Book This, Not That: SkyTeam Award Tickets

Like in the other alliances, its members paint some planes in alliance colors — but with a silver fuselage.

A Delta 767-400ER in Skyteam livery landing at New York - JFK in 2019 (Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy)

Oneworld

The second alliance to be formed — in 1998, by American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qantas — is the smallest, with 14 carriers and 535 million passengers in 2018.

This year, it grew to 14 members and become the only alliance with two members in the U.S., the biggest aviation market in the world, with the entrance of Alaska. The fifth-largest airline in the country carried nearly 47 million people in 2019, so its addition will represent a significant jump in passenger numbers for the alliance.

Oneworld members include:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar
  • Royal Air Maroc
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan

Related: Book This, Not That: Oneworld Award Flights

Oneworld members also paint some planes in alliance colors, but unlike Star and SkyTeam, there's no alliance logo on the tail.

A Malaysian Airline System Bhd. (MAS) Airbus A330-300 aircraft stands on the tarmac at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang, Malaysia, on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013. Malaysia Airlines joins the Oneworld airline alliance tomorrow. Photographer: Goh Seng Chong/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A Malaysia Airlines Airbus A330-300 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in 2013, when the airline joined the alliance (Photo by Goh Seng Chong/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

(Featured image of a Lufthansa Airbus A340 by JOKER/Hady Khandani/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Featured image by ullstein bild via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 10X points
10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 bonus points
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

$550

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more