Interesting facts
about airline alliance

  • The first major airline alliance, Star Alliance, was founded in 1997 by five airlines: United Airlines, Air Canada, Thai Airways, Lufthansa, and Scandinavian Airlines.
  • The three largest airline alliances (Star Alliance, SkyTeam, and Oneworld) account for more than 60% of global airline capacity.
  • The Oneworld alliance has more than 650 airport lounges worldwide.
  • Many airline alliances offer round-the-world tickets, allowing passengers to travel to multiple destinations on a single ticket using the member airlines’ combined networks. These tickets typically result in significant savings for travelers.
  • Airlines within the same alliance often have differing levels of elite status. For example, within the Star Alliance, Lufthansa’s top-tier elite members have access to a separate first class lounge, while United’s top-tier elites do not.
  • Due to the ongoing international sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, Aeroflot was suspended from the SkyTeam alliance. Similarly, Russia’s S7 Airlines faced suspension from the Oneworld alliance in April 2022.

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Types of airline alliances

There are three major types of airline alliances:

  • Global alliances: partnerships between airlines that operate across multiple regions - these are well-known global airline alliances such as Star Alliance, Oneworld, and SkyTeam.
  • Regional alliances: limited to specific geographical areas, for example African Airlines Association (AFRAA) and Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA).
  • Bilateral agreements: partnerships between two airlines that enable codesharing and other commercial activities. Bilateral agreements are common between airlines in the same country, such as American Airlines and Delta Air Lines.

Top airline alliances and their member airlines

The largest airline alliances in terms of members and coverage are Star Alliance, Oneworld, and SkyTeam.

  • Star Alliance, established in 1997, has 26 member airlines, including Air Canada, Air China, ANA, EVA Air, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines and United Airlines (see full list).
  • Oneworld, founded in 1999, has 15 member airlines, including American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Qantas, and Qatar Airways (see full list).
  • SkyTeam, established in 2000, has 19 member airlines, including Air France, Delta Air Lines, Garuda Indonesia, KLM, Korean Air, and Virgin Atlantic (see full list).

Which is the largest airline alliance?

Star Alliance is currently the largest airline alliance in terms of members and coverage.

Star Alliance has 26 member airlines, covers over 1,300 destinations in 195 countries, and offers more than 19,000 daily flights. That makes it the most extensive airline alliance in the world.

Which is the best airline alliance?

Each of the three major airline alliances (Star Alliance, Oneworld, SkyTeam) has its own strengths and unique features - so choosing the right airline alliance mostly depends on what kind of travel you usually do.

If you travel frequently within Europe, the SkyTeam alliance may be the best choice for you. If your travels often take you between North America and Asia, the Star Alliance might be more suitable. On the other hand, Oneworld is known for having a well-rounded membership of high-quality airlines, including premium carriers like British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas.

Choose the alliance that aligns with your travel plans, so you can earn and redeem miles even if you fly on a different member airline.

What are the benefits for airlines?

Airline alliances help airlines reduce costs by sharing resources, such as ground handling services, maintenance facilities, and crew training programs. Code-sharing agreements enable airlines to sell tickets on each other's flights, which can help increase revenue and expand their route network without adding additional flights.

Member airlines in an alliance may collaborate on joint marketing campaigns, promoting their services and destinations together to raise brand awareness and attract more customers.

Moreover, alliances enable smaller airlines to compete with larger carriers by extending their network reach and offering passengers access to more destinations.

What are the benefits for passengers?

Alliances enable passengers to access a broader network of destinations, as the combined routes of member airlines cover more cities and countries. They can offer more flight options and fare combinations, as member airlines often coordinate schedules and pricing. Alliances also facilitate smoother transfers and connections between flights operated by member airlines, making it easier for passengers to plan multi-stop trips.

In case of flight disruptions or cancellations, alliance members often work together to find alternative arrangements, and they can make contacting airline support easier through coordinated customer service.

Those travelers who participate in frequent flyer programs can earn and redeem miles or points across all member airlines within an alliance - this way, they can accumulate rewards more quickly and then use them on a wider range of carriers.

The elite status earned with one member airline is typically recognized across all airlines within the alliance. Passengers can enjoy elite benefits such as lounge access, priority check-in, boarding, and baggage handling - regardless of which member airline they fly.

The impact of alliances on ticket prices and availability

Alliances offer passengers a greater choice of flights and fare combinations, which may increase the likelihood of finding competitive prices. Better coordinated schedules mean shorter layovers and more convenient connections (which potentially reduces the overall cost of the trip).

However, reduced competition and less transparent fares may result in higher ticket prices. In some cases, airlines within an alliance may coordinate pricing strategies, potentially limiting the availability of lower fares. This market dominance can also make it more challenging for non-aligned airlines to compete effectively.

Flight connections and baggage transfers in airline alliances

One of the significant benefits of airline alliances is the ability to offer seamless flight connections and baggage transfers between partner airlines. When passengers are traveling on multiple flights with partner airlines, their baggage can be checked through to their final destination, eliminating the need for baggage claim and recheck.

Additionally, airlines in alliances can coordinate their schedules and offer more convenient connection times for passengers. For example, if a passenger's inbound flight is delayed, the partner airline can hold their connecting flight or rebook them on the next available flight.

Earning and redeeming frequent flyer miles with airline alliances

Airline alliances offer significant benefits for frequent flyers, including the ability to earn and redeem miles across partner airlines. This means that passengers can earn miles on one airline and use them to book flights on another airline in the alliance.

Elite status within an alliance also offers additional benefits, such as lounge access, priority check-in, and baggage handling. As elite status is often recognized across all member airlines, travelers can enjoy these perks regardless of which carrier they fly.

Why some airlines are not part of alliances?

The decision to join an alliance depends on each airline's strategic priorities, financial situation, and market position. Some airlines prefer staying independent or forming different forms of collaboration.

By staying independent or forming smaller partnerships, airlines can retain greater control over their operations, routes, pricing, and policies - without having to align with the requirements of a larger alliance.

Smaller airlines may not be willing or able to incur the costs of alliance membership fees, technology upgrades, and marketing expenses.

Airlines that mainly operate in a specific region or serve primarily domestic routes (e.g., low-cost carriers) may not see the need to join a global alliance, as their target markets and route networks may not align with the alliance's broader goals.

Among big airlines that are not part of any major global airline alliance are Alaska Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Etihad Airways, and JetBlue Airways.