Which Airline Alliance Should I Join?

Airline Alliance LogosMost travelers don’t consider the importance of an airline alliance when choosing their frequent flier program; many do not even know what an airline alliance is. However, factoring in the members of an alliance can be crucial, especially if you plan on traveling to many different places over the course of the year. Airline alliances took their latest form in the late 90’s, underscoring the shift in the airline industry towards mergers and consolidation. Airlines typically align themselves with an alliance to bolster their company by lowering costs by sharing of resources with partner airlines, increasing international connectivity for passengers, and improving the network of rewards for their customers.

An airline member of an alliance offers many perks to its customers. The most important of these is the fact most of the time a passenger can earn frequent flier program credit on their primary program, while flying on an alliance partner airline. I fly Delta most often, and I am a member of the Skymiles program. I booked a trip to the Netherlands in February, and will be flying on KLM airlines. Though flying KLM, I will earn mileage towards my Skymiles program, as they are partner airlines in the alliance. Also, if you are an elite member of a specific program, your benefits and perks may carry over to a partner airline in the alliance, like priority boarding, class upgrades, access to partner airlines’ airport lounges, etc. Sometimes, two airlines that are not members of the same alliance will codeshare a flight, in which case you could still earn mileage in either of the codeshare partners’ programs. However, finding a frequent flier program that has the backing of strong airlines in the alliance behind it is just as important as the primary program.

Considering which frequent flier program to choose from can be quite challenging. The “Big 3” alliances all have impressive and well-renowned carriers as members. Star Alliance, at first glance, looks like it should be the primary choice, as it has more airlines than the other two alliances combined, which leads to more airports served and in more countries. However, it goes deeper than just that. Each alliance has pros and cons. Looking at the alliances and deciding where on earth you will mostly be going is another big factor. For example, the second chart below shows that SkyTeam serves the most domestic North American flights, at 28%. SkyTeam also has the most flights from North America to Europe, at 34%. However, Star Alliance dominates routes between North America and Asia, having 41%; Likewise, oneworld dominates the routes between South America and North America, at 40%. Other factors to consider would be member airline quality, ease of reward redemption, and Round the World(RTW) ticket pricing.

Check out these charts below to help determine which alliance suits your long-term goals and interests best (updated 6/2014):

Star AllianceSkyTeamoneworld
(JP) Adria Airways(SU) Aeroflot(AB) Air Berlin
(A3) Aegean Airlines(AR) Aerolineas Argentina(AA) American Airlines
(AC) Air Canada(AM) Aeroméxico(BA) British Airways
(CA) Air China(UX) Air Europa(CX) Cathay Pacific
(AI) Air India(AF) Air France(AY) Finnair
(NZ) Air New Zealand(AZ) Alitalia(IB) Iberia
(NH) ANA(Cl) China Airlines(JL) Japan Airlines
(OZ) Asiana Airlines(MU) China Eastern(LA) LAN
(OS) Austrian Airlines(CZ) China Southern(MH) Malaysia Airlines
(AV) Avianca(OK) Czech Airlines(QF) Qantas
(SN) Brussels Airlines(DL) Delta Air Lines(QR) Qatar Airways
(CM) Copa Airlines(GA) Garuda Indonesia(RJ) Royal Jordanian
(OU) Croatia Airlines(KQ) Kenya Airways(UL) SriLankan Airlines
(MS) EgyptAir(KL) KLM(S7) S7 Airlines
(ET) Ethiopian Airlines(KE) Korean Air(JJ) TAM Airlines
(BR) EVA Air(ME) Middle East Airlines(KA) Dragonair (sub. Cathay)
(LO) LOT Polish Airlines(SV) Saudi Arabian Airlines
(LH) Lufthansa(RO) TAROM
(SK) SAS(VN) Vietnam Airlines
(ZH) Shenzhen Airlines(MF) Xiamen Airlines
(SQ) Singapore Airlines
(SA) South African Airways
(LX) Swiss International Airlines
(TP) TAP Portugal
(TG) Thai Airways International
(TK) Turkish Airlines
(UA) United Airlines
Former MembersFormer MembersFormer Members
(AN) Ansett Airlines (defunct)(CO) Continental Airlines (now UA)(EI) Aer Lingus
(KF) Blue1(CM) Copa Airlines(CP) Canadian Airlines
(BD) BMI(NW) Northwest(IT) Kingfisher Airlines
(CO) Continental Airlines (now UA)(MX) Mexicana (defunct)
(MX) Mexicana (defunct)(MA) Malév
(RG) Varig
(FM) Shanghai Airlines
(JK) Spanair
(US) US Airways (now AA)
(JJ) TAM Airlines
Data Star Alliance SkyTeam oneworld All Others
Within N. America 23% 28% 15% 34%
Within S. America 1% 2% 14% 83%
Within Europe 20% 16% 11% 53%
Within Middle East 2% 0% 3% 95%
Within Africa 23% 10% 4% 63%
Within Asia 35% 11% 9% 45%
Within Oceania 11% 0% 32% 57%
Between NA & EU 27% 34% 21% 18%
Between NA & SA 9% 29% 40% 22%
Between EU & SA 20% 28% 22% 30%
Between NA & Asia 41% 29% 10% 20%
Between EU & Asia 36% 22% 19% 23%
Best of 2011 1st Place 3rd Place 2nd Place
5 * Airline Members  2  (OZ,SQ)  0  3  (CX,IT,MH)
4 * Airline Members 10 5 5
3 * Airline Members 21 14 7
Data as of 6/2011
Airports Served 1172 916 870
Countries Served 181 169 146
Daily Flights 21200+ 14000+ 9300+
Combined Fleet Sz. 4023 3400 2400+
Market Share 29.30% 24.60% 23.20%
Annual Passengers 603.8M 474M 335M
Lounges 970 465 400