Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Choose Your Alliance!

"Airline Alliance" that is. This was one of the most important things I learned that really changed everything for me and it is what makes some of the most valuable kinds of award travel possible. 

What is an airline alliance?
Most airlines have formed partnerships with each other that allow you to both earn and redeem points on airlines within the same alliance. For the most part, each alliance has enough partners to cover just about every destination around the world. 

What does this mean for earning? 
It means that you can effectively choose just two or three programs to accumulate points in, instead of trying to keep track of programs for every airline you fly on. Instead of having 10 accounts with 5000 miles each in them, you could end up with 2 accounts with 25,000 miles each. This also means, you do not need to tie your self down to a single airline when you fly because you are worried about leaving points on the table. 

What does this mean for redeeming?
It opens up a world of possibilities. You can redeem United points to fly ANA to Japan, Delta Skymiles to fly Air France to Paris, American AAdvantage points to fly Qantas to Australia. If you have enough miles with any airline, there is almost always a way to get wherever you want to go. 

Who are the Alliances? 
Alliances change often, but here is a rundown of a major alliance. Check out who you might be able to fly on with your miles.
 (As of 2013)

Oneworld Alliance - Air Berlin, American Airlines, Britsh Airways, Cathay Pacific, FinnAir, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, and S7 Airlines.

Star Alliance - Adria Air, Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EYGPTAIR, Ethiopian Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandanavian Airlines, Shenzen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Swiss, TAM, TAP, THAI, Turkish Airlines, United, and US Airways.

Skyteam Alliance - Aeroflot, Aerolineas Argent, Aeromexico, Air Europa, Air France, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Delta, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, Middle East Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, Xiamen Air, and a few other smaller airlines.
Outliers - not all airlines play by the same rules. There are a number of airlines that have various partnerships with other airlines, but don't belong to an alliance. Alaska Airlines for example, partners with both American (Oneworld) and Delta (Skyteam), along with a handful of other airlines. Emirates and the Virgin group also have similar partnerships. Then you have Southwest/AirTran which is a whole different game. I will go more in depth on each alliance and group at a later date.

Takeaway: You have more options for earning and redeeming miles than you might think. Sign up for at least one frequent flyer program per alliance, and focus your actual traveled miles into as few programs as possible to avoid small balances in random programs. However, no points are too small to leave on the table, 500 points could be worth $20 to you someday, so don't hesitate to pick up free points from surveys, promotions, or shopping portals.

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