Best airline alliances for Australian travellers: Which should I join, and what are the benefits?
Which alliance does your preferred airline belong to? And can you name three more airlines that belong to the same alliance? Frequent flyers are often diligent collectors of reward points but not many also take into account the alliance to which that airline belongs.
With just a couple of exceptions, when you join an airline’s frequent flyer program by default you become a member of that airline’s alliance. That alliance effectively puts your frequent flyer points on steroids and it also shapes your travels. Your next reward flight could be a free trip to Mykonos in the Greek Islands, or a bear spotting trip to Vladivostok – but it’s an either/or scenario, depending on which alliance your reward points are banked with.
Although the first airline alliance dates back to the 1930s it was not until 1997 when Star Alliance was born, followed by oneworld In 1999 and SkyTeam the following year, that the alliances took wing. Most of the world’s major airlines belong to one of the alliances but there are exceptions. Budget airlines tend to stay out. Ryanair, which caries more international passengers than any other airline, EasyJet, Air Asia, and JetBlue are just a few of the airlines that go it alone. However 2016 has seen the birth of the Value Alliance, with budget carriers Scoot and TigerAir Australia signed up. There are also some surprising non-members among the world’s major airlines, including all with “Virgin” in their name, Emirates and Etihad.
Airline alliances offer several wins for flyers. Frequent flyer points accrued with one airline can be used to buy seats or upgrades within the alliance, which gives you a far greater choice of destinations when you want to spend your loyalty points. However it does sometimes happen that an airline might block or restrict reward bookings made using frequent flyer points accrued on an alliance partner airline’s account.
The perks that an airline grants to elite members of its loyalty scheme, such as lounge access, priority luggage, preferential boarding and upgrades, will often apply when flying aboard other carriers in the same alliance.
Transfers are optimised. When your itinerary requires a transfer from one airline to another within the same alliance, speedy luggage transfers and pre-issued boarding passes mean pared-down connection times, and quicker journeys.
Lower prices are another benefit, at least in theory. Alliances allow the sharing of resources among members, offering a cost saving that enables them to compete more effectively with sharper deals for travellers.
For the airlines, in addition to lower operating costs, other advantages include expedited booking services, improved international connectivity and added gloss for their frequent flyer reward programs
On the minus side of the equation, competition between alliance partners can be less aggressive than it might be otherwise. Airlines in the same alliance tend not to compete on some routes, reducing services to dovetail with demand. This can also lead to higher prices if just one airline within an alliance becomes the anointed carrier on a particular route.
For travellers, it makes sense to commit to one alliance and patronise the airlines within that alliance exclusively. There are now six airline alliances but for flyers looking to build credit oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam are the three that matter.
Star Alliance is the gorilla, with 27 members, followed by SkyTeam with 20 and oneworld’s 15. Leading members of SkyTeam include Aeroflot, Aerolineas Argentinas, Air France, Alitalia, several major Chinese airlines, Garuda, KLM, Korean Air and Delta. While these are major players serving cities around the globe, except for Garuda and the Chinese airlines there are no airlines within SkyTeam with a strong presence in Australia. For most Australian travellers the convenience, global reach and the frequency of services into and out of Australia make either oneworld or Star Alliance the logical choice.
See also: World’s best airline for 2015 named
Which alliance is right for you depends on your travel patterns. Which airlines do you fly most frequently, and where do you want to travel when you spend your frequent flyer points?
Star Alliance offers the networks of leading operators such as Singapore Airlines, Swiss International, Air New Zealand, Lufthansa, Air Canada, United and Thai Airways, which gives extensive coverage throughout Asia, Europe and North America.
Oneworld took gold for Best Airline Alliance at the 2015 Skytrax Best Airline Awards, a position it held for the previous three years. Oneworld is slightly more generous in the benefits it offers to elite-tier travellers although there are fewer lounges within oneworld, around 650 as opposed to Star Alliance’s 1,000-plus. However oneworld’s airline membership is going to be a better fit for most Australians. With Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Qatar, Japan Airlines, LATAM, British Airways and American Airlines on the books, oneworld’s coverage includes Europe, Asia, North and South America and Australia. The opportunity to accrue and spend points makes this the alliance of choice for most Aussie travellers.