There are three airline alliances – oneworld, Skyteam and Star Alliance. To keep it simple,Β  airline alliances are basically cooperation agreements between airlines. These agreements can see them codeshare together, as well as allowing you to travel to a destination on multiple airlines all on the same ticket. I’ll approach this article from a passenger point of view.Β  Airline alliances can be a great way of maximising benefits and enjoying certain perks.

In simple terms, as a passenger, if you’re flying with an airline in one of the alliances you can then credit your points to any frequent flyer programme of an airline in the same alliance. If you have status, you can also enjoy the benefits of that status no matter the airline you are flying within the same alliance – these can include priority boarding, lounge access and premium seat selection. There are a whole range of airline alliance benefits which can enhance your travel experience.

benefits of airline alliances oneworld, Skyteam, Star Alliance



The oneworld alliance has 13 members. In 2020 it’ll gain Royal Air Maroc but it’ll lose LATAM. Prominent members include American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qatar. The alliance has 3 membership status tiers – Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald, with Ruby being the lowest membership level and Emerald the highest.

You cannot earn status directly with an alliance, instead you earn it through the frequent flyer schemes of one of its members. All of these schemes vary significantly in terms of earning rates, speed of progression and airmile accrual, so I’ll try and keep it simple. I’d generally choose the British Airways Executive Club or Iberia Plus as the best oneworld airlines to open an account with and subsequently earn status through. I used to earn through British Airways, but once moving to Spain I switched to Iberia. Both have pros and cons.

With the British Airways Executive Club you’d need 300 Tier Points and 2 eligible flights for the equivalent of oneworld Ruby,Β  600 Tier Points and 4 eligible flights for the equivalent of oneworld Sapphire and 1,500 Tier Points for Emerald. With Iberia Plus the flights requirement is slightly different and is easier if you don’t live in Europe, or wouldn’t be able to meet the minimum flights threshold with BA. You need to gain 1,100 Elite Points for oneworld Ruby equivalent, 2,250 for the equivalent of Sapphire and 6,250 Elite Points for Emerald. You don’t need to worry about flying an Iberia operated flight.

In the future, I’ll explore these schemes in detail, but for now, I’ll keep the focus primarily on the different alliances and their benefits.


Skyteam has 19 members, and is larger than oneworld. Many of their members are small though, and I’d generally rate alliance members in a lower category to oneworld and Star Alliance, but there are some prominent names. Air France, Delta, and KLM being three of them. Skyteam has two membership status tiers – Skyteam Elite and Skyteam Elite Plus.

In terms of gaining status, I’d recommend joining and crediting flights to Air France/KLM Flying Blue. With Flying Blue you’d need to earn 40,000 miles within 12 months to gain the equivalent of Skyteam Elite Plus. The second option would be Delta, however, overall it is a harder method, especially if you live in the US where there is a minimum cash spending amount.

Star Alliance

Star Alliance is the largest global alliance, and has 26 members. These include a number of premium airlines such as ANA, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and Turkish. There are two membership levels – Silver and Gold.

When it comes to earning status from scratch, the easiest programme to do so with is Greek carrier Aegean. To obtain status, you’d need to gain 36,000 miles and fly on 6 eligible flights.



As you will have noticed, oneworld is unique, being the only alliance with three premium tiers.Β  You’ll receive some airline alliance benefits as a Ruby member. These include business class check-in, advanced seat selection and priority boarding. Advance seat selection may only be available a week or so before departure, and you may not have access to premium (e.g. exit-row) seating.

Sapphire is the next level, and I’d rate this to be the sweet spot of the programme. It can be easy to obtain, and the benefits will make a huge difference to your experience especially in economy or premium economy. You’ll benefit from seat selection from the moment you book, often with access to premium seats in your class of travel. You can also enjoy business class lounge access (with a guest) prior to your flight and additional checked baggage. The exception to the extra checked baggage allowance is any British Airways flight booked on a hand-baggage only fare.

Emerald is the highest level, and the big difference is access to first class lounges where available. You’ll also get guaranteed fast-track security and an even greater checked baggage allowance. In theory though, most airlines will give you priority security if you’re Sapphire as well.

I wouldn’t ever specifically change my travel pattern or plans to obtain Ruby. Sapphire, however, can be valuable to aim for. Emerald offers some nice additional perks. Unless you are a very frequent traveller, you’re unlikely to be able to really maximise these though.


Skyteam has two levels, Elite and Elite Plus. Elite will give you priority check-in and boarding. You’ll also benefit from an additional checked baggage allowance and advanced seat selection.

Elite Plus, however, would the level to aim for. With this you’ll get ‘SkyPriority`which includes fast-track security, and business class lounge access (with a guest). You should note, however, that lounge access is only available when you’re on an international flight (or are connecting onwards to one on the same day with a Skyteam airline).

So let’s use Spain as an example. Air Europa is Skyteam, Iberia is oneworld. Let’s suppose you are Skyteam Elite Plus and oneworld Sapphire. You’re travelling from Valencia to Madrid in economy. With Air Europa you’d get priority check-in, security, be able to choose seats and get an extra baggage allowance. You wouldn’t be able to use the business class lounge though.

With Iberia, you’d get priority check-in, security, advanced seat selection, additional baggage and business class lounge access. So for this example, oneworld Sapphire would be far more worthwhile than Skyteam Elite Plus.

Star Alliance

Star Alliance also has two levels, Silver and Gold. In all honesty, Silver has very few airline alliance benefits, and I wouldn’t particularly rate it as worth aiming for. You will only be able to benefit from advanced reservations waitlist and priority airport stand-by. In terms of benefits prior to flying or onboard, you will not gain anything.

Gold on the other hand is roughly the same as oneworld Sapphire. You can enjoy priority check-in and boarding, business class lounge access (plus a guest) prior to your flight and additional checked baggage. Advanced seat selection, however, is not guaranteed. Some airlines will offer it, however, some will not.

Should I try to get airline alliance status?

It depends. I would rate oneworld Sapphire, Skyteam Elite Plus and Star Alliance Gold as the best options. All can be well worth having. They reflect a good balance between how hard it is to gain, and the benefits you will receive as a result. If you’re a frequent traveller or just enjoy flying regularly, they can make a huge difference to your overall experience. All three are a great example of why airline alliance benefits can greatly improve travel experiences.

When travelling shorthaul I always fly in economy, usually with oneworld. When I lived in the UK I’d frequently purchase €35 tickets from London to Lisbon with British Airways. I had oneworld Emerald status, and this meant I was able to gain access to the Cathay Pacific First class lounge in Heathrow Terminal 3 – all for €35!

In a couple of months, I’ll travel with Cathay Pacific from Zurich to Bali (via Hong Kong) on a €380 return ticket in economy. Even though I’m travelling on the cheapest fare I can still reserve premium emergency exit row seats for free, and benefit from lounge access before each flight. So even though I’ll be in economy, it’ll be a vastly upgraded journey compared to the one I’d have if I didn’t have oneworld status.

Next month, I’ll be showing you how you can gain oneworld Sapphire status from mainland Europe and the UK for approximately €1,000. So be sure to keep following if you’re keen to find out more about how it can be done.