Knowing the Basics: Major Airline Alliances
Airline alliances. Ah yes, the secret sauce to air travel, especially in Asia.
Asians particularly care about the cost of air travel that becomes inevitable due to migration and tourism. Next to cost comes value, and with the growing passenger movement the networks born out of airline cooperation has only made alliances indispensible.
Here we tackle the question every starting travel hacker cares about: which airline and alliance do I fly?
The Major Airline Alliances
Every airline has its frequent flyer program where members can earn and redeem miles for flights or various rewards. Beyond picking which airline to fly and earn miles for, you have to know which partnerships the airline has in order to smoothen your travel and gain some benefit.
There are three major international airline networks, and we discuss them in order of size and age. We leave out the benefits of gaining status with alliances for the purposes of this post discussion.
The Star Alliance is the oldest group with the most comprehensive routes all over the world. It is made up of around 30 airline companies with hubs in around 40 countries. It is greatly represented by the Germany-based Lufthansa group in Europe, United in the USA and the Avianca group in Latin America. Thanks to these three alone the Star Alliance has arguably the most extensive coverage all over these three regions.
Asia is not without its own heavyweights, of course, and in fact you will be spoilt for choice.
- Thai Airways of Thailand, founding member
- Singapore Airlines of Singapore
- All Nippon Airways of Japan
- Asiana Airlines of South Korea
- EVA Air of Taiwan
- Air China of China
- Shenzhen Airlines of China
- Air India of India
- Turkish Airlines of Turkey (arguably European)
Just about every corner of Asia is covered by one of the Star Alliance airlines, and they give very good options for transcontinental travel.
Not only do many of these Asian members also offer flights into Europe or the US, the alliance interoperability provides travelers ease of transfer thanks to codesharing agreements. One can fly All Nippon Airways from Singapore to Tokyo, for example, and then proceed to New York on United on a single ticket.
Outside Asia, Star Alliance has a carrier in the USA, one in Oceania, two networks in Latin America, three in Africa and about a dozen in Europe.
SkyTeam may be the youngest of these alliances but it has since grown to be the second largest. It groups together 20 airlines based in 18 countries all over the world. It is renowned for its expansive network in North America thanks to its founders Delta Air Lines and Aeromexico, and in Europe with partners KLM and co-founder Air France.
SkyTeam is home to a number of Asian airlines as well.
- Korean Air of South Korea, founding member
- China Southern Airlines of China
- China Eastern Airlines of China
- Xiamen Airlines of China
- China Airlines of Taiwan
- Vietnam Airlines of Vietnam
- Garuda Indonesia of Indonesia
- Saudia of Saudi Arabia
- Middle East Airlines of Lebanon
SkyTeam has made great effort in improving its network in and based from China, which explains its rather heavy presence in East Asia. Should travelers have business or leisure plans in East Asia, SkyTeam provides great routing around the region.
Asian travelers on long international itineraries do also benefit from European presence via Air France or KLM, and the largest American fleet of Delta. SkyTeam customers can expect to make many transit connections in China and these countries.
SkyTeam has a carrier in the USA, two in Latin America, one in Africa and seven in Europe.
The oneworld network is the second oldest airline alliance with 13 airline companies and hubs in around 20 nations all over the world. It was founded by four companies: American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qantas, each based in different continents.
While not as prominently represented in Asia as the other two alliances, it is still home to three distinct airlines.
- Cathay Pacific of Hong Kong, founding member
- Japan Airlines of Japan
- Malaysia Airlines of Malaysia
- SriLankan Airlines of Sri Lanka
- Qatar Airways of Qatar
- Royal Jordanian of Jordan
By virtue of its hub locations, oneworld may not be ideal for around the central regions of Asia. At the same time, however, they provide desirable connections to other continents. Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific make great travel to the USA with partner American, Malaysia Airlines to Oceania or South America with partners Qantas and LATAM, and Qatar Airways to the Middle East and Africa and to Europe with partner British Airways.
Under the oneworld umbrella there is a carrier in the USA, a group in Latin America, four in Europe and an expansive network in Oceania.
Asian Miler says…
So we go back to our original question: which airline and alliance do I fly?
Here we discuss which airline on which alliance you should join for earning miles and gaining status based solely on actual travel.
First and foremost, consider where you live and hence which alliance airline your country has. Your own home carrier would have the most extensive network to most destinations your fellow nationals usually fly to.
Second, think of where you fly most often, and whether your first option carrier has extensive partnerships with airlines in the same destination country or region. This provides you with more alternatives based on price and flight frequency within the same alliance. If not, at least consider whether there are earning opportunities and travel conveniences on codeshare partners, even if they may not be in the same alliance. Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines are good examples of this, largely due to proximity of their home hubs.
Next you may consider your intercontinental travel options. Headed to Europe? Star Alliance may be your best bet by virtue of their overwhelming presence. Have frequent business trips to Australia? Singapore Airlines or Qantas are viable options. This may be less of an issue for travel to or from the USA as it is home to carriers in all three alliances.
