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I talk about how great airline partners are all the time, but I wanted to simplify it for the generic public. Pretty well every airline you can think of a is a member of one of three worldwide alliances, with the major domestic exceptions being Alaska Airlines, Southwest, and Virgin. The three major alliances are Sky Team, Star Alliance, and my personal favorite, oneworld. Alaska Airlines, with its solid partners, is my other favorite.
I threw Alaska in there just so you could see what amazing partners they have. I mean, really, on what other airlines would you ever need to fly? Since Greg and I been flying together, the only flights we’ve taken that weren’t part of those four partnerships were budget airlines in Asia and Australia that were so cheap they wouldn’t have earned miles anyway. To make airline partnerships really simple, if I am a member of any frequent flyer program in a single alliance, I can earn miles and redeem them on any other airline in that alliance (mind you, there are exceptions which you can find on any airline’s partner page on their website).
Real-world earning example: I paid cash money for flights to Ethiopia.
- Tulsa to Dallas to Washington Dulles on American Airlines.
- Dulles to Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines.
- Addis to Doha to London on Qatar Airways.
- London to Rome on British Airways.
The Qatar flight was just for my personal entertainment, so I could try out a new airline and finally fly the A380. Then Greg and I decided to meet in Rome, so that’s where British comes in (we’ll fly home standby). American, Qatar, and British are all part of oneworld, so I earned American miles for all those flights. Ethiopian is part of the Star Alliance, so I earned United miles for that flight. I could earn miles on all four different airlines, but there’s no point in it if I’m already a member of and have miles with American and United. Unless I’m trying to earn miles or elite status with a specific foreign airline, I will always earn domestic-airline miles (American, United, Delta, Alaska, etc.). But stay with me, foreign miles are incredibly valuable too, only we’ll get those through credit card partners.
Real-world redeeming example: Just after I started nursing, I rewarded myself with a solo trip to southern France while the lavender fields were in bloom. The airline lost my bag with all my clothes, perfume, road atlas, and gps in it (I got it back unexpectedly six months later, after Lufthansa had already paid me $1700 in lost luggage fees- SIIIIIICK!!!!!!!), so I drove from tiny village to tiny village with only the front cover map of a Rick Steves’ guide to Provence and a glance at a road map I wasn’t willing to purchase at a truck stop along the autobahn. The villages were surreal, the lavender gorgeous, the wine and bread and cheese to die for, and the trip all on United miles. I flew roundtrip:
- Tulsa to Houston to Frankfurt on United Airlines
- Frankfurt to Nice on Lufthansa Airlines
United and Lufthansa are both members of the Star Alliance so I was able to book the entire flight using United miles on united.com. If I had to do over, I would try to fly Lufthansa out of Houston, too, but my trip was last minute and this beggar couldn’t be a chooser.
You can’t transfer miles from one frequent flyer program to another, most unfortunately, so think carefully about what program(s) you’d like to have miles in. Not all earnings are the same between the different airlines and fare classes, either. The level of class booked reflects the actual amount of miles you’ll earn for a specific flight. For instance, on my British Airways flight I would earn the same amount of mileage with either American Airlines or Alaska Airlines (25% actual miles flown for the class I booked), so I chose to earn American miles since I’m going to be earning them on American and Qatar already. Whenever I’m wondering about earning or redeeming on certain airlines I just google “American Airlines airline partners” for example, and read about the individual partnerships.
It’s a lot to keep track of, but I’m happy to research the best deal and the best earnings because as you know, we love to spend less so that we can travel more.