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Airline alliances often affect you, even if you never give them a second thought. An alliance between American Airlines and British Airways, for example, may provide a flight from Newark to London on an American-operated plane — but your return flight on the same ticket may be on a British Airways-operated aircraft.
The first alliance was developed in 1997 by five airlines looking to expand their route network. The concept was a success and additional alliances were formed. By 2000, the three major U.S. airlines (Delta, United and American) were divided into the three separate alliances. Here, we explain the alliances and how they benefit passengers.
Which airlines are members of an Alliance?
There are three major airline alliances that combine international carriers in a partnership to connect passengers to more destinations. Each alliance has a different number of member airlines.
The first of the airline alliances created was formed in 1997. Star Alliance now has 26 members traveling to more than 1,250 destinations.
» Learn more: Star Alliance guide
Created in 2000, the SkyTeam alliance serves 1,150 destinations in 175 countries through its 19 member airlines.
Launched in 1999, Oneworld has 13 member airlines flying to more than 1,100 destinations worldwide.
» Learn more: Your Guide to the Oneworld Alliance
How do alliances work for miles and rewards?
While alliances do not operate a collective loyalty program, members do usually offer the ability to redeem miles from one alliance airline's loyalty program for flights with another airline within the same alliance. For example, Air France/KLM Flying Blue miles can be redeemed for Delta flights.
To redeem miles, sign in to your airline frequent flyer program and book a flight on a member airline. For example, travel between Newark and London can be booked through United MileagePlus on a United flight, a Swiss International Airlines flight or Brussels Airlines.
What additional benefits do I receive through the alliance?
As your frequent flyer membership comes with rewards, so do Alliance memberships.
If you earn elite status on a member airline, you also earn status through Star Alliance, though the level achieved varies by airline. For example, earning United MileagePlus Premier status gets you Star Alliance Gold status.
Elite Star Alliance benefits include priority waitlisting and standby. Gold status members also receive priority check-in, boarding, priority baggage delivery, extra luggage allowances and lounge access around the world.
» Learn more: 5 things Star Alliance is doing right
SkyPriority is given to those who achieve SkyTeam Elite or Elite Plus membership through their member airline’s frequent flyer program. SkyPriority provides various benefits depending on status.
Priority reservation waitlists.
Extra baggage allowance.
SkyTeam Elite Plus
SkyTeam Elite Plus members receive all of the above benefits, plus:
Guaranteed full-fare Y-class reservation on sold-out long-haul flights, at least 24 hours prior to departure.
Worldwide airport lounge access regardless of travel class for Elite Plus members and one companion.
Priority baggage handling.
» Learn more: The pros and cons of SkyTeam
Achieving Oneworld status provides various benefits, depending on the status level:
Preferred or pre-reserved seating.
Priority on standby and waitlists.
Sapphire members receive the above-mentioned benefits, in addition to the following:
Extra baggage allowance.
Priority baggage handling.
Business class lounge access,
Oneworld Emerald members receive all of the above benefits, plus:
First class priority check-in.
Are there credit cards that partner with airline alliances?
Credit cards do not work directly with Star Alliance, SkyTeam or Oneworld. But you can accrue more miles through credit cards using partnerships with the carriers that are members of these alliances.
Several Star Alliance members have co-branded credit cards that earn miles, which can be redeemed for flights on Star Alliance carrier flights. One good card for frequent Star Alliance travelers is the United℠ Explorer Card. Cardholders receive 2 miles per $1 spent with United and on restaurants and hotel stays, along with 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.
Here's this card's current welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Members also receive two United Club passes, a free first checked bag, up to $100 TSA PreCheck, NEXUS or Global Entry fee credit and complimentary DashPass membership for one year.
For SkyTeam members, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card is a good option. Cardholders earn 2 miles per $1 spent on Delta and also earn 1 mile on every eligible dollar spent on other purchases. Terms apply.
The card offers a pretty nice welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles after spending $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.
Additional benefits include free checked bags, priority boarding, 20% off in-flight purchases and a $100 Delta flight credit after making $10,000 in purchases per calendar year. Terms apply.
American Airlines and British Airways are both members of Oneworld and offer multiple credit card options. Take advantage by using the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® or the British Airways Visa Signature® Card.
» Learn more: Citi AAdvantage Executive review: Your key to the club
The AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® earns 2 miles per $1 spent on American Airlines purchases and 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else. Cardholders receive 25% in-flight savings, up to $25 back on in-flight Wi-Fi purchases, preferred boarding and a free first checked bag. The welcome bonus is as follows: Earn 60,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in full, both within the first 90 days.
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® earns 4 miles per $1 spent on American Airlines purchases, as well as Admirals Club membership and various credits for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fees, Grubhub, and rental cars from Avis or Budget.
British Airways Visa Signature® Cardholders earn miles quickly on this card. Earn 75,000 Avios after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Cardholders will earn 3 Avios per $1 spent on purchases with British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia and LEVEL. They'll also earn 2 Avios per $1 spent on hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel. Plus, they'll earn 1 Avios per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Spend $30,000 in a year and you will receive a Travel Together Ticket, which can be used to book airfare for a companion for just the cost of taxes and fees.
The bottom line
Airline alliances help passengers by giving them options to get fares down and earn miles flying different carriers, even if not a loyalty member.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card