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An airline elite status program offers plenty of perks when you travel with its airline. But how about when you're flying on partner airlines? To continue to reward frequent flyers when traveling around the globe, airlines banded together to form alliances starting in the late 1990s.
International travelers have three major alliances to choose from: Oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam. The best alliance for most travelers depends on which domestic U.S. airline you prefer. However, if you often fly overseas, you might consider picking your airline based on which alliance offers the best perks for your travel needs.
American Airlines was one of the five founding members of the Oneworld alliance — an alliance that Alaska Airlines has since joined. Whether you're already an American or Alaska elite member or you're debating which alliance to choose, here are five pros and three cons of the Oneworld alliance.
Pros of the Oneworld alliance
1. Three tiers of status mean excellent perks for top-tier Emerald elites
The Oneworld alliance offers three tiers of elite status: Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald. That sets Oneworld apart from both the SkyTeam alliance and Star Alliance, which each only offer two tiers of elite status.
If you're a high-level elite, this third tier of status makes a huge difference. Top-tier Emerald elites get access to first class lounges, first class check-in counters and fast track at airport security.
2. Entry-level Ruby elite status still offers decent benefits
The lowest tier of Oneworld elite status is called Ruby, and it comes with a handful of useful benefits. Ruby members can utilize the business class priority check-in desk when flying any Oneworld airline — a perk that can save a lot of time. Plus, you'll get free access to preferred seats and priority when on waitlists and or on standby.
The lowest tier of Star Alliance, on the other hand, doesn’t come with as many benefits. Star Alliance Silver members will only get priority for reservations waitlist and airport standby — two perks that aren’t as frequently used.
3. Oneworld elite status is relatively easy to earn
With Alaska Airlines joining Oneworld in March 2021, travelers now have two U.S.-based airlines to choose from to earn Oneworld elite status: Alaska and American Airlines.
When you earn American Airlines AAdvantage Gold status or Alaska Mileage Plan MVP status, you also receive Oneworld Ruby status. You only need 20,000 elite qualifying miles, including two qualifying flight segments on Alaska, to earn Alaska Mileage Plan MVP. Or you need 30,000 American Loyalty Points to earn American AAdvantage Gold. Then, you can start utilizing basic Oneworld elite perks as a Ruby member.
For top-tier Oneworld Emerald elite status, you don't even need to get top-tier elite status on Alaska or American. Both Mileage Plan MVP Gold 75K and AAdvantage Platinum Pro offer Emerald elite status. These elite status levels require:
75,000 elite qualifying miles, including 12 qualifying segments on Alaska, for Alaska MVP Gold 75K status.
125,000 Loyalty Points for American Platinum Pro status.
» Learn more: The best airline loyalty programs this year
4. Buy your way to Oneworld elite status
Perhaps the easiest way to get Oneworld elite status is to simply buy it — either through spending on AAdvantage credit cards or buying miles from Finnair.
With the introduction of American Airlines’ Loyalty Points, you can now spend your way to Oneworld elite status. You'll earn 1 Loyalty Point for every eligible AAdvantage mile, with no cap on how many points you can earn. With most AAdvantage credit cards, you can earn 1 base mile for every dollar spent, and every base mile is eligible for 1 Loyalty Point. That means you can spend your way to elite status without taking a single flight.
Oneworld partner Finnair has periodically offered a buy miles promotion that includes elite status credits. When this was offered in December 2021, you could pay $1,085 to buy 120,000 redeemable Finnair points and enough tier points for Finnair Plus Silver (which gives you Oneworld Ruby). To get Oneworld Sapphire, it costed $2,315 to buy 320,000 points and the tier points needed for Finnair Plus Gold.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now
Access to Oneworld lounges
One of the best perks of Oneworld elite status is lounge access. Mid-tier Oneworld Sapphire elites get access to Oneworld business class lounges while top-tier Oneworld Emerald elites can access either business or first class lounges where available. Access is granted regardless of which cabin you're flying.
In the U.S., Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald elites get access to American Airlines' incredible Flagship Lounges — which are classified as business class lounges. Emerald elites can also visit incredible lounges like Qantas' First Class lounge in Los Angeles and British Airways lounges in New York-JFK.
