Airline Alliances & Why They Matter To Australian Frequent Flyers

Few Aussies understand what airline alliances are, let alone what they can offer committed frequent flyers. Wonder no more...

Airline Alliances & Why They Matter To Australian Frequent Flyers

Image: DMARGE/Romer Macapuno

Australian frequent flyers tend to fall into one of two airline alliance camps: you’re either a oneworld booster, usually courtesy of your Qantas frequent flyer status, or you are a Star Alliance fan. There’s also a third option, SkyTeam, which has a smaller but interesting footprint in the Aussie market…

The big benefit of alliances is once you secure status with one airline, other airlines in the group simultaneously recognise that status. No airline covers the entire globe, and if you venture beyond where your favourite carrier typically flies β€” or if you don’t want to hear the same inflight safety video for the thousandth time β€” it’s nice to know that some of the perks you’ve become accustomed to will follow you.

Because Qantas is a member of oneworld, their 15 million frequent flyers can tap the oneworld network, which includes headline carriers such as British Airways, American Airlines, Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Finnair, plus a host of smaller airlines.

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Airport perks such as lounge access, dodging the long economy class check-ins, and extra luggage allowance don’t really kick in until you score oneworld Sapphire status (equivalent to Qantas Gold). However, if you have a pile of points and no status, the second big benefit of alliances is available to you β€” the chance to redeem flights on other member airlines.

WATCH: Qantas Ad Makes Australia Emotional

That comes with a caveat: as with most flight redemptions these days, picking up a reasonably priced redemption in any cabin class is often easier said than done. However, there are sweet spots and value out there if you know where to look…

Star Alliance is the second significant alliance in the Australian market. Although no Australian airline is a member, heavy hitter Star members such as Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, and United Airlines all service the Australian market. In particular, Singapore Airlines has a strong following in Australia, and many Australians are members of its KrisFlyer program.

The benefits across the three programs are roughly the same. Hit that mid-tier Gold status, and the creature comforts appear, but the flight redemption opportunities are open to all members.

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Most Australians bypass SkyTeam because most of its member carriers do not fly to Australia. However, some do, including Delta Air Lines, Garuda Indonesia, Vietnam Airlines, Korean Air, China Airlines, Xiamen Airlines, and China Eastern.

Some of these airlines, including Delta, Korean, and China Airlines, have excellent premium cabin products. It’s opening a can of worms, but some people say the Delta One seat is the best trans-Pacific business class product out there. It’s certainly not the worst…

It’s also worth adding that Xiamen Airlines offers the best value business class between Sydney and London. China Eastern also does keenly priced business class fares. This is interesting because their A350 and B787 business class seats are based on the Thompson Vantage XL platform, the same seat you get in Delta One cabins.

China Eastern’s new business class is a formidable product. Image: OMAAT

While Chinese carriers can be hit-and-miss in terms of their cabin product, this one is a definite hit and a good example of why SkyTeam has relevance to Australian frequent flyers.

If you only ever fly in premium cabins and pay cash or bill the workplace/client/taxpayer for the privilege, good luck to you. You don’t need to be in an alliance because your fare type opens up travel benefits to you. But if your premium cabin travel usually comes about because of points, or if you travel economy class, alliances matter.

A long-haul flight to London at the back of the plane is far less grinding if you can jag a decent seat and have a shower in the lounge in Singapore. And if you can have that benefit extended to you by any member airline in your chosen alliance, then even better.

Experts consistently say that unless you are a seriously hard-core traveller, the best strategy is to pick an airline, try to maximise your points and status on that airline and parlay the benefits across that airline’s alliance.

Virgin Australia’s new business class is also a thing of beauty. Image: Virgin

However, there are plenty of offers on the market to tempt you to stray. If you’ve had one or two too many Qantas bacon and eggs breakfast rolls and hold Gold status or above, Garuda Indonesia, Turkish Airlines, and Delta are all now offering trial status matches in a try before you commit deal.

Delta’s offer is particularly interesting because they are extending it to Virgin Australia Velocity members, who often get left out of status match offers because of that airline’s limited international network.

Equally, if your long-term relationship with a Star Alliance airline is showing cracks, opportunities arise to tap an oneworld airline for a trial status match. Generally, most trial status matches require you to meet set criteria within a certain time to retain status.Β 

Like any other airline loyalty device, alliances can work to a passenger’s detriment or benefit. Understanding alliances, how they can work, what they can offer, and what to avoid, can see them working in your favour.

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