Most frequent flyers choose an alliance and then earn their miles by flying with its airlines. However, the alliances differ on a few points, and accordingly, one should be well-informed before making this choice. The winner of this comparison changes depending on the flight profile and your own priorities.
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Airlines & Route Network
The Star Alliance probably has the most attractive members, especially for residents of Central Europe, as that region is well covered with the Lufthansa Group and LOT. With 26 members, the Star Alliance also has the largest number of airlines in its portfolio. SkyTeam has 19 members, including Air France and KLM in Europe. Oneworld is the smallest alliance, with only 13 members (including British Airways).
In the following article, we have described in more detail which regions of the world are particularly well or poorly covered by the alliances:
Winner: Star Alliance
Many status benefits are handled similarly by the alliances. However, there are a few benefits that are particularly important to frequent flyers, and here it is worth taking a close look at the conditions.
Lounge access is probably the most popular status advantage for most people. It’s nice to sit in a comfortable armchair at the airport, drink free drinks, and have a bite to eat – with Wi-Fi, newspapers, and generally just a bit of peace and quiet.
All alliances offer free access to the lounge for their customers starting at the 2nd status level (Star Alliance Gold, SkyTeam Elite Plus, Oneworld Sapphire), even when accompanied by a guest.
However, there is one restriction at the SkyTeam alliance: an international flight is required for lounge access. No problem in Europe, as you rarely take a domestic flight in the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, or France. It is, however, a major restriction in the USA, where there is no lounge access even for coast-to-coast connections.
Anyone who is a member of an American frequent flyer program generally does not receive lounge access on US domestic flights. You will only get access in connection with an international flight
There is one big, positive feature at Oneworld: If you hold the Emerald status, you have alliance-wide access to the First Class Lounges! At least wherever there are any.
Especially in these times when luggage is rarely included in Economy Class, the additional free baggage allowance has become significantly more relevant as a status advantage. However, this status advantage is mostly very dependent on the operating airline.
At SWISS, for instance, there is no additional baggage allowance at all for status members in the light fare. It’s the same with British Airways. With the Star Alliance and Oneworld, you always have to check with the airline to find out whether and how much free baggage you can check in as a frequent flyer.
It’s different, and much more generous, at SkyTeam. There is always an additional 23 kg baggage allowance for all status members (even for the lowest status level, SkyTeam Elite). It makes absolutely no difference with which airline, in which travel class, with which fare, and on which route you are flying. These 23 kg are always granted, without exception.
There are also other advantages that are actually quite similar between the three alliances. Check-in at the business counter, preferential treatment of baggage, the fast lane at the security checkpoint, and other similar small touches. Here, however, two points stand out: At Oneworld, you can use the first class counter to check-in with the Emerald status. In addition, most Oneworld airlines (as well as some SkyTeam airlines) have slightly better seats for status members. This is less the case with the Star Alliance.
Of course, you can’t just generalize how well or badly you can earn miles with an alliance, as it depends very much on the individual programs of the airlines. However, some programs stand out for specific situations:
You won’t get many award miles for economy class flights anywhere. When it comes to status miles, however, there is an outstanding program: Delta SkyMiles. Even with the cheapest fare of several airlines (e.g. Air France, KLM, Alitalia, Delta, LATAM, Aeromexico, Korean Air, China Eastern) you’ll be credited 100% of the distance. That’s unbeatable. In this article, by the way, we go into more detail about SkyMiles.
With premium economy, the credits are similar for all alliances. Most of the time, you’ll get about 100% of the distance. With Iberia Plus, however, you’ll get quite many “Elite Points” for a flight in premium economy, which is why Oneworld is just ahead of the others here. However, if we leave the miles and the price aside for a moment, then it should be mentioned that premium economy seats at the Star Alliance are generally a bit better than at the other alliances.
While many programs in the Star Alliance act very stingy with the cheap business booking classes – often giving you 0 miles, things are generally a bit better with Oneworld and SkyTeam. British Airways and Iberia usually offer very generous credits for business class flights. Nevertheless, some Oneworld airlines are coming up with light fares – not a very positive development.
In First Class, high mileage credits are actually the standard. Nevertheless, it makes a difference whether you get 200% or even a full 300% credited. Revenue-based programs can also cost you a lot of miles on first class flights – unless you have paid the exorbitant standard price. A particularly good program for first-class credits is surprisingly Aeroflot Bonus. For example, you’d get 300% for an Air France first class flight, and you only need 40,000 miles for the Elite Plus status.
However, the selection of first-class flights with SkyTeam is rather limited, as only Air France offers first class in Europe and hardly any other SkyTeam airline even has first class. With the Star Alliance, you have a lot more choices, e.g. with Lufthansa, Swiss, and Singapore Airlines.
Winners: SkyTeam & Star Alliance
If you only look at our categories, SkyTeam and Oneworld share first place with four wins each, ahead of the Star Alliance, which was only able to win in two categories. However, this is too simplistic a view of things, because hardly anyone will travel in all four travel classes, and besides, everyone has different priorities.
SkyTeam is definitely the most attractive alliance for travelers who book the cheapest fare, especially in economy class. Free luggage even with the lowest status on absolutely every flight, and with SkyMiles, you’ll usually even get 100% of the distance as status miles – the other alliances are far inferior in this category.
At Oneworld, the emerald status is a special incentive, because there are no first class advantages with any status of the other alliances. In addition, it is quite easy to reach a status with business class flights.
The Star Alliance is more convincing because of its large network of airlines and destinations. For Central Europeans in particular, the Star Alliance is clearly the best networked.