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Is oneworld the ‘World’s Leading Airline Alliance’?

Is oneworld the ‘World’s Leading Airline Alliance’?

In recent weeks, oneworld — comprising Airberlin, American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, and S7 — has been deemed the world’s best global airline alliance a resounding three times: by Australian Business Traveller, Global Traveler, and the World Travel Awards.

Having opined earlier this week that the Star Alliance trumped oneworld, I found these results not only at odds with my own thinking but in conflict with the thinking of many fellow travelers of a certain geographic persuasion (see below).

And it raised the question, what make one airline alliance better than another?

Here’s how oneworld promotes itself:

oneworld enables its members to offer their customers more services and benefits than any airline can provide on its own. These include a broader route network, opportunities to earn and redeem frequent flyer miles and points across the combined oneworld network and more airport lounges. oneworld also offers one of the most extensive ranges of alliance fares.

That’s a pretty good summary of the value such alliances purport to deliver to their customers.

Global alliances succeed and fail mainly on the basis of two factors: the number of airline partners and the size of their flight networks; and the quality of the airline partners. Secondary considerations include the extent to which the partners have integrated their flights and other services, and the generosity of the reciprocal benefits accorded members of alliance-linked loyalty programs.

And finally, there’s the issue of geographic focus. The constellation of partnerships that works best for the New Zealand wine maker may be a non-starter for the export manager in Guangdong, China.

Alliances at a Glance

Here’s how the three global alliances compare on their key metrics:

  • oneworld
  • Airline Partners: Airberlin, American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, S7 (12)
  • Airports Served: 810
  • Airport Lounges: 584
  • Countries Served: 149
  • Daily Flights: 8,627
  • SkyTeam
  • Airline Partners: Aeroflot, Aerolineas Argentinas, Aeromexico, Air Europa, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Delta, Kenya Airways, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Korean Air, Middle East Airlines, Saudia, TAROM, Vietnam Airlines, Xiamen Airlines (19)
  • Airports Served: 1,000
  • Airport Lounges: 525
  • Countries Served: 187
  • Daily Flights: 15,465
  • Star Alliance
  • Airline Partners: Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Avianca, TACA, Brussels Airlines, Copa, Croatia Airlines, EGYPTAIR, Ethiopian Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, SWISS, TAM Airlines, TAP Portugal, Turkish Airlines, THAI, United, US Airways (27)
  • Airports Served: 1,329
  • Airport Lounges: 1,000+
  • Countries Served: 194
  • Daily Flights: 21,900

So, Star has more airline partners, operating more flights to more airports in more countries, with more airport lounges.

In fact, on every measure except airport lounges, oneworld lags both the other alliances, in most cases by significant margins.

Since oneworld isn’t a winner on the quantifiable metrics, it’s tempting to conclude that its perceived superiority must be due to the excellence of its partner airlines.

But that seems like an uncomfortable stretch. American is floundering in bankruptcy. British Airways has a reputation for arrogance, and its fuel surcharges are usurious. Japan Airlines managed itself into insolvency and had to be bailed out by the Japanese government. Cathay Pacific and Qantas are the group’s stars, but their halo effect only extends so far.

It’s more likely that oneworld’s recent string of puzzling accolades reflects the geographic leanings of the awards organizations and their survey respondents.

The World Travel Awards are London-based. Australian Business Traveller is an Australian publication. And Global Traveler, while U.S.-based, is more global than local, as its title would suggest.

So it may be true that oneworld is the best alliance for the average traveler.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the best alliance for you. And in particular, it doesn’t mean it’s the best alliance for travelers based in the U.S.

My vote, as an American who flies occasionally to Europe and Asia: Star Alliance. With United, Air Canada, and Lufthansa as co-anchors, it remains the best alliance for U.S. flyers.

Reader Reality Check

Do airline alliances play a part in your travel plans?

Which alliance do you favor?

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  • http://twitter.com/reykjeff Jeff Kay

    Oneworld has the best carriers. CX, QF, and JL is getting much better. Soon, MH and QR will join. BA is decent.

  • http://twitter.com/reykjeff Jeff Kay

    Oneworld has the best carriers. CX, QF, and JL is getting much better. Soon, MH and QR will join. BA is decent.

