Why Do Airlines Join Alliances? What Are The Benefits?

Some of the most famous airline benefits include airline alliances. However, a number of carriers, from Delta Air Lines to Qatar Airways, have expressed some concerns with alliances. With the expansion of joint ventures, it seems that perhaps alliances are losing their importance. However, alliances still offer plenty of benefits to airlines and passengers alike.

Boeing 747 oneworld
Alliances still offer some great benefits– like giving avgeeks the chance to see some cool liveries! Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

What are the main airline alliances?

The three main alliances known today originated in the late 1990s. Star Alliance formed in 1997, followed by oneworld in 1999, and lastly Skyteam in 2000. The idea was to form a cooperative of airlines. With enhanced codeshares and cooperation, passengers suddenly had new ways to travel the world.

oneworld 20 years Press event 1FEB19 02
A shot of flight attendants from various oneworld member airlines. Photo: oneworld

Airline alliances can better allow airlines to compete in the global marketplace. The aviation industry is competitive and a number of carriers have gone bankrupt. Although alliance membership does not guarantee an airline’s profitability, many airlines do find benefits from being a part of a global alliance.

Why are some airlines unhappy?

Some airlines started to become disenchanted with alliances. Airlines soon started to find lucrative partnerships outside of alliances. Not to mention, not all airlines align themselves with one of the major alliances. Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia are two notable exceptions who prefer codeshare agreements over joining an alliance.

Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic is a non-aligned carrier that has partnerships with multiple airlines. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Two carriers in particular, Delta Air Lines and Qatar Airways, have recently begun to express discontent with alliances. Qatar Airways, is unhappy with the way American Airlines and Qantas have viewed the Doha-based carrier. As of now, both airlines are still a part of their respective alliances. But, while these airlines have raised some issues with alliances, there are still several key benefits.

Qatar Airways
Qatar Airways is one airline that has recently expressed some displeasure at their position in an airline alliance. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Airline alliances benefit connectivity

A few months ago, I wanted to fly from Cape Town to Rochester, Minnesota. Obviously, there were no direct flights. So, I had to book a connecting flight and was able to find a good fare from Cape Town to Amsterdam on KLM and Amsterdam to Minneapolis then to Rochester on Delta Air Lines. The partnership between Delta and KLM meant that I could book such an itinerary with less hassle.

KLM Skyteam Livery
KLM adds new destinations to Delta’s network that were previously unserved. Photo: Skyteam

A oneworld 20-year infographic indicates that oneworld member airlines serve around 1,100 destinations. Under a single carrier, this would have been an impossible feat.

airline alliance benefits
A oneworld infographic indicating some of the benefits of the alliance. Photo: oneworld

For airlines, additional connectivity can help fill planes. For example, in a recent conversation with Vasu Raja at American Airlines, he indicated that one of the reasons American Airlines was able to offer up to five daily flights to Tokyo-Narita was because of opportunities for passengers to connect onto JAL flights.

American Airlines 787
American Airlines has found benefit in overseas partnerships. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Checked baggage

For passengers, purchasing a connecting itinerary can come with concerns about baggage transfer and passenger experiences. In the case of baggage, alliance partners generally allow for bags to be checked all the way through to a passenger’s final destination.

Bags on a carousel
The ability to check bags through to a passenger’s final destination is a welcome benefit for connecting itineraries. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Frequent flier benefits

Flying on a partner airline can open up opportunities to rack up a number of frequent flier miles. Not to mention, alliance partners tend to honor elite status from a member’s loyalty program. Each alliance offers benefits for elite members. This can include things like excess baggage allowance and lounge access.

Lounge
Accessing a lounge prior to departure on a partner airline can be a great benefit for elite members. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

In terms of redemptions, there are a number of places for some awesome experiences. Recently, I was able to redeem Air Canada Aeroplan miles for a Lufthansa First Class flight as both are members of the Star Alliance.

Lufthansa First
Lufthansa First was a nice way to make a long-haul journey using Aeroplan miles. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

Small details

oneworld is advancing opportunities for travelers to reduce their stress during times of travel. One small way was that passengers connecting across member airlines only need to utilize one app. Other alliances also offer bag tracking within their apps across member airlines.

Star Alliance even offers a program at select airports that help passengers make their short connections. A similar service also applies to a passenger’s checked baggage.

Star Alliance Aircraft
Star Alliance offers a connecting passenger service that helps passengers make tight connections across member airlines. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Sometimes, these smaller details can help alleviate some of the stress of connecting through a new airport.

What is next for alliances?