Keep in mind that there are some restrictions on lounge access. For example, American AAdvantage and Alaska Mileage Plan elites don't get Oneworld member airline lounge access when flying on solely domestic or short-haul international flights (some exceptions apply.) However, elites of other Oneworld airlines may still get access on these flights.
These restrictions don't apply overseas. For example, even if you're flying economy on a short-haul flight from Hong Kong, Oneworld Emerald elites can access Cathay Pacific business and first class lounges. These lounges include your own private cabana with luxury amenities.
Cons of the Oneworld alliance
1. No South American partners
One of the biggest cons of the Oneworld alliance is the lack of South American partners. While several Oneworld airlines serve major destinations like Sao Paulo, Santiago and Lima, flying to smaller South American destinations simply isn't possible on a Oneworld airline.
Oneworld previously had a South American partner: LATAM. However, LATAM exited the Oneworld alliance effective May 2020, shortly after Delta acquired an ownership stake in the airline.
The good news is that LATAM maintained partnerships with many Oneworld airlines — such as Alaska, British Airways, Iberia, Japan Airlines and more. However, American Airlines flyers will need to rely on the airline's non-alliance partnership with GOL to get around South America.
» Learn more: The basics of airline partnerships
2. Lack of guaranteed free checked bags on British Airways
One of the perks of Oneworld Sapphire or Emerald elite status is guaranteed checked baggage allowance, except on one airline. Oneworld lets British Airways opt-out of providing this perk on its "Hand Baggage Only" fares — which is British's version of basic economy.
British Airways charges up to $75 each way for Hand Baggage Only passengers to check one bag on transatlantic flights. So, booking British Airways Hand Baggage Only fares and assuming that your Oneworld luggage benefits apply can be a costly mistake.
3. No guaranteed mileage earnings on all airlines
As part of the Oneworld alliance, you can redeem miles from any Oneworld loyalty program for flights on another Oneworld airline. However, the same assurance isn't given for earning miles. That means you aren't guaranteed to earn miles in your chosen loyalty program when flying another Oneworld airline. Instead, the mileage credit comes down to the partnership between the two airlines.
For example, American Airlines AAdvantage elites get great perks when flying Cathay Pacific — even when booking economy. However, many Cathay Pacific economy fares earn zero AAdvantage miles and zero Loyalty Points, no matter how far you fly.
Oneworld alliance vs. Star Alliance
Star Alliance has nearly double the number of member airlines (27) as Oneworld (14). That means you can enjoy perks on a lot more airlines to even more destinations (over 1,300) than Oneworld (around 1,000).
With that said, Oneworld offers double the number of U.S.-based airlines. When flying within the U.S., Star Alliance members must fly United to enjoy Star Alliance perks. But Oneworld members can enjoy perks on either American or Alaska.
Also, as previously mentioned, Star Alliance only offers two tiers of elite status vs. Oneworld's three tiers of elite status. Top-tier Star Alliance Gold doesn't give you access to certain first-class lounges of other Star Alliance airlines — even if you're an invitation-only United Global Services elite.
While, one Oneworld airline — British Airways — opts out of providing elite baggage perks on basic economy fares, Star Alliance is much worse in this regard. Star Alliance Gold elites aren't guaranteed free checked bags on certain fares offered by Lufthansa, Austrian, SWISS, Brussels Airlines, SAS and Air New Zealand.
Oneworld alliance vs. Star Alliance key stats
U.S. airline members
American and Alaska.
Number of member airlines
Around 1,000 destinations in 170 territories.
Over 1,300 destinations in 195 countries.
Elite status tiers
Three: Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald.
Two: Silver and Gold.
Number of lounges
Continents with a member airline
If you're considering being loyal to the Oneworld alliance…
You can earn and enjoy Oneworld elite status when flying some of the best airlines in the world: American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Qantas.
Even entry-level Ruby elites enjoy solid perks while top-tier Emerald members can enjoy first class check-in and first class lounges — even when flying in economy. Many of Oneworld's lounges are considered some of the best in the world.
However, Oneworld does have some noticeable gaps. The lack of South American partners means limited connectivity in the region. Plus, Oneworld's 14 members makes it the smallest airline alliance.
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