  • http://www.facebook.com/t.nick.knight T Nick Usalis Knight

    It looks like US Air will soon be joining and changing the equation. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/t.nick.knight T Nick Usalis Knight

    It looks like US Air will soon be joining and changing the equation. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/XXDD3ZLXO57F5M7VHYL3L7KOBI Tristan

    I must agree being an Australian who often visits Australian Business traveler. Qantas of course being Australian and therefore has the most extensive network in Australia will come out on top.

    It may get more interesting once Virgin Australia decides which alliance to go with Sky-team or Star.

    I know for Asia in General I think the network for sky-team and Star are much more convenient Than Just having Cathay/Japan airlines as options in Asia.

    I see it like this One world represents more of the older airlines from highly developed countries where unfortunately the market has limited potential to grow. However its true the services generally are much better than say my sky-team membership.

    Sky-team is more orientated to developing countries and therefore has more potential to grow once those markets mature.However in the short term they will likely lag in some areas than compared to the other alliances. Hence for example their low number of Lounges. Can you imagine the huge increase in usage of Lounges say 10-20 years from now? At the moment they are well far below international expectations.

    Star seems similar but is more exposed in other developing regions like central America/south America.

    As Australian Business traveler states…. Choose which alliance suits you best. I am in Asia so this benefits me.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/XXDD3ZLXO57F5M7VHYL3L7KOBI Tristan

    I must agree being an Australian who often visits Australian Business traveler. Qantas of course being Australian and therefore has the most extensive network in Australia will come out on top.

    It may get more interesting once Virgin Australia decides which alliance to go with Sky-team or Star.

    I know for Asia in General I think the network for sky-team and Star are much more convenient Than Just having Cathay/Japan airlines as options in Asia.

    I see it like this One world represents more of the older airlines from highly developed countries where unfortunately the market has limited potential to grow. However its true the services generally are much better than say my sky-team membership.

    Sky-team is more orientated to developing countries and therefore has more potential to grow once those markets mature.However in the short term they will likely lag in some areas than compared to the other alliances. Hence for example their low number of Lounges. Can you imagine the huge increase in usage of Lounges say 10-20 years from now? At the moment they are well far below international expectations.

    Star seems similar but is more exposed in other developing regions like central America/south America.

    As Australian Business traveler states…. Choose which alliance suits you best. I am in Asia so this benefits me.

  • Zachary Glass

    Alliances don’t usually play too big of a role as I fly mostly domestic. I fly AA when possible as I believe they are miles ahead of other US carriers at least domestically. As Jeff mentioned, I would say that Oneworld has better carriers (BA, AA, QF and CX). IMHO the downside to Oneworld is that AA does not have as broad of an international network as UA or DL (specifically to Asia or the South Pacific) and you are forced to fly a partner which can be a ****** when trying to redeem miles. 

  • Zachary Glass

    Alliances don’t usually play too big of a role as I fly mostly domestic. I fly AA when possible as I believe they are miles ahead of other US carriers at least domestically. As Jeff mentioned, I would say that Oneworld has better carriers (BA, AA, QF and CX). IMHO the downside to Oneworld is that AA does not have as broad of an international network as UA or DL (specifically to Asia or the South Pacific) and you are forced to fly a partner which can be a ****** when trying to redeem miles. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=805603280 Roberto Cusato

    Wow… your bias towards Star Alliance is weird… Star has many partners, but hardly any excellent one in Europe. Have you recently tried LH business class vs BA Club World?! They are world apart. In Asia, CX and JL beat SQ and OZ/NH in terms of reach and equals in term on service. QF is an excellent airline with a premium service and network. oneworld has major hubs in the world’s most important financial centers (HK, Tokyo, NYC, London). I could go on and on…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=805603280 Roberto Cusato

    Wow… your bias towards Star Alliance is weird… Star has many partners, but hardly any excellent one in Europe. Have you recently tried LH business class vs BA Club World?! They are world apart. In Asia, CX and JL beat SQ and OZ/NH in terms of reach and equals in term on service. QF is an excellent airline with a premium service and network. oneworld has major hubs in the world’s most important financial centers (HK, Tokyo, NYC, London). I could go on and on…

  • semsem5

    One World for European Awards is average; AA taxes for a Europe Award is close to $300 due to London connections and on BA $600 which is a joke.

