Airline Alliances: What Are They, How Do They Work

Amin Benzaza

KLM 777 airplane at gate

You may have benefited from the advantages of an airline alliance without knowing it. Whether you have flown Star Alliance, oneworld or Skyteam member airlines, these alliance have a history and a purpose today more than ever. Let’s see what airline alliance are and how they work.

What’s important to keep in mind is that travelers can take advantage of the leverage of an alliance: earning and burning miles across its member airlines.

What drove airline alliance formation

As deregulation hit major airline markets in the early 80s, airlines were still struggling with invasive government regulations. Coupled with a growing globalized economy which needed extensive networks beyond what a single airline could deliver.

In the 90s, alliances started to appear as economy of scale, interline and codeshare agreements and revenue sharing grew. Frequent flyer were able to enjoy their benefits across all member airlines as they travel further across a larger network. For example, a Madrid-based business person can reach Kansas City, MO thanks to Iberia & AA’s codeshare agreement:

AA8654* MAD ORD 11:40 14:10
AA1589 ORD MCI 22:20 23:48
*Operated by Iberia 6275

I’ve written in-depth articles on interline and codeshare agreements. Frequent flyers can also benefits from earning and burning miles across all member airlines and enjoy synchronized schedules and fast connections. This video explains it perfectly:

Now let’s dive into each alliance and its member airlines.


Formed in 1998, with 13 current member airlines (and their subsidiaries), the alliance connects more than 1,000 airports and 650 lounges. Its members are

American Airlines (+ American Eagle)

British Airways (+ BA CityFlyer, Comair, SunAir)

Cathay Pacific (+ Cathay Dragon)

Finnair (+ NordicRegional Airlines)

Iberia (+ Iberia Express, Iberia Regional)

Japan Airlines (+ JAir, Japan Transocean Air)

Malaysia Airlines

Qantas (+ QantasLink)

Qatar Airways

Royal Air Maroc (+ Royal Maroc Express)

Royal Jordanian

S7 Airlines

SriLankan Airlines

Alaska Airlines will join in spring 2021. Fiji Airways is a oneworld connect member. It offers limited travel benefits except to its sponsor airlines British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and American Airlines. It can be confusing for travellers with Elite status.

I wrote a detailed oneworld guide if you wish to know more about the differente elite status tiers, lounges access and exceptions and more.

Star Alliance

Air Canada app and Aeroplan card
Air Canada app and Aeroplan card

The largest of all 3, the Star Alliance 26 members fly to 1,200 destinations and they are:

Aegean Airlines

Air Canada (Air Canada Rouge, Air Canada Express)

Air China

Air India

Air New Zealand


Asiana Airlines

Austrian Airlines


Brussels Airlines

Copa Airlines

Croatia Airlines


Ethiopian Airlines

Eva Air

Lot Polish Airlines


Scandinavian Airlines

Shenzhen Airlines

Singapore Airlines

South African Airways

Swiss International Airlines

TAP Air Portugal

THAI Airways

Turkish Airlines

United Airlines

The Star Alliance site allows you to familiarize yourself with its members, frequent flyer benefits and book your round the world trip.

Star Alliance round the world planner
Star Alliance round the world planner


The second largest alliance has 19 members, flies to more than 1,030 destinations


Aerolineas Argentinas


Air Europa

Air France


China Airlines

China Eastern

Czech Airlines


Garuda Indonesia

Kenya Airways


Korean Air

Middle East Airlines



Vietnam Airlines

Xiamen Air

It’s worth noting that the alliance does not have an Australian-based member.

SkyTeam History At-A-Glance
SkyTeam History At-A-Glance

Which airline alliance is the best for you

The short answer is to stick with the alliance if:

  • You’re a frequent flyer: if you happen to fly significantly for business, you’ll probably earn Elite status and VIP benefits. Therefore, stay loyal to the alliance and enjoy system-wide benefits.
  • You’re able to earn miles or points thanks to travel branded credit cards. Churning the right credit cards will allow you earn hundreds of thousands of miles which you can use to book either many economy class reward tickets or premium experiences.

Also familiarize yourself further with each each member airline’s hubs and networks. This will help you plan better your trips, take advantage of the alliance network reach while booking under the same ticket. This will protect you against delays, cancelations and insure smooth connections and delivery of frequent flyer program benefits.

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