Joining a frequent flyer program is similar to getting married: along with a spouse, you get an entire family. Since most airlines are part of alliances, though, the deal is even better. Rather than the usual collection of meddling in-laws and crazy uncles, you gain access to a wide range of new airlines where you can use your miles.
U.S. travelers tend to do most of their flying on either American, Delta or United. The good news is that those carriers are respective members of Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance. Here’s how the big three carriers break down in terms of airline partners:
American: British Airways; Cathay Pacific; Finnair; Iberia; Japan Airlines; LATAM; Malaysia Airlines; Qantas; Qatar Airways; Royal Jordanian; Siberia Airlines (S7); SriLankan Airlines.
Delta: Aeroflot; Aerolineas Argentinas; Aero Mexico; Air Europa; Alitalia; China Airlines; China Eastern; Czech Airlines; Garuda Indonesia; Kenya Airways; KLM; Korean Air; MEA; Saudia; TAROM; Vietnam Airlines; Xiamen Air.
United: Adria; Aegean; Air Canada; Air China; Air India; Air New Zealand; ANA; Asiana; Austrian; Avianca; Brussels Airlines; Copa Airlines; Croatia Airlines; Egyptair; Ethiopian; EVA Air; LOT; Lufthansa: SAS; Shenzen Airlines; Singapore Airlines; South Africa Airways; Swiss; TAP; Thai; Turkish Airlines.
Bear in mind that these are only the alliance partners. You can also use American miles to redeem on Air Tahiti Nui, Alaska Airlines, Cape Air, Etihad Airways, Fiji Airways and Hawaiian Airlines. In addition to their SkyTeam partners, Delta SkyMiles can be used on Gol, Hawaiian Airlines, Mandarin Airlines and Middle Eastern Airlines. United boasts 11 airline partners on top of the 26 Star Alliance members.
All these partnerships are a boon for the consumer, as they greatly expand travel options. American Airlines miles have been notoriously difficult to use in recent years, particularly for American flights at the Saver level. With 18 airline partners, though, your options increase geometrically. You’re no longer limited to American’s stingy award space—not to mention that many travelers, given a choice, would opt for a foreign carrier over a domestic one.
The situation is similar to Delta, where SkyMiles have been devalued so drastically that some in the frequent flyer community refer to them derisively as Sky Pesos. Not only is award space easier to find on partner airlines at times, but the number of miles required for an award is sometimes much lower. United’s 37 partners open up a wealth of opportunities. Even JetBlue, which is not a member of a major alliance, has 11 opportunities for True Blue members to use their points.
The main challenge you might face is finding the award space, as each member airline doesn’t necessarily list availability for all their partners on their website. American’s site, for example, will display flights on British Airways, Iberia and a few others, but you have to go elsewhere to find other availability across all partnerships. The BA and Qantas sites generally work well for flights within the Oneworld network. Also consider using a paid subscription service such as Expert Flyer (expertflyer.com), which allows you to set up alerts for flights, seats, and schedule changes. Once you’ve found the award seats you want, simply call your primary carrier and book the flight over the phone.
Here’s a quick review of the credit card options for the big three carriers:
American: Both Barclays and Citibank issue credit cards that earn AA miles. Signup bonuses vary but tend to be high, while annual fees are generally reasonable. Citi offers six options including the no-annual-fee MileUp card as well as the AAdvantage Platinum Select card ($99 annual fee, waived the first year; also available as a business card) and the AAdvantage Executive card ($450, but includes an Admirals Club membership). Barclays has six choices, featuring the popular Aviator blue, Red and Silver Mastercards ($49, $99 and $199 respectively).
Delta: American Express is the exclusive issuer of Delta mileage cards. The lineup starts with Blue (no annual fee), Gold ($95, waived the first year), Platinum ($195) and Delta Reserve ($450); Gold, Platinum and Reserve also come in business versions. The Platinum and Reserve cards are heavy in benefits, including the opportunity to earn Medallion Qualification Miles.
United: Chase issues all four United Airlines credit cards. The quartet includes a prepaid Visa, the TravelBank card (no annual fee), the Explorer card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year; also available in a business version) and the Club card ($450, including a United Club membership).
Bottom Line: Obviously, your choice of preferred airline will largely depend on which carrier flies the most out of your home airport. Beyond that, consider the destinations of partner airlines before choosing a frequent flyer program.
[Featured Image: Delta]
Source: frugal travel guy