How To Navigate Airline Alliances To Maximize Your Travel Reward Points

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How To Navigate Airline Alliances To Maximize Your Travel Reward Points

Have you heard of airline alliances? Well many travelers haven’t, yet it’s essential to understand them in order to get the most out of your miles.

If you’ve had a difficult time figuring out mileage award programs, whether they be frequent flyer or credit card based, you’re not alone. I know I’ve had my struggles with them. But one thing is for sure, mastering the points game is essential to getting free flights.

This article is part 1 of a 2 part series giving you everything you need to know about getting started with travel reward credit cards, travel hacking and maximizing your points.

Today we will go through the ins and outs of airline alliances so you don’t make those all too common rookie mistakes.

Airline alliances are airlines like American, United, and Delta who have partnered up with other airlines to extend their flight network. This allows all the airlines in the alliance the ability to offer flights to more places through these partnerships.

If Delta doesn’t have its own flight to a specific area, Delta can use a partner airline’s flight as an option for its Delta customers.

Without these alliances as a points member to say Delta, you would only be able to fly where Delta Airlines fly which would be limiting. These alliances allow airlines to share their points programs to multiple airlines giving you worldwide travel options.

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Star Alliance, Oneworld, and SkyTeam are the world’s 3 major airline alliance programs.


The largest group Star Alliance has a great network of airlines and can truly get you just about anywhere. United Airlines is a partner of Star Alliance and a very popular choice for a mileage rewards program.



SkyTeam is home to Delta Airlines as its U.S. based airline.



The smallest of the Alliances is OneWorld but despite its small size it still offers a tremendous value. American Airlines is their U.S. partner.



To understand how these Airline Alliances work let’s start with an example using OneWorld. It’s important to note that all of the above airlines have their own mileage program that you can join to earn miles. But joining all of them or even several of them would be foolish, here’s why.

If I book a flight on British Airways and get 10,000 mileage points I have the option of signing up with British Airways mileage program and keeping those points on British Airways.

Let’s say on another trip I fly American Airlines and get 15,000 mileage points. I also have the option of signing up with American Airlines reward program where those points can be stored.

If we followed the above example, you now have some points with British Airways and some points with American Airlines. This is not ideal since to meet minimums for flights you’ll be better off having all those miles under one account.

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This is where the airline alliances come into play. Let’s say you have an American Airlines mileage account. You book a flight that lands you on British Airways. Because these two airlines are in the same alliance, you can use your American Airlines rewards membership to collect those points from your British Airways flight.

So now, instead of having American Airlines points and British Airways points, you now have all those points under one account. This is a much better option as you will be able to meet minimums sooner when booking a reward flight.

You might be asking, can’t I just transfer those points between the airlines? No you can’t! You are not allowed to transfer points from one airline to another.


The best way to get the most out of your mileage points is to funnel them into one particular airline within each of the 3 alliances. In essence, you would just have 3 mileage programs, one from each alliance that you funnel your points towards.

Now picking which airline to use as your primary airline for each alliance is largely up to you and may depend on where you live and fly to the most often. There are however a few other things you should consider.

For those that have or plan to have a mileage award credit card that earn miles towards a specific airline, that airline’s mileage program would be a logical place to start for that given alliance.

I have an American Airlines credit card so naturally, I funnel all my mileage rewards from any airline in OneWorld to my American Airlines mileage program.

This keeps those miles all in one place instead of spread out over several different airlines where they won’t amount to anything and can’t be used.


It’s important to mention that some mileage reward credit cards are not connected directly to a specific airline like the Citi American Airlines card I mentioned above.

Instead, some cards allow you to redeem points through their own airline booking platform OR transfer those points to one of their airline partners. Depending on which airline your particular card partners with should also be taken into consideration when picking mileage programs.

I also use and highly recommend the Chase Saphire (my review here) travel credit cards as they are some of the most flexible on the market. While these cards give you the option to book flights, hotels, or numerous other travel expenses directly through their booking site, I prefer to transfer my points to a particular airline.

For my Chase travel credit cards, I typically transfer those points to the United MileagePlus program which falls under the Star Alliance group.

If you’re considering a travel rewards credit card I would highly recommend the Chase Saphire line of cards.


Congrats! You’ve earned some miles and now is your chance to redeem those for a free flight. Your choice in destinations will determine which alliance you will need to use.

More obscure destinations might only have options under one of the alliances while a more destination might be available on any of the alliances.

Just head to your favorite booking site and punch in your destination to figure out your airline options.

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When you are looking at reward charts to figure out where you can travel with your miles, it’s important to know that the chart you must follow is whatever airline you have the points with.

So if you wanted to book a British Airways flight using your American Airlines points, you would follow the American Airlines awards chart and NOT British Airways award chart. Like I said earlier, you can’t transfer points between airlines.

It’s also worth noting that the award charts do vary between airlines and some might have better deals depending on where you’re flying. What’s best for you really depends on where you travel and how often.

But sticking with the primary U.S. based airline alliances partners is always a safe bet especially if you are just starting out.

As you can see, understanding airline alliances is essential to maximizing your rewards and not ending up with small and unusable mileage points spread between multiple airlines.

Be sure to read Part 2 – Beginner’s Guide To Travel Hacking & The Best Travel Credit Card. Here we will cover the single best travel credit card and how to maximize its reward.

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Thanks and happy travels!

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