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What Are Airline Alliances and Who's Involved in Them?

Star Alliance

If you do a lot of traveling, you might have heard of something called airline alliances. On the other hand, you're not nearly as likely to be familiar with this term if you don't fly often. Or, if you don't use any type of rewards in order to book flights. That begs the question, what are airline alliances? More importantly, what purpose do they serve in the grand scheme of things? Not surprisingly, understanding these alliances can end up saving you a lot of money. Furthermore, not understanding how they work can cost you a great deal of money. If you do a lot of traveling, it's high time you understood what airline alliances are.

What Are Airline Alliances?

It probably won't surprise you to learn that a lot of airlines create certain partnerships with other airlines. This is a means of both increasing business and boosting their bottom line. The reason why they do this is simple. It's all about business. Every entity that is in business for a profit is constantly looking for ways to make more money. At some point, airline alliances became an important way to sort of band together.

In doing so, they boosted their own bottom line and strengthened their business. The thing is, those partnerships can end up benefiting you as well when you travel a lot. If you figure out who is in partnership with whom, you then use all of that to your advantage. You'll spend less on connecting flights, even if you're not using a major airline such as American or Delta. Why is that the case? It comes down to the fact that smaller airlines have partnered with the bigger, more well-known air carriers. This is something that you might miss if you don't know who is actually doing business together.

The Three Major Alliances

Currently, there are three major airline alliances that you need to be aware of. They are SkyTeam, Oneworld and Star Alliance. Without a doubt, Star Alliance is the one that is the most well-known. It's also the oldest airline alliance, having been formed in 1997. At the moment, the thing that makes it the most valuable to you as a traveler is that it's the only airline alliance that involves carriers with destinations on every continent. In addition, there are a number of major air carriers that are part of this particular alliance. In fact, you'll notice well-known air carriers from most places around the world that participate in this particular partnership. They include Air Canada, Lufthansa, Air China, Air New Zealand and SWISS, just to name a few.

There are More

That being said, there are also some that you might expect to find here that are surprisingly absent from this particular partnership, including British Airways. The bottom line is that you have roughly 26 airlines that are involved in this particular partnership. What does that mean for you? It means that you can fly to virtually any destination in Europe or otherwise through a partnership with one of these airlines. The reason this matters from your perspective is that by understanding how the alliances work, you could potentially use points and rewards that you have on various credit card programs to fly for roughly one-third the amount that you would otherwise pay if you don't use an airline alliance.

That is precisely why so many people have decided to start paying attention to how these types of partnerships work. It not only provides an opportunity to reach more destinations around the world, but It ultimately gives you the chance to do so while spending far fewer points, often as little as one third of what it would otherwise cost. That means that you have the opportunity to travel three times as much as you would otherwise without spending any extra money. At a time when everything is getting more expensive and paychecks are largely staying the same, this factor becomes more important than it's ever been in the past.

SkyTeam Alliance

Despite the fact that Star Alliance is both the oldest and the largest partnership of its type, there are situations where it may not work as well. If you find yourself in that particular situation, you might decide to go with this particular partnership, SkyTeam Alliance. They were formed as recently as 2000, but they have become the second largest airline alliance in the world with 19 current partners. The good thing about them is that their partners are positioned in various areas around the globe and that makes it easy to find a participating airline regardless of where you want to go. Korean Air is a member of this particular alliance, as is KLM and Delta, among many others.

Oneworld Alliance

This particular alliance was formed in 1999, but it remains the smallest of the three major airline alliances. Despite that fact, it also includes some of the most well-known airlines around the world. Among its 14 partner members are American Airlines, British Airways and Cathay Pacific. The good thing here is that you have a lot of well-known, well-established airlines that are part of this particular group and they have destinations that originate and travel to places all over the world. Therefore, you shouldn't have a difficult time finding the opportunity to travel using this particular alliance, despite the fact that it has fewer members than both of the others.

Demystifying Airline Alliances

How exactly does the knowledge of the existence of such partnerships help you when you're traveling? It's important because it saves you money, as previously mentioned. However, that's not the only reason that you need to know about airline alliances. They exist for a very simple reason. Air carriers find it easier to partner with each other so they can share routes and resources between each other, something that makes it cheaper for them to operate on a daily basis.

That in turn translates to savings for you, the customer. The truly great thing about them is that they often piggyback off of one another when it comes to certain rewards programs. Therefore, if you have a credit card that uses American Airlines rewards, you can use these alliances to get flights all over the world with other airlines besides American for a fraction of the price. All you have to do is go back to the alliance that American is part of and look at the other airlines that have partnered with them in that particular alliance.

From there, you can often find that you might be able to use your American Airlines rewards programs to fly on British Airways for roughly one-third the cost, especially if you're talking about a connecting flight that American Airlines does not travel to on a direct route. In short, you might be able to get that direct route that you want so badly for less money as opposed to paying extra to end up getting a flight that has two or even three connections involved, something that increases both the time it takes to reach your destination and the stress involved with traveling there in the first place.

Can You Save Points by Using an Airline Alliance?

In short, the answer is a resounding yes. The key is learning which airlines are partnered with the particular program that you get points from and then finding out how you can benefit by using those partners to book flights at a cheaper rate. You might even be able to book a flight from one of the major air carriers, such as American Airlines and then end up actually flying on a different airline that partners with that particular alliance. It may sound confusing at first, but the truth of the matter is that it opens up a whole world of travel opportunities to you, giving you more options as far as where you want to go than what might be available with a single air carrier.

Think about it this way. Say you want to fly from Dallas, Texas to London, yet you're not able to book that flight on American Airlines for one reason or another. In a purely hypothetical scenario, let's say that they don't operate a direct route between those two destinations. Therefore, flying on that particular airline would require you to have some type of connecting flight, most likely one that would involve you flying from Dallas, to New York City and then jumping on a second airplane that goes from New York to London. This adds time to your travel and if you don't use an airline alliance, it can make the whole process more expensive depending on the particular situation that exists with regard to that particular flight.

Moving Past the Issues

Even if you can get past those two issues, it certainly doesn't help your stress levels because trying to get into one airport on time just so you can jump on a connecting flight is stressful in itself. How many times have you heard of someone being stranded at an airport for days because of something like this? The short answer is that if you have to travel, it's best to take a direct route if possible. In our imaginary scenario where American Airlines doesn't have a direct route between these two destinations, you might be able to find that route through British Airways, still using your American Airlines Rewards program. In fact, you just might be able to do it and save money in the process.

Is There a Downside?

Just like virtually everything else, there is indeed a downside to these alliances. They seem great, but the very fact that they exist means that there is less competition between airlines. Air carriers are now partnering with one another. This is opposed to competing with each other. This translates to fares that are potentially more expensive. It's a genius concept on the part of the airlines themselves. However, some people would argue that it doesn't always benefit the consumer. The other downside to these particular alliances is that you have to genuinely understand the points game.

Otherwise, it's highly likely that you're going to end up spending most of your miles on something that you could have gotten cheaper elsewhere. The truth of the matter is that not everyone wants to spend all of their waking hours trying to become a points guru in order to understand all the intricacies of how to get the most miles for the least amount of money. It can be frustrating. There was a time when booking a flight was as simple as calling an airline and booking a flight to a particular destination. These days it's all become much more complicated and it can be annoying, to say the least.

In Conclusion

It's important that you know about these alliances because it makes you a more educated consumer. That's never a bad thing. As long as you understand that you might be paying more money, that's completely fine. Knowing that these alliances exist gives you a little more control.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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