Greetings from Guam this week where I am enjoying the high humidity and 7602 miles for flying here. This week’s topic is alliances and I am not talking NATO vs. Warsaw Pact. Back when I was a Lieutenant, every time I flew on a different airline, I had to sign up for that airline’s frequent flyer program (FFP) meaning that I had a lot of miles spread thinly over a bunch of programs so it was hard to be considered an “elite” flyer and to have enough miles for free awards.
Thankfully, the airlines solved a lot of this problem by allying together so that even when flying on another airline your miles and status were earned on your main FFP. Consolidation of the airline industry has helped even further so those 38,000 miles I have had for years on Continental(CO) will soon join my United(UA) miles. There are three alliances out there today to which the majority of airlines belong. The largest is Star Alliance (www.starallinace.com) which counts UA, CO, US as U.S. carriers and Lufthansa (LH), Air Nippon Airways (ANA), Thai Air (TH), and Singapore Airways (SA) as key foreign carriers. Second is One World (www.oneworld.com) which is affiliated with American (AA), British Airways (BA) and Japan Airlines (JAL). The third is the smallest, but can be your choice is you live in the south or other hub location, is Skyteam (www.skyteam.com). This team has Delta (DL), including the former Northwest Airlines, Air France (AF), and Korean Air (KL) and so you can still travel the world if this is your choice. Check out the website of each one to see the long list of airlines that each alliance includes. Obviously, the strategy here is to pick one and try to accumulate all your miles on that one both to attain higher status and to accumulate a big pot ‘o miles that you can spend on any of the alliance’s member airlines. However, we all get stuck with flights that are not our choice and you should not turn down miles just because they are not part of your alliance. Continental used to be in another alliance from UA, but now they are merging showing that those orphan limes can come home to roost.
There are other good FFPs that are not part of any alliance, such as Alaska Air (AS). Accumulating miles on a FFP like this can also be useful. For example, I am Gold on AS’s Mileage Plan program as well as a 1K on UA’s Mileage Plus program. Mainly, you are going to join an independent program if that fits your travel requirements. I lived in Alaska for 7 years, so naturally I joined their program for local and domestic flights, but used UA for international flights. Having the second program is also beneficial since I can use AS miles for flights on AA or DL which means extra flexibility when flying or redeeming. Your choice of alliance or independent program will likely depend most on what area of the country you live in. Different airlines have hubs in different cities meaning that you are more likely to fly that airline so sign up with them. Also, look at where you are most likely to be stationed in the future. My cousin is one of those Satcom types that is only stationed in three places around the world, Germany, Okinawa, and California. Joining UA’s program makes the most sense since he can use it for flying LH in Germany and ANA in Okinawa. Whichever alliance you choose try your best to stick with that one. If you get stuck taking an airline that is not in your chosen alliance, you should still sign up and collect those miles. Who knows? You may be able to use them in the future.
Next time I’ll discuss the benefits of doing so to gain status and how you can use the Defense Travel System (DTS) to help you make the flights you take be a little less random.