    But the 40,000 mile award to Europe Oct to May is a pretty good deal.

  • semsem5

    One World for European Awards is average; AA taxes for a Europe Award is close to $300 due to London connections and on BA $600 which is a joke.

    But the 40,000 mile award to Europe Oct to May is a pretty good deal.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=622793341 Jiles McCoy

    Alliances without a doubt play a factor in every flight I book. I am solidly a *A guy. US Air, United, and Thai Airways are 99% of all my travel.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=622793341 Jiles McCoy

    Alliances without a doubt play a factor in every flight I book. I am solidly a *A guy. US Air, United, and Thai Airways are 99% of all my travel.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lespoir Andrew Chen

    Tim, you are like me of many years ago, naive and serious! All these publications/magazines are sponsored by the airline groups, one way or the other, and no seriousness at all about this kind of ranking: airlines need publicity and advertisement, while magazines need sponsorships; we the travellers, sometimes need to read something due to bordom. So the role of these “traveller” publications is to secure a place as a communication broker between the airlines and the mass travellers. The boundaries are so blurry. If anyone gets really serious, all the so-called “best this” or “best that” are moot. One thing you do summarize well: It might be true that this alliance is the best to many average travellers, but quite often not true to you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lespoir Andrew Chen

    Tim, you are like me of many years ago, naive and serious! All these publications/magazines are sponsored by the airline groups, one way or the other, and no seriousness at all about this kind of ranking: airlines need publicity and advertisement, while magazines need sponsorships; we the travellers, sometimes need to read something due to bordom. So the role of these “traveller” publications is to secure a place as a communication broker between the airlines and the mass travellers. The boundaries are so blurry. If anyone gets really serious, all the so-called “best this” or “best that” are moot. One thing you do summarize well: It might be true that this alliance is the best to many average travellers, but quite often not true to you.

  • http://twitter.com/GrayBakerFriend Grayson Friend

    But there are more than SQ, OZ, and NH. And in Europe, TK and LX J both beat BA Club. Also, in Asia, Star has the most reach by far. OneWorld has only Cathay in China with HK hub, so no flights to tertiary or even most secondary cities, and no actual internal mainland flights. Star has AirChina and Shenzhen, and will be getting EVA. But you also forgot to mention Thai. In Europe, Star has Swiss, Turkish, SAS, Brussels, Adria, Aegean, TAP, Austrian, Croatia, and LOT. Star serves Africa the best with EgyptAir, South African, and Ethiopian. Star has hubs in Tokyo and New York, and also has plenty of flights served by multiple carriers to London and Hong Kong. And in important cities as Singapore, Beijing, Washington DC, Zurich, Toronto, Vancouver, Star controls over 50% of the flights. So while you can be jaded by OneWorld, Star Alliance is by far the alliance with the most coverage.

  • http://www.facebook.com/briandlisk Brian Lisk

    I’ve got a question with regard to alliances. This may not be the best place to ask, but I don’t know where else to go. Maybe the admin person can put it into a proper category if not this one…

    About 8+ years ago I’d travel long haul for the Fed on orders. We were required to purchase walkup fares (100% refundable, changeable, etc) and, usually, I’d get bumped to the front of the A/C as I made it crystal clear that if Airline X wanted Uncle Sam’s $4-5G, they would bump me. Otherwise, I’d walk down to the next counter who would. I tried to focus on alliances, but tended to purchase my tickets based more on hubs, scheduling, flight time, etc.

    I’m back to long haul traveling for the government (but not the US government) & I’ve focused my travel almost exclusively on *A as my home airport is a Star hub (CLT).

    I read about the shortcut to Star Gold via A3 and now have it. I’ve had no problem using all of the benefits (head of line privileges for standby, security & boarding; lounge access; etc), except I’m constantly told by LH, US, & UA, they will non bump me to the front of the A/C because they only recognize fliers who hold Star Gold from their own airline.

    Truthfully, my understanding of elite status was that as long as you’re an elite on one, you’re an elite on all. Airlines couldn’t cherry-pick benefits.

    Short of buying it (which is forbidden by the bureaucrats who buy my tickets), what do I have to do to get to the front?

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