Star Alliance Adds a New Connecting Partner for Flights in Asia
The Star Alliance is getting a new member. Well, sort of. The global airline alliance has announced its adding Thai Smile Airways as a Star Alliance Connecting Partner.
Star Alliance is one of the world's largest alliances, and its full members include airlines like United, Lufthansa, TAP Portugal, Avianca and South African Airways. Thai Smile is the second Star Alliance Connecting Partner. Chinese carrier Juneyao Airlines was added as the first Connecting Partner in 2017.
Star Alliance Connecting Partners operate differently than a normal full-on, Star Alliance partner. Whereas a full member airline must have "commercial relationships" with all other members, a connecting partner only needs to have relationships with a minimum of three airlines.
Still, flyers on connecting Star Alliance itineraries will enjoy standard benefits such as passenger and baggage through check-in. Those with Star Alliance Gold Status will be able to enjoy Thai Smile elite benefits, like priority check-in, Thai Smile lounge access and priority baggage delivery — when flying on an itinerary that includes a connection to a full Star Alliance member. It's unclear if you'll be able to earn and redeem miles of Star Alliance airline on Thai Smile flights, but you can already do that on Juneyao Airlines, so it's likely it will be the same for Thai Smile.
So why add Thai Smile, an airline with just a small fleet of 20 Airbus A320s, to the Star Alliance? The group says that Connecting Partners help "close network gaps that may exist" on a regional basis. Once Thai Smiles is fully incorporated, it will add 11 new destinations to the Star Alliance network, which already comprises more than 1,300 airports in 194 countries.
Thai Smile is a fully owned subsidiary of the larger Thai Airways, also a Star Alliance member but with a much more extensive route network and fleet. Thai Smile has been branded as a low-cost carrier and serves domestic Thai destinations as well as international destinations like Myanmar, China, India, Taiwan and Hong Kong out of its main hub in Bangkok.
It will take a while before the airline is integrated into the Star Alliance system as the airline is just now starting to implement the "technology and commercial links" to begin serving Star Alliance connecting passengers in 2020.
The Oneworld alliance announced a similar partnership with Fiji Airways in 2018, with the airline joining as a Oneworld Connect member.