Alliances are still a part of the aviation world. Star Alliance, Skyteam, and oneworld are still around and will remain for the foreseeable future. However, now some airlines are extending their participation within alliances to include enhanced joint ventures. Two examples of this include American Airlines and Qantas and Air France-KLM with Delta Air Lines.

American Qantas Partnership
American Airlines and Qantas are set to enhance their partnership. Photo: American Airlines

However, the aviation world keeps changing. The rise of low-cost carriers is upending the way the market works. Also, premium-class products continue to evolve. Already, some airlines are working on standardizing products across airlines. But, if this trend were to keep growing, it would take a number of years for this to happen.

Overall

Airline alliances benefit passengers and carriers alike. However, as the market keeps changing, airlines will also continue to evolve. Alliances, too, will need to evolve. While the future of very little is guaranteed in the aviation world, it is clear that people will continue to fly and carriers will need partnerships to cover the destinations where passengers want to go.

It is clear that there a number of people who still believe in the power of alliances. In a recent sit down with oneworld CEO Rob Gurney, he expressed confidence in the importance of alliances amid LATAM’s announced departure from oneworld. How oneworld changes is yet to be seen.

What do you think about airline alliances? Let us know in the comments!

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Chuck

Alliances are not as seamless as portrayed by airlines. Examples include using separate web sites to obtain seat assignments. Also, club access can be a Rubik’s cube of exceptions between carriers. On a recent trip from MSY to Warsaw , all the alliances required a minimum of three legs before arriving in Poland. By buying separate tickets with Delta and LOT, was able to make the trip with one stop at JFK.

Alliances are great if you track points while obsessing over your elite status. Otherwise, they can be a hindrance.

Ben Farrell

I’ve noticed recently that alliances are clearly focused around only 5-10% of the airlines in the alliance itself, have you noticed Lufthansa becoming a near monopoly in Europe since Star was created? or virtually no SkyTeam airlines willing to help out Alitalia? or airlines like LOT Polish Airlines and Aeroflot basically being ignored by their alliancemates? for any alliance, I’d expect far better than that

Josh

It is clear, there are leaders in the alliances that help the smaller members to boost their own revenues through codeshare. Similar to Jet Airways, Alitalia comes with it’s own problems that may not be favorable for any type of merge, acquisition or bailout. Considering numerous variables for each airline, not one airline is the same (reference US Airways and American), which leads to a complicated, disruptive environment for the emerging product. Alitalia may not have enough to offer when such a serious investment is required.

1M each year

Hi Ben, I would think the same thing, but in reality, airlines join alliance to benefit themself first. Why they joined an alliance? Because their analysts think that it would profit more than being alone. Joining an alliance does not mean they have to be responsible for the other’s failure. In fact, if the two members in an alliance operate the same route, they would compete price to win the customers. Joining an alliance does not mean they all have codeshare in all routes. I fly Singapore Airlines (SQ) all the times. SQ always connects with other carriers in the… Read more »

Matt

Lufthansa is monopolizing Europe. As I posted in the Adria post, they lobbied through EU regulations that prevent countries from subsidizing their carriers. This leaves already established Lufthansa at an advantage, because they received these benefits, but now others can’t. BA and Air France-KLM are really the only other airlines that can compete. This is pretty much the way the EU works today. Germany dictates to the rest of the EU on policy. They’re always the loudest when it comes to privatizing other countries’ public companies. Then, usually Germany’s public company buys it for cheap.

Jose

One area which is critical when I travel is seat assignment. US airlines usually have seat assignment with no additional cost even with their cheapest flights. It seams most airlines outside US charges extra or sometimes if the fare is low enough, you only get assigned a seat at check in at the counter. Case in point early 2019, Delta ticketed ORD-MNL round trip. All legs are Delta except for the first leg of the return (MNL-ICN) which was Korean Air. I could not get a pre assigned seat with the KAL leg unless I buy a more expensive fare… Read more »

Matt

You got a ticket for $700 round trip from Manila to Chicago, and you feel that you should have received some extras? I have to pay that to fly to Detroit from Seattle for Christmas. You have to realize that sometimes, the really cheap flight will have limitations. For $950, it still sounds pretty reasonable.

Craig Dodge

I find it sadly amusing that a seat assignment is considered an “extra” these days.

John1951

As with any other business sector, success come to those who give the customer what they want at a price they are willing to pay. I want to travel from A to B, via C and D when necessary, on one ticket, checking my bags end-to-end, with a similar service level across flights appropriate to my ticket class. I want all my boarding cards issued at first check-in. I’d much prefer to manage my journey though single on-line portal. “Loyalty” benefits across carriers is welcome but not essential. Anything else is a bonus. How that’s achieved I don’t really care.… Read more »