SECOND OF TWO PARTS
- Star Alliance
27 airlines, 4,000-plus aircraft, 1,160 destinations in 181 countries
14 airlines (plus 12 “member affiliate” and 13 “non-member affilate” airlines), approx. 3,500 aircraft, 960 destinations in 169 countries
12 airlines, 2,400-plus aircraft, 871 destinations 150 countries
At first blush, the airlines alliances may look like just a mechanism for the airlines to get around antitrust laws, a way of reducing their costs and artificially controlling ticket prices. But in a lot of ways, they help us out.
For one thing, they make it possible to use your frequent-flier miles from Airline A to book flights on Airline B, and rack up miles on one airline that you can apply to many others.
And there are some more subtle ways the alliances work in your favor. This from Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst for Forrester Research, an international market research firm in Cambridge, MA:
“Being able to check in once and get all your boarding passes, checking your baggage once an picking it up at the final destination, no matter how times to change planes or change airlines. Many of the alliance have antitrust immunity. That allows them to coordinate not only on prices, but also coordinate on schedules.
“Airlines in the same alliance will often try locating their flights close by to one another to make their connections easy.”
What’s more, the alliances have put together their own Web sites that allow you to book flights online. Feel intimidated trying to work out a potentially complex international routing? No worries. Star Alliance, SkyTeam and oneworld will gladly do it for you.
So how do you connect to these guys? There’s a good chance you already are, since there’s at least one major US-based airline in each alliance.
Which means that if you’re enrolled in United’s frequent flier program, you’re already a member of the Star Alliance. If you’re a frequent flier with Delta, you’re already connected to SkyTeam. And if you’re earning miles on American, you’re already hooked up with oneworld.
But that’s by default. How do you choose an alliance for yourself?
Unless, you’ve already hit the lottery, cost is an obvious first concern. But remember, airlines and alliances alike watch one another’s fares like the proverbial hawk, so don’t expect radical differences from one to another.
Other factors can vary a lot more. Here are some of them:
- The nature of your travel
Where in the world do you do most of your international travel? Where do you anticipate doing a good amount of international travel in the future? Which alliances offers the best mix of airlines to the places you most want to go?
- Your flying experience
Which alliance has the airlines you most prefer to fly? Which are the most convenient for you to use? Which are the most comfortable, offer the best service? Or to put it a another way, which ones make you the least miserable the most often?
Check out the safety records of the airlines in an alliance, especially the ones with which you are the least familiar. How many serious accidents have they had in the last year, the last five, the last ten? Is their fleet fairly new, modern, up-to-date — or are most of their planes significantly older than you are?
One alliance might be better for travel in and around Europe, another better for Asia or the Americas.
But remember, you’re not flying on an alliance. You’re still flying on an airline. And everyone has their likes and dislikes.
Take my own case. Star Alliance is by far the largest of the three, but because of my destinations up to now, I’ve done most of my fling on the smallest — oneworld.
But as my travels have broadened, the number of airlines I’ve flown on has grown. I now have a real fondness for Air France and KLM. Both are with SkyTeam.
The alliances may cover the Earth, but when it comes to Africa, the Mother Continent is largely out of the picture. Only three of the 53 airlines in the alliances are based there. Egyptair and South African Airways, are with Star Alliance, while Kenya Airways is hooked up with SkyTeam.
oneworld has no African airline members at all.
Slowly, that may be changing. Kenya Airways already is a member of SkyTeam, and Ethiopian Airlines may be a full partner in the Star Alliance by the end of September.
Further, Ethiopian already has its own reciprocal agreements with a dozen different airlines in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
But just because an alliance has few airlines or even none in Africa, that doesn’t mean they can’t get you there.
oneworld may be the smallest alliance, but one of their principal members, British Airways, has 16 African destinations on its route map. Air France, a major member of SkyTeam, has nearly 40. The Star Alliance weighs in with South African Airways and their 29.
Reaching most of those destinations will mean connecting through Europe. If you’re looking for direct flights from the United States, especially to sub-Saharan Africa, even the massive Star Alliance takes a back seat to SkyTeam.
The reason: Delta. They have more direct US-Africa flights than any other airline, period.
Bottom line: You know what you like. You know where you’re going. With those factors in mind, you choose your alliance the same way you choose your airlines.
ALSO CHECK OUT:
AIRLINES: Know your alliance, Part 1