Lastly consider whether the airline provides reasonable (or full) miles based on the distance you travel. Asian carriers still grant miles based on distance traveled, but not all tickets provide you full miles especially on discounted tickets. We digress on this topic for now but will elaborate on this in the future.
So what does Asian Miler think? We summarize our findings below based on these criteria.
Airline Alliance Analysis
|Recommendation||Country of Residence||Notable Partnerships (outside own Alliance)||Notes|
|Star Alliance||Singapore||Malaysian (oneworld)|
|oneworld on Malaysian or Cathay, or
Star Alliance on Singapore
|Malaysia||Garuda, Korean, China Airlines, Xiamen (SkyTeam), Singapore (Star Alliance)|
|Philippine Airlines, or SkyTeam||The Philippines||Garuda, Vietnam, China Airlines, Xiamen (SkyTeam) with Philippine Airlines||no home carrier with membership|
|SkyTeam, Star Alliance||Indonesia||Singapore, All Nippon (Star Alliance)|
|Star Alliance||Thailand||Japan, Malaysian (oneworld)|
|SkyTeam||Vietnam||Cathay, Qantas (oneworld)|
|SkyTeam||Brunei||China Eastern, Garuda (SkyTeam) with Royal Brunei||no home carrier with membership|
|Star Alliance, SkyTeam||Laos||some Asian carriers on Star Alliance/SkyTeam with Lao Airlines||no home carrier with membership|
|SkyTeam||Cambodia||Vietnam (SkyTeam)||no home carrier with membership|
|Star Alliance on EVA, or
SkyTeam on China Airlines
|Taiwan||regional Chinese carriers with EVA,
Japan, Malaysian, Qantas (oneworld) with China Airlines
|oneworld||Hong Kong||Air China, Lufthansa, Air New Zealand (Star Alliance)|
|oneworld||Sri Lanka||Aseana, Singapore (Star Alliance)|
|SkyTeam on Korean, or
Star Alliance on Aseana
|South Korea||American, Japan, LATAM, Malaysian (oneworld) with Korean Air|
|oneworld on Japan Airlines, or
Star Alliance on All Nippon
|Japan||China Airlines, China Southern, China Eastern, Korean, Vietnam (SkyTeam) with Japan Airlines|
|Star Alliance on Air China, or
|China||Cathay, LATAM (oneworld) with Air China||no oneworld carrier|
What it means
Asian Miler reiterates that these recommendations are for earning miles and gaining status with a carrier based solely on actual travel. Now there are a couple of things to note from this information.
China may seem too conveniently summarized considering the size of the country and volume of passenger traffic, but we note that the flag carrier, Air China, flies to numerous airports domestically in addition to its international routes. Should you happen to frequent a destination with a dominant rival presence then that would become your best bet, especially as the SkyTeam Chinese carriers are building their international links as well.
Philippine Airlines is not a member of any alliance, but it has strong partnerships in Asia. Travelers can get from the Philippines to Europe via the airline’s links with Turkish and Etihad, and to its prized market the USA via All Nippon or Cathay. The flag carrier has increased partnerships with Asian SkyTeam members.
Brunei, Laos and Cambodia each have their own flag carriers but none of them are members of any of the major alliances. Asian Miler therefore based the recommendations on the extensiveness of their home airline’s partnerships with various airlines under a particular alliance.
Lao Airlines of Laos, for example, has codesharing arrangements with Aseana, EVA, Singapore and Thai on Star Alliance (among other non-Asian members), and with China Airlines, Garuda, Korean, Vietnam (among others) on SkyTeam. Royal Brunei Airlines has partnerships with China Southern and Garuda on SkyTeam. Cambodia Angkor Air, meanwhile, currently has arrangements with Vietnam on SkyTeam. Note that Lao and Cambodia do not make it clear whether miles can be earned on partner flights, but you can credit these flights to their partner’s respective program instead.
In cases where the recommendation is a partner’s alliance instead (as with Brunei or Cambodia to SkyTeam) Asian Miler emphasizes that you choose the airline frequent flyer under that alliance that makes most sense with your travel patterns and then consistently credit flights to that program. It never makes sense to spread your miles around in multiple loyalty programs.
These three airline alliances each provide unique travel opportunities with their respective member carriers in Asia. It generally makes sense to register for the frequent flyer program of the main airline in the country you reside in and credit your miles accordingly, especially so when flying on their partners. Otherwise, flying with a carrier with a regular presence at — and has convenient routes from — your home airport would be a good alternative.
Of course Asia is also home to a thriving network of low-cost carriers, and that there are other interesting carriers with unique travel opportunities around Asia. Asian Miler will be covering these in turn.
So do you think these are recommendations make sense to your situation? Be heard and leave your insights in the comments section.