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Oct 28

Airline Alliances: What are they and how do they work?

We’re moving into FF Miles 102 territory, but it’s important to understand the ideas behind airline alliances.  Simply put, an alliance is a partnership between two or more airlines, making long-distance travel easier.  There are three main alliances: Oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam.  And while two US Airlines can be in the same alliance (US Airways and United are both in Star Alliance, for instance.), the greatest benefits come from domestic and international partnerships.

Example: You need to book a flight from Miami to Munich.  Since American Airlines is the largest operator out of Miami, you choose them for your flight.  But American doesn’t have a flight to Munich.  Rather, it relies on British Airways, its Oneworld partner, to pick up the connection in London.  You’ll fly American from Miami (MIA) to London Heathrow (LHR), land at 8:40 am, and then change to a British Airways flight there for the connection to Munich.  Here is how the page on American’s website looks.  Note that it tells you that the connection is on a different airline but allows you to book the whole thing on its site.  This way, you don’t have to search for connecting flights yourself.  

 

AA logo 56 07:05 pm MIA 08:40 am LHR
AA logo 6545

Operated by
British Airways
12:40 pm LHR 03:30 pm MUC
  • Overnight flight or connection
  • Terminal change

 

From a mileage perspective, these partnerships are extremely important, because airlines usually allow you to earn miles on a partner’s flight.  In this case, the passenger can earn American Airlines miles (or British Airways miles, if you are so inclined) on not only the portion flow on American but also the portion flown on British Airways, thus building your collection of miles on one airline.

On this flight, the two airlines also have a Codeshare Agreement.  The codeshare means that more than one airline are selling seats on a particular flight using different flight numbers.  For instance, in the above example, American Airlines is selling you the flight from London to Munich as part of your connection from Miami.  For you, that flight is AA 6545, although it is flown by British Airways:

 

American Airlines

6545

Operated by British Airways

London (LHR)
November 13, 2013 12:40 PMTravel Time : 1 h 50 m
Cabin Class : Economy
Seat : unassigned
Munich (MUC)
November 13, 2013 03:30 PMBooking Code : Y
Plane Type : 319

But you’re not the only passenger taking that flight.  For instance, if a passenger in London simply wanted to book the London-Munich portion, they’d go to British Airways and book the following:

 

12:40 13 Nov 15:30 13 Nov
British Airways BA0952

Only 5 seat(s) left at this price

  Only 5 seat(s) left at this price Lowest

Same flight, same plane, but a different flight number, in this case BA 0952.  Note the “BA,” since it was booked through British Airways.  And to complicate matters, there may be people from all over the world with several different flight numbers, even though it is the exact same flight!

Fortunately, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.  The flight number represents the original airline that booked the flight and is simply a way to facilitate connecting.  For you, it doesn’t matter how many different flight numbers there are; the computer does all the work for you.  You simply need to know that your flight is called AA 6545, even though it is actually operated by British Airways.  There’s the benefit of the partnership: American is delivering a passenger to BA, who picks up where American left off, allowing passengers to make a virtually seamless connection instead of having to find their own way among airlines.

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