A Beginner’s Guide To Airline Alliances (Updated August 2023)

by joeheg

Understanding what airline alliances are and which airlines are in each alliance is a key that unlocks the door to the next level of miles and points earning and usage. The basics of airline alliances aren’t all that difficult to understand, and that knowledge will allow you to use your miles in ways you never thought were possible.


There are three major airline alliances: SkyTeam, Star Alliance and oneworld (oneworld is purposefully spelled like that. Here’s why) . These alliances are groups of airlines that make agreements to work with one another to get passengers to more destinations around the world. For example, airline alliances make it easier to go from the U.S. to South Africa on a single ticket, using several different airlines, without having to check in at each city. Imagine having to price out and buy a ticket from your home airport to New York City, then from New York to Frankfurt, and a final ticket from Frankfurt to Johannesburg. Alliances allow airlines to have a global footprint without expanding into areas where it’s not profitable for them to do so.

Not surprisingly, each alliance has one (or more) of the major U.S. airlines as a member. American Airlines and Alaska Airlines are part of oneworld, Delta Airlines is a member of SkyTeam and United Airlines is a Star Alliance member. This is important for using miles and points because besides using your miles on the U.S. airline you earned them from, you can also use those miles to book flights on airlines in the same alliance.

Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Here are the alliances and the member airlines of each:


Finnair, Airbus A340-313, OH-LQE - NRT

  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Air Maroc
  • Royal Jordanian
  • SriLankan Airlines


HZ-AKA 3 B777-268ER Saudi Arabian(SkyTeam) MAN 08APR14 (13717693325)

  • Aerolíneas Argentinas
  • Aeroméxico
  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern Airlines
  • Czech Airlines
  • Delta Airlines
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • ITA Airways
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Middle East Airlines
  • Saudia
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Xiamen Airlines

Star Alliance

Aegean Airlines A320 Star Alliance 01

  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • All Nippon Airways
  • Asiana Airways
  • Austrian Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Air
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Scandinavian Airlines
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss International Air Lines
  • TAP Air Portugal
  • Thai Airways
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines

Unless you’re a global mega-traveler, you probably haven’t heard of many of these airlines. However, knowing these alliances and their member airlines will allow you to make those bucket list bookings with your miles. Remember our $25,000 trip that cost less than $1,000?  Using miles on alliance member airlines allowed it to happen.


Our flight from Melbourne, Australia to Tokyo, Japan was in business class on Thai Airways. I was able to book this trip using my United Airlines miles because both airlines are Star Alliance members.

Thai Airways International, Airbus A380-841, HS-TUB (13976475736)
This is where it gets fun. Look at all those miles you have in your frequent flyer account. Do you have a bunch of Delta Skymiles? You COULD use them to fly back and forth from Atlanta to Salt Lake City a few times, but wouldn’t it be more fun to fly from New York to Paris on Air France (a SkyTeam member), and take a totally legal picture of the Eiffel Tower? But don’t take an illegal picture of it!

picture of eiffel tower

I’m not going to get into all the possibilities of how you can use miles to book trips and believe me, there are many possibilities out there. Just being aware that alliances exist and knowing which airlines are in each one is the first step on a journey of learning how to best use your miles and points.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Dev January 23, 2019 - 2:14 pm

After reading and failing to understand some other content, I knew I could count on you guys to explain these alliances in a way I understand. I am starting to think about flights (perhaps open jaw) to Portugal next year and some of these carriers are major players. I want to make sure that I am accumulating points in the right programs to use for the airfare.

Caroline August 3, 2023 - 3:29 pm

Not all airline alliances are equal I flew from JFK to London Heathrow on American Airlines business class). I flew back on British airline. they did not honor the same level of service. I ended up eating curry and I turn down the second meal that was curry so alliances between airline partners are not equal please please look into the connection before, you take a partners airline.
I recently took two first class flights 5 hour flight to Las Vegas and return flight to New York City. The first flight was Delta. There was no food served -only a drink and a bag of chips -same on my return flight from Las Vegas to New York…no food, only a bag of chips.
What’s going on with first class? What happened to the meals they used to provide in first class? Why are we paying the extra money to sit in first class without amenities for domestic flights?
Is this deceptions something new that airlines are doing without letting passengers know there’s no food on first class. if American or Delta had let us know there wasn’t any meals, we could’ve purchased food at the airport. I had nothing to eat for five hours. I was so mad 😡
I didn’t wanna make a scene, but I let everyone know I was very upset!!
Can you please share this with other flyers because it’s something to take into consideration when paying extra money for first class and or business class
please don’t tell me we are paying extra money for 2 to 3 inches of space.
Thank you


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