In my opinion, airline alliances are the best thing to happen to air travel since deregulation occurred in the 1970s. They allow you to travel to many more places, especially for free using miles. The other great benefit is that you can earn miles on your home airline when flying any of the alliance airlines. This post will go into the detail about how to earn miles for your normal airline from flying partners and other members of the alliance.
The first step of course is to know the alliances. There are three alliances: Oneworld, Skyteam, and Star. Below, I’ve listed the airlines in each alliance that an American traveler is likely to encounter. There are many more airlines in each alliance, but an American will probably never encounter many of them. Each alliance has one major airline that is based in the United States that will probably be the main airline for you. The Star Alliance currently has two airlines, but I’m leaving out US Airways since they are currently merging with American and the combined airline will be part of Oneworld.
Whenever you fly on an airline in your alliance, you should make sure to include the frequent flyer number from your main airline. You can usually do this online when booking the ticket or afterward when viewing the ticket online. You can also have them add it when you check in at the airport or at the gate before the flight. However, if you forget, you can still get miles after the flight by filling out a form online. Here are the links for the three US airlines: American, Delta, United
There are a few things to keep in mind. You have to submit the request within a certain period of time after your flight. For American this is 9 months, for Delta and United it is 12 months. Delta and United also allow you to get credit for flights in the thirty days before your enrollment in the program. American will not credit you miles for any flights taken before you are a member of their frequent flyer program. All three require you to enter information about your flight such as reservation or flight number. This is why I always recommend keeping boarding passes after your flight.
So far, I’ve only talked about alliance airlines, but all airlines have partners outside of the alliance. The main partners for American are Hawaiian, Jet Blue, and Alaskan. The main partners for Delta are Virgin Australia, Hawaiian, and Alaskan. The main partners for United are Air Lingus and Hawaiian. These partners work very much the same way that alliance partners do as far as earning miles. However, when using miles some airlines have rules that say you can’t use alliance partners with other partners.
Finally, we would be remiss to not discuss earning rates when crediting miles to another airline other than the one operating the aircraft. It would be nice if each mile flown equaled one mile in your account, but this isn’t always true. Most of the time this is the case, but sometimes airlines will vary how many miles you get when flying on their partners based on the class of service or fair class. Here are the links to the partner pages of each major US airline where you can click on the partner airline and determine exactly how many miles you’ll be getting: American, Delta, United.
The other big question I get asked is how to transfer miles between partners in an alliance. Although I wish it was not the case, you cannot transfer miles between partners. Once you earn miles in an airlines account they’re there to stay. It is sometimes possible to transfer them to hotel partners but this is rarely a good deal.
South African Airways