Airline alliances are the best-kept secret of the traveling hacking game! Once you’ve learned how to use them, you can use frequent flyer miles to travel anywhere in the world – for less than $100! (I’ve included a screenshot of a flight I got for just $23!
What are Airline Alliances?
Airline alliances are groups of airlines from around the world that have agreed to work together. There are three major alliances – the Star Alliance, One World, and Sky Team. Each one has different airlines, but they have similar benefits. Each of these alliances has partners all over the world. By using only One World airlines, for instances, you can travel to most countries around the world!
Even better, the partnerships make it much easier to earn and redeem points. By flying on any airline in that alliance, you can earn frequent flyer miles for any other airline. The miles you have with one airline can be redeemed for flights on other airlines, as long as they are all in the same alliance.
Alliances help you travel around the world, collecting benefits that you can use no matter where you are!
[Recommended Read: How to Get Started with Frequent Flyer Miles Today]
The Power of Airline Alliances
When you know how to use them, alliances are incredibly powerful. Instead of collecting a thousand frequent flyer miles here and there, you can combine them – and soon enough, you’ll have the miles you need to redeem a flight for less than $100!
The trick lies in choosing the airlines you fly, and crediting the miles you earn to a single airline.
For example, the United States airlines in each of the alliances are United in Star Alliance, American in One World, and Delta in Sky Team. With these airlines alone, you can travel to dozens of countries. However, the availability of flights from the US to South Africa or Chile with these airlines only are limited. The flights not involving a US city (like flying from Asia to Europe) would be even more limited.
That’s where airline alliances come in.
Having a couple thousand miles with United and a couple thousand with Air China will not do you any good. Even though United and Air China are part of the same alliance, you must collect miles with the same airline in order to redeem them!
When you fly to Australia, for example, you can use Qantas. It’s one of the largest airlines in Australia, so you could more easily find a flight from, say, Bangkok to Sydney. If you book this flight, you don’t have to credit your miles to Qantas. Because Qantas is part of One World, you can choose to credit your miles to American Airlines, where you have been collecting miles thus far. (Note that you can choose any airline in the One World alliance. It’s best to credit them where you already have an account and miles.)
For such a flight, you might earn a couple hundred miles, which can add up to get you that ridiculously cheap flight!
Airlines alliances can be just as useful in redeeming miles as earning them. Just as you can earn miles with one airline (like American Airlines) by flying with other airlines in the same alliance (like Qantas), you can redeem them with other airlines too.
As long as you have enough miles, you can redeem your points for flights on any other airline in that alliance. For example, if you want to go from Bangkok to Sydney, you can use my American Airlines miles to book the ticket. Typically, you can see these options directly through your search.
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When I traveled through Asia, I ended up buying three different Air China tickets. I flew with them when traveling between Taegu, South Korea and Beijing, China; from Beijing to Hong Kong; and from Taipei, Taiwan to Beijing. Since Air China is in the Star Alliance, as is United, I gave Air China my United MileagePlus number for the frequent flyer credit!
I booked my first ticket with miles for my backpacking trip to South America. On my way there, I used 20,000 United MileagePlus miles to buy a one-way ticket from Austin, Texas to Lima, Peru. Though United operated the first legs of the trip, Avianca Costa Rica (Lineas Aéreas Costarricenses S.A. at the time) operated my last flight.
That leg of my itinerary was made possible only with the alliance.
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Elite Status and Benefits
If you want to get even more advantages from airlines, you can try to earn elite status. Benefits of elite status include:
• Extra baggage allowance
• Priority baggage handling
• Priority check-in and boarding
• Preferred seating (including occasional free upgrades!)
• Airport lounge access
Many elite programs have various tiers, meaning you can earn more benefits as you fly. The typical budget traveler or vacation enthusiast is unlikely to get elite status; it often requires a good amount of actual flying. Likewise, some credit cards also offer these or similar benefits.
But for the avid flyer who doesn’t use many budget airlines (these usually are not part of alliances), getting elite status may be a great investment. Note, however, that most programs require you to fly with that particular airline in order for the miles to count towards elite status.
Once you have elite status for one airline, you can often request other alliances to match your benefits! That is usually a steal!
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Have you been using Frequent Flyer Miles to get cheap flights? How have airline alliances helped you?