Dauntless JaunterExplore • Educate • Experience • Enlighten

Choosing the Best Airline Alliance: Which Should I Join?


How to choose the best airline alliance for miles or points, based on your location, shopping preferences, customer service, partner airlines, and more.

Updated: 2018-11-04.

Airline Alliance LogosMost travelers don’t consider the importance of picking the best airline alliance when choosing their frequent flier program; many do not even know what an airline alliance is. However, factoring in the members of an airline alliance can be crucial, especially if you plan on traveling to many different places over the course of the year.

Airline alliances took their latest form in the late 90s, underscoring the shift in the airline industry towards mergers and consolidation. Airlines typically align themselves with an alliance to bolster their company by lowering costs through sharing of resources with partner airlines, increasing international connectivity for passengers, and improving the network of rewards for their customers.

An airline member of an alliance offers many perks to its customers. The most important of these is the fact most of the time a passenger can earn frequent flier program credit on their primary program, while flying on an alliance partner airline. I used to fly Delta most often, and I am a member of the Skymiles program. I booked a trip to the Netherlands in February, and flew on KLM airlines. Though flying KLM, I will earn mileage towards my Skymiles program, as they are partner airlines in the alliance.

Also, if you are an elite member of a specific program, your benefits and perks may carry over to a partner airline in the alliance, like priority boarding, class upgrades, access to partner airlines’ airport lounges, etc. Sometimes, two airlines that are not members of the same alliance will codeshare a flight, in which case you could still earn mileage in either of the codeshare partners’ programs. However, finding a frequent flier program that has the backing of strong airlines in the alliance behind it is just as important as the primary program.

Best Airline Alliance Depends on Your Airline, Mostly

Considering which frequent flier program to choose from can be quite challenging, but is the primary strategy for choosing your best airline alliance. The “Big 3” alliances all have impressive and well-renowned carriers as members.

Star Alliance, at first glance, looks like it should be the primary choice, as it has more airlines than the other two alliances combined, which leads to more airports served and in more countries. However, it goes deeper than just that. Each alliance has pros and cons. Looking at the alliances and deciding where on earth you will mostly be going is another big factor.

Consider, too, your main destinations: SkyTeam also has the most flights from North America to Europe, at 34%. However, Star Alliance dominates routes between North America and Asia, having 41%.

Likewise, Oneworld dominates the routes between South America and North America, at 40%. Other factors to consider when choosing your best airline alliance would be member airline quality, ease of reward redemption, and Round the World (RTW) ticket pricing.

Check out these charts below to help determine which alliance suits your long-term goals and interests best:

Airlines & Alliance Affiliations

Airline Alliance Stats Big 3 Basic

Most importantly, it is to your benefit to understand that the best airline alliance for someone else may not just be the best airline alliance for you!

Christian Eilers
Written by
Christian Eilers
Join the discussion

Dauntless Jaunter