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Understanding Airline Alliances & Partners

By July 30, 2012 December 10th, 2013 No Comments

Reader Question

Your Name: Vladimir S.
Subject: Combine US Airways Points with United Points
Message:

Hi Parag,

I love your website and I am glad that you constantly update it.  I am a long time reader and I can gladly say it has helped me out a lot since I travel for work 90% of the time.

In regards to my question, I was wondering if I could combine my US Airways points (I have about 10,000) with my United miles, since they use the same partner.

Thank you,

Vlad

Answer

While on the surface this question is fairly easy to answer, Vlad’s question touches on a semi confusing part of Frequent Flyer Programs that I suspect many Beginners may not fully understand.

First though to answer Vlad’s question, you cannot combine or transfer US Airway miles into or with United miles or really any other Airline.

The same thing is true with almost all other Frequent Flyer programs including Delta, American, Southwest, etc.

Basically, there is no easy way to move miles between different programs for free.

While there are sites like Points.com which allow you to move miles, because they charge a fee, it is often cheaper just to buy a ticket outright than to transfer the miles via Points.com.

This is really why Credit Cards are the best way to go about earning miles, because in one application you can have enough miles in your account to take a free trip, instead of trying to combine miles from different accounts.

That being said, I suspect the reason that Vlad asked the question in the first place is because he saw that US Airways and United are Star Alliance Partners and thought because they are “Partners” that you can move miles between the 2 Frequent Flyer Programs.

What Exactly Is An Airline Alliance / Partner?

An Airline Alliance is essentially a partnership of Airlines that allows Customers to fly, earn, and redeem miles with all the different Partner airlines.

The reason Airline Alliances primarily exist is so that 1 Airline does not have to fly everywhere in the world.

For example, if a passenger wants to fly from the United States to Stuttgart, Germany, it doesn’t make sense financially for US Airways to operate a direct flight from the United States to Stuttgart, since there isn’t enough passenger demand for that route to be profitable.

Instead, US Airways (or United) will fly you Frankfurt or any of the big German cities where US Airways already flies, and then their Star Alliance Partner, Lufthansa, will take over and fly you from Frankfurt to Stuttgart on one of their smaller regional planes.

Same thing if someone from Germany wants to visit say Peoria, Illinois.

Lufthansa will fly them to Chicago and then their Star Alliance Partner, United Airlines, will fly a smaller regional jet down to Peoria.

Worldwide Alliances

In terms of Passengers and Airline Partners, Star Alliance is the largest, however there are 2 other major Airlines Alliance called SkyTeam and OneWorld.

Below are all 3 of the major Airline Alliances and a few of their major Airline Partners. If you are interested in seeing a full list of each Airline Alliance’s Partners, please click on their respective links.

Star Alliance

  • United
  • US Airways
  • Lufthansa
  • SWISS
  • Air Canada
  • Singapore
  • Turkish
  • Thai

OneWorld Alliance

  • American Airline
  • British Airways
  • Qantas
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Iberia
  • LAN

SkyTeam

  • Delta
  • Air France
  • KLM

Benefits To Customers

For Customers, the beauty of these Airline Alliances are that when you book a ticket, you can book a single ticket straight from United States to Stuttgart, Germany, and the Airline Alliance will take care of the logistics.

You don’t have to book 1 ticket to Frankfurt on United and then book an entirely different ticket on Lufthansa to get to Stuttgart.

In terms of Frequent Flyer Miles, Airline Alliances greatly benefit Customers because you can earn and redeem miles in your preferred Frequent Flyer Program even if you aren’t flying on that particular airline.

So for example, if you were flying to Stuttgart, Germany and your main Frequent Flyer program is US Airways, even though the Frankfurt – Stuttgart leg of the flight is operated by Lufthansa, you can still credit those miles to US Airways or any of the Star Alliance Airline Partners.

Similarly when you redeem your miles, you can redeem your miles on the various Alliance Partners, as long as they are part of the same Airline Alliance.

As you can see above, you can redeem your United miles for a flight on Lufthansa, because they are part of the same Star Alliance with Lufthansa.

You could not redeem your United miles on American Airlines, Delta, or British Airways, etc, because those Airlines are all part of a completely separate Airline Alliance.

To sum it up in layman’s terms:

You cannot transfer miles between various Airline Frequent Flyer Programs, however if the Airline is a Partner in an Alliance, then you can fly, earn, and redeem miles with those Partner Airlines.

Hopefully that answers Vlad’s question and gives some insight to other Beginners on how Airline Alliances and Partnerships work.

If you have any other questions about anything travel related, as always, you can email me at FrequentFlyerUniversity@gmail.com

-Parag

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