Most of the world’s major traditional airlines belong to one of three major alliances, OneWorld, Star Alliance and Skyteam. There are some exceptions, most notably Emirates, Virgin Atlantic and Etihad.
The reason that the airline alliances could be important to you, is that if you start collecting airline miles, flying airlines that partner with your primary airline will continue to earn you points. To learn more about earning miles click here. If you are thinking about joining a frequent flyer programme, their being part of an alliance may be an important factor in your choice, especially if you travel regularly and to many different regions of the world. The big advantage of the airline alliances is that they allow you to earn miles when flying on any members of the alliance (with all alliances there are certain discount fares that do not earn miles and you would have to look in detail at the earnings chart for each alliance), and once you have status there are perks across all the airlines, like being able to check in at Business or First class counters and use Business or First class lounges.
A recent new development has been the formation of the first two low cost carrier alliances, one in China and now the second focused around South East Asia, see our page on Low Cost Carrier Alliances for more information.
If you are based in the UK, the most popular choice for airline loyalty programme is the British Airways’ “Executive Club”. British Airways belongs to the Oneworld Alliance, the second oldest, but smallest of the three alliances. When you fly on any airlines within the alliance you will earn points towards your British Airways Executive Club account. British Airways offers UK travellers the largest choice of non-stop flights from the UK to a huge number of worldwide destinations. In addition, through the Oneworld partners there is a massive choice of flights from the UK to almost anywhere you want to go.
Above is a complete list of all the current members of the Oneworld Alliance, so flying any of these partners will earn you points. There are also many special fares between certain of the carriers within the alliance, which means that you can fly out on one airline and back on another for competitive fares, or even do complete round the world tickets at special prices.
For some people based away from London using an alliance airline can mean that you can still earn points flying from your local airport even though British Airways might not fly from there. For instance Qatar now flies from Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh. American Airlines offers direct flight from Manchester to New York and Philadelphia (and seasonal service to Chicago), Birmingham to New York and seasonal services direct from both Edinburgh and Glasgow to the US. Cathay Pacific also offers non-stop Manchester – Hong Kong flights. This is in addition to services from Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh to Madrid and from Manchester and Edinburgh to Helsinki with Iberia and Finnair respectively.
If you are thinking of a long round the world trip, Oneworld offers arguably the most flexible of all the round the world fares, and especially for those wanting to include South America and Australia, they have the best coverage.
Of the three alliances, the Star Alliance is the largest and the oldest alliance. British Midland used to be a member. With British Midland having been bought by British Airways there is no longer a Star Alliance carrier based in the UK. The core members of the alliance are Lufthansa, United, Air China, Turkish Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Ethiopian, Egypt Air, Avianca, All Nippon, Asiana and Air India which together cover the majority of the globe.
Although there is not a Star Alliance carrier based in the UK, many airports across the UK are served by Star Alliance members. Lufthansa German Airlines serves Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Aberdeen as well as London. Brussels Airlines serves Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Belfast. With further regional airports served by Swiss and Scandinavian. United Airlines offers direct flights to the US from London, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and even a seasonal service to Newcastle. Singapore Airlines offers a non-stop service to Manchester and Air India a non-stop service to Birmingham, both in addition to their London services. Turkish Airlines serves London, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh connecting through Istanbul to onwards destination to more countries than any other airline.
Above is a full list of airlines that are part of the Star Alliance. Membership to one of their mileage programmes would allow you to earn miles on flights on all other member airlines. This is a particularly good option if your closest major airport is not London based, or your destination is a home base for one of these carriers.
The newest alliance is Skyteam. The core of the alliance is based on Delta, Air France-KLM, Korean Air, Aeroflot, China Eastern and China Southern. Below is a full list of all the Skyteam member.
The biggest advantage for UK flyers with Skyteam is the extensive coverage that is offered by KLM to regional UK airports. KLM connects its hub in Amsterdam with Durham, Humberside, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff, Norwich, Leeds, Newcastle, Southampton, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness and Belfast in addition to London (some services are seasonal only). This means that KLM serves more destinations in the UK than any other airline that is part of a global alliance. Because of their huge network in the UK, KLM also allows you to earn miles, like British Airways, through online shopping at a huge range of UK shops.
In addition Delta has a strong partnership with Virgin Atlantic, allowing both earning and spending miles across the two airlines, so may be an option, but beware of Delta’s notoriously poor “spending” rate.