Big airlines

All about airline alliances

What is an airline alliance, which are the biggest alliances in the world and how can the alliances be beneficial for you as a traveler? Here you get all the answers you need about airline alliances.

star alliance lufthansa
The biggest airline alliance is Star Alliance, which was founded by Lufthansa and four other airlines in the 1990's.

What is an airline alliance?

An airline alliance is a cooperation between several airlines, making it possible for them to for example share resources and offer the possibility for their travelers to redeem miles on each others’ programs. There are several globe-spanning airline alliances, the biggest three being Star Alliance, SkyTeam and Oneworld.

Star Alliance

Star Alliance is the biggest airline alliance in the industry, with more than 25 members worldwide. The alliance was the first of its kind when it was founded in 1997 by Air Canada, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Thai Airways and United Airlines. The alliance has its base in Frankfurt, Germany, and is the only alliance in the world that has at least one member from every continent. Today the network spans over almost 200 countries, and among the members you find for example All Nippon Airways, South African Airways and Swiss Airlines.


The second largest airline alliance by the number of members and passengers is SkyTeam. The alliance was founded in 2000 by four airlines – Aeromexico, Air France, Delta Air Lines and Korean Air. Today the alliance has 18 members, with representatives from each continent except Australia. Among the members are China Airlines, KLM and Vietnam Airlines.


The airline alliance Oneworld was founded in 1998 and has a total of 13 members. The alliance was formed by American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qantas. Something unique about this alliance is that it holds two major American airlines, with Alaska Airlines being a member. Other members are for example Finnair and Malaysian Airlines.

Benefits with airline alliances

There are several advantages with airline alliances for you as a traveler. With the alliances the connections become better and it makes it easier to collect and spend miles. For flyers with elite status, this will get recognized by all partners in the alliance. Another positive is that the partnership often means shared services – in other words you can turn to either one of the cooperating airlines if you have an issue with one of them.

One of the major benefits with the alliances is codeshare flights. Codesharing means that an airline can sell seats on a flight operated by another airline, something that is very common among the airlines in the same alliance (but also possible outside of the alliance).

So is it all good then? No, not necessarily. Some people think the alliances function negatively by eliminating the competition between airlines, which can make the prices go up.

Major airlines outside the alliances

Some big airlines have chosen to not be a part of an alliance, for one reason or another. One of the major players outside any of the alliances is Emirates from Dubai. The reasons for this are many – one of them being that Emirates themselves doesn’t find it beneficial to be part of an alliance. Other big airlines that aren’t part of any alliance are Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia.

Also, you won’t find any low cost carriers like JetBlue Airways and Ryanair in the major airline alliances, since their standards don’t live up to the requirements of the alliances.