Airline alliances have been around for decades. They have allure for the airlines that join them as well as the passengers that fly them. Participating carriers align their systems and frequent flyer benefits, and in return they enjoy expanded reach to destinations beyond what each airline could reasonably serve alone.
Alliance members often codeshare with each other, meaning they can sell seats on a partner airline’s flights to help expand their global footprint and attract more customers.
Alliances help to create a seamless experience for flyers by aligning policies, perks and reservation systems across partner carriers.
Star Alliance is the largest airline alliance in the world, with 26 member airlines including:
Flyers who achieve elite status with Star Alliance enjoy reciprocal frequent flyer benefits with other Star Alliance airlines, which means they can earn and redeem miles for flights with any airline in the alliance.
Because of the expenses involved in aligning backend systems with those of other alliance carriers, it can be expensive for an airline to join an alliance. While alliance membership can give a small airline great exposure to customers around the world, the cost to join just may not be feasible.
As a result, some alliances have created alternatives.
Star Alliance Connecting Partners was formed as a way for smaller airlines to be affiliated with Star Alliance without fulfilling all of the requirements for membership.
What airlines are in Star Alliance Connecting Partners?
Currently, the Connecting Partners program only has two members: Juneyao Airlines of China and Thai Smile of Thailand. Neither has a global network of destinations; instead, they focus mostly on domestic or regional markets. Having a partnership with these smaller airlines provides a great advantage to Star Alliance member airlines because it allows them access to destinations they may not serve on their own flights; this, in turn, benefits customers.
The Connecting Partners program also gives Juneyao and Thai Smile passengers the opportunity to buy tickets to destinations around the world on the same reservation. While Star Alliance already has Air China and Thai Airways as members, each with their own global network, these two smaller carriers expand the number of destinations and itineraries Star Alliance carriers can offer.
What are the frequent flyer benefits?
You may be wondering what benefits you can receive as a Star Alliance elite status member or as a passenger connecting from a Star Alliance member flight. Because Juneyao and Thai Smile are Connecting Partners instead of Star Alliance members, the Star Alliance benefits they offer are slightly modified.
When booked on the same itinerary, passengers can now easily connect between Star Alliance and Juneyao flights and check their bags all the way through. Earning and redeeming miles is a bit more complicated; these perks are only available to passengers on a limited subset of Star Alliance member airlines:
Star Alliance Gold elite status members also enjoy these added perks:
Priority check-in and boarding.
Fast-track security where available.
These Gold elite perks are available on eligible fares, even when traveling in economy class. The only available benefit to Star Alliance Silver members is priority standby.
Passengers flying Thai Smile can connect with Star Alliance flights and check their bags all the way through. The ability to earn and redeem miles is limited to a handful of partner airlines:
United Airlines, the only U.S.-based member of Star Alliance, is not included in the list. This may disappoint Americans with United MileagePlus accounts.
Thai Airways elite members can access Thai Smile-branded lounges and enjoy a higher baggage allowance on flights.
Should flyers join Star Alliance for these partnerships alone?
Becoming a Star Alliance member requires an airline to have commercial relationships with all other member airlines, while becoming a Connecting Partner only requires an airline to have relationships with three member airlines. So it’s much easier for a small airline to become a Connecting Partner than it is to become a Star Alliance member.
If you have the option to fly with a Star Alliance member airline instead, you’ll have a more seamless experience due to reciprocal program benefits across member airlines. This is especially important if you have Star Alliance Gold status and are looking for extra perks.
When flying a Connecting Partner, you’ll only be eligible for Star Alliance benefits on select carriers, and only when your itinerary includes a connection to a Star Alliance member flight.
The Connecting Partners program expands the reach of smaller regional airlines and offers added frequent flyer benefits for some passengers — especially those with elite status.
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