While the average traveler has only a vague awareness that their flying experience is changing, airlines are quickly aligning themselves into worldwide teams at a faster pace than any time since airline alliances were invented in 1997. They can’t buy each other due to international regulations, so they are doing the next best thing — becoming best buddies.
Here are seven ways to make yourself smart and take advantage of airline code shares and alliances.
▪ Know which airlines are kissing cousins or friends with benefits. Delta, for example, is in an alliance of 20 airlines called SkyTeam, including Air France and KLM, that cooperate on prices, schedules, award travel and frequent flier miles. Two other big U.S. airlines also are in giant alliances, Star Alliance (United) and oneworld (American). Get familiar with the alliance your favorite airline belongs to. It’s like getting to know the relatives.
▪ Don’t lose miles. While many frequent flier rules will change in 2015, it is still critical that you not forfeit miles because you didn’t know to provide airline partners with your preferred frequent flier number when you made the reservation. For example, you can get Delta miles for flying KLM or Air France. Each airline has a list on its website describing its reciprocal mileage policies with partners.
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▪ Go to the right ticket counter to check your luggage. Just because you booked a flight with United, don’t assume that’s the counter where you check your luggage. Look at your e-ticket reservation. Look at what airline is actually operating the flight. Turkish Airlines? That’s the counter you go to to check your bags. And Turkish Airlines’ baggage policies may apply.
▪ Know which airlines go it alone. Southwest, Spirit, Allegiant Air and Frontier do not belong to any code shares or alliances. It makes things less complicated. On the other hand, it limits their reach.
▪ Take advantage of the best benefits of code shares and alliances: easier baggage transit, reciprocal award tickets, and best of all, good-priced round-the-world tickets.
▪ As a travel consumer, pay attention to the growth of alliances. Critics say alliances raise fares and slash competition. Fans say they make global flying a lot easier. One consumer-friendly development? The U.S. Department of Transportation now requires that airlines clearly state up front which carrier is operating a flight — themselves, a subsidiary or a partner.
▪ Don’t be code-share dumb. As alliances and code shares grow, travelers will have to stay on their toes to keep up with which airlines are dating, married or just friends with benefits.