Omni Traveller

Budget Backpack Travel in Europe

Rewards Points & Airline Alliances

Rewards Points have become popular among credit card providers as a means of providing benefits to their customers. It’s now time to dig into some of the ins-and-outs of getting the most bang for your buck.

Airlines, When They Stand Alone

Now, when you started looking over Rewards Points you probably noticed something troubling- Rewards Points, like Frequent Flier Miles, can ostensibly only be collected and redeemed through and for only one airline.

Thus for example, if you earn Rewards Points from American Airlines, it would seem that you can only use them to book flights on American Airlines. If you earn Rewards Points taking advantage of a credit card offer linked with Iberia Airlines, then it would seem you can only use those points when flying the relatively limited number of destinations Iberia can take you. And if you earn Rewards Points with a regional airline, like Spain’s Veuling, then you better hope you’re in the mood to check out Barcelona the next time you get the itch to turn in your miles.

In other words, in and of themselves Rewards Points and Frequent Flyer Miles seem only effective if you want to fly the same airline that ponyed them up.

At first this doesn’t sound like such a big deal. After all, a free flight is a free flight, right?

Well, yes and no. Most people really wouldn’t complain about getting the opportunity to check out another country or two without paying more than the ticket taxes, and they would gladly jump at the opportunity, regardless whether or not they’re flying first class. However, after you become an experienced traveller, you’ll come to realize how limited certain airlines’ routes really are. Then you’ll start to tune into quality differences between airlines. Some airlines, including some major airlines, are not worth the bother of flying if you don’t really have to.

The good news is there’s a way to solve this problem, a solution that expands the number of airlines you can fly when redeeming Rewards Points, giving you access to higher-quality services and more convenient routes and schedules than finding yourself stuck with a single option.

What is this solution?


Airline Alliances

Many Airlines have joined together into “alliances” in order to provide wider benefits to their client passengers. An alliance is nothing more than an association of airlines that have agreed to honour each other’s Frequent Flyer Miles and Rewards Points earned within the alliance. It’s a simple concept, but a very powerful solution to a potential roadblock of an issue.

There are three major airlines alliances you can currently join. These are:

  • Star Alliance has 27 member airlines including United Airlines, US Air, Air Canada, Swiss, Lufthansa, SAS Scandinavian, Thai Airways, Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, China Airlines.
  • OneWorld has 12 member airlines including, American Airlines, British Airlines, Finnair, Iberia, Air Berlin, Qantas Airlines, Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Lan, and others.
  • Sky Team has 19 members including Delta, Air France, Air Italia, KLM, Air Europa, Aeromexico, China Airlines, Korean Air, Vietnam Airlines, Aerolineas Argentinas, and others.

Which of the alliances should you join? The answer is simple- join all three.

There’s no penalty for joining more than one alliance, besides there is no reason to join just one. Becoming a member of each alliance is the best way to get the most out of your Frequent Flier Miles and Rewards Points. It is the first thing you should do before you sign up for your first credit card offer.

To take advantage of one airline alliance all you need to do is have a Frequent Flier account with one of the alliances’ members. It’s generally a good idea to sign up for the largest, or at least one of the largest, airlines within the alliance as funnelling all of your points into their program will usually provide you with the greatest flexibility and the best bonuses. The larger airlines tend to have the most generous and ambitious membership programs, giving you an added incentive to accumulate your points in your United account instead of an Air Lingus account.

So which of the majors should you centralize your miles within when you join an alliance? United is your best bet with Star Alliance; go with an American Airlines account within One World; sign up with Delta when joining Sky Team.


But Wait, There’s More…

In addition to being able to centralize all your Frequent Flier Miles and Rewards Points into a single account, and in addition to being able to use those Frequent Flier Miles to book flights offered by a wide range of airlines, there are plenty of additional benefits to gain from joining airline alliances.

To start, the elite status you gain in one member’s rewards program usually provides you with equivalent benefits when flying with other alliance members. Keep in mind when I say “equivalent benefits”, that mean you’ll get the closest thing a smaller airline offers that is comparable to what the other, larger airline offers. So while your platinum status may get you lounge access, a faster trip through security, and free seating upgrades with your preferred major airline, this status may offer you little more than priority boarding with a smaller airline that has fewer amenities to give you.

It’s also important to note a larger airline may not necessarily always recognize rewards program benefits earned through a smaller airline, so do not automatically expect your elite standing on a smaller regional airline automatically transfer to a major airline.

Even considering these possible limitations, the fact that one alliance member’s reward program provides some perks with other alliance member flights is a nice touch.


Status Match It, Please

So how do you get elite status and membership benefits from one alliance airline by accumulating points in another airline? Simple, you just need to request a “status match.”

Requesting a status match requires little more than contacting an airline with proof of your standing with one of their allies and asking if they’ll provide you with their equivalent standing. That’s it. Your request doesn’t need to be complicated, simply sending in a letter asking them for the match in a sentence or two is enough. The proof you send in doesn’t need to be particularly extensive either. Generally speaking if you send in a photocopy of your rewards card from their allied airline along with your most recent mileage statement from that airline, you’ll be good to go. As long as you already have a rewards account with the airline you’re soliciting you should receive your match within a couple weeks of sending in your request. Most airlines have a dedicated matching program set up, so they will be happy to provide you with the guidelines you need to receive your requested match. So, do a little research, send in your request, and enjoy your new effort-free elite status!