What Is The Star Alliance?

The Star Alliance is the world’s largest airline alliance by passenger numbers and membership. With 26 carriers from around the globe, members can offer seamless connectivity and vast networks. Here’s a starter guide to the Star Alliance with everything you need to know!

Air China Boeing 777 Star Alliance Livery
Every Star Alliance airlines paint some of its aircraft in the five-star, black-and-white alliance livery. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Founding

The Star Alliance was founded on May 14th, 1997, by five airlines: United, Lufthansa, Air Canada, SAS, and Thai. While airline agreements existed far before this, this group became the first airline alliance in the world. The carriers aimed to offer their passengers the opportunity to travel to any major city globally without needing separate tickets.

The alliance allowed the five (and now 26) airlines to enter various agreements to carry passengers on their partner flights. This means passengers can book flights with Lufthansa to fly from Newark to Frankfurt on United and then onward to Istanbul with Turkish Airlines. This deep integration allows airlines to offer thousands of cities in their route map without flying all the sectors and instead handing off to another alliance partner.

Lufthansa-2020-job-cuts
The alliance offers its passengers choose to fly anywhere without needing to book separate tickets or break their journey. Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

You might also be familiar with the livery of the Star Alliance. Every member carrier paints some of their fleet in the unique black and white livery, with a five-star tail. While carriers can make modifications, and no two members’ planes look the same, the aircraft are distinct in their appearance. 

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Members

As mentioned, the Star Alliance has steadily grown its membership from five to 26 in the last quarter-century. While carriers have come and gone, the alliance continues to have the most members compared to rivals SkyTeam (19) and oneworld (14). Here’s a list of the current members:

  • North America: United and Air Canada
  • Europe: Aegean Airlines, Austrian, Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, SAS, SWISS, and TAP Portugal.
  • Asia: Air China, Air India, ANA, Asiana, EVA Airways, Juneyao Airlines,  Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, THAI, and Turkish Airlines
  • Africa: EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, and South African Airways
  • Latin America: Avianca and Copa Airlines
  • Oceania: Air New Zealand
Air India Boeing 777-337(ER) VT-ALJ
The alliance has members across all six inhabited continents, offering seamless connectivity. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The Star Alliance’s strong presence in North America, Europe, and East Asia makes the alliance a favorite for many. Travelers can fly to any continent in the world with Star Alliance members, although there might be limitations in reality. Moreover, for those who do fly with the alliance, there are some lucrative benefits.

Elite status

Perhaps the biggest benefit for frequent flyers joining an airline alliance is the elite status that can be earned. Depending on the airline you build loyalty with and the alliance, benefits range from extra baggage to free lounge access for you and a guest. The Star Alliance offers two levels of status for members: Silver and Gold.

It’s important to note that you cannot earn Star Alliance benefits directly. Instead, you must build loyalty with any member airline, who will offer you elite status upon meeting certain requirements. Benefits vary by airline, but the Star Alliance guarantees the following:

Silver

  • Priority Reservations Waitlist
  • Priority Airport Stand-By

Silver benefits aren’t extraordinary and mostly ensure that you get priority over other passengers in some cases. However, nearly every airlines offer their silver-equivalent members perks like priority check-in and some even offer access to a business class lounge!

Thai Airways Silver Status
Each airline offers its own mileage programs to achieve elite status. Carriers in the Lufthansa Group offer a single program for several airlines. Photo: Thai Airways

Gold

  • Gold Track for priority security and immigration (select airports)
  • One extra bag or 20kgs of extra baggage
  • Airport Lounge Access (usually with a guest too)
  • Priority check-in and boarding

Things get a lot better once you achieve gold status with any Star Alliance member. Passengers get priority access at check-in, security, and immigration, hence cutting down the airport time by a lot. Lounge access and extra baggage also come in handy during long trips or layovers. Moreover, achieving gold with any airline comes with several more benefits, possibly including upgrade vouchers, miles, and much more.

Hubs

Each Star Alliance member has its own hub for its flagship routes and connecting passengers. However, some airports have emerged as particularly larger connecting hubs for the alliance.

Star Alliance is currently headquartered at Frankfurt Airport, which is also its largest hub. Home to Lufthansa, the airport also offers thousands of connections from other airlines in the Lufthansa Group and is served by nearly a dozen alliance airlines.

Lufthansa A340
Frankfurt Airport is the alliance’s largest hub. Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

There are several more notable hubs, according to anna.aero. These include Istanbul Airport, Tokyo Haneda, Chicago O’Hare, and Beijing Capital Airport. All of these airports are home to major member airlines and see flights from other carriers too. While connecting through any of these airports, rest assured you can expect easy and multiple connections.

Changes coming

The Star Alliance flew over 727 million passengers in 2018, a massive figure and far ahead of the competition. The combination of domestic and international passengers among its 26 airlines allows the alliance to maintain its lead and has seen it grow drastically in the last 25 years.

However, no alliance can afford to rest on its laurels. The coming years will see some changes at Star Alliance. The most notable will be the exit of Asiana Airlines when it merges with SkyTeam founder Korean Air. This will be a blow to the alliance’s presence in East Asia and the Korean domestic market. Going forward, the reliance on ANA, Singapore Airlines, and THAI will be renewed to tackle the larger Korean Air’s international market share.

Asiana’s acquisition by Korean Air will very likely mean its exit from the Star Alliance by 2024. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

For now, the Star Alliance can pat itself on the back for flying the most passengers globally and its wide membership. However, things change quickly, and the alliance will have to continue growing in the post-pandemic market.

What do you think about the Star Alliance? Let us know in the comments!

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