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How Frequent Flyer Programs Work

Airline Alliances

When selecting a frequent flyer program, airline alliances are something else to consider. The ability to schedule seamless travel is important -- airline alliances help make it possible. An alliance is a business relationship, often between U.S. domestic carriers and foreign ones. Its purpose is to allow foreign carriers access to the U.S. market and domestic carriers a means of access to "beyond-Europe" centers. The goal of alliance growth is twofold:

  • To offer global coverage
  • To carry passengers around the world using ONLY their carriers

Examples include American Airlines allied with British Airways (One World), and United allied with Lufthansa. Airlines code share so that travel can be organized to flow from one carrier to the other. Code sharing is the industry practice in which an airline puts its code on a flight operated by another carrier. The airline then sells and issues tickets for the flight. For example, American may place its code on a flight that British Airways operates and then sell it to the customer. This is how air carriers get around restrictions to expand their market presence. In today's global economy, this truly benefits the frequent traveler.

When you travel using alliance carriers, the miles are credited and can be used interchangeably. This allows rapid accrual of miles so you can reach elite status quickly and receive the extra awards at that level.

We'll look at how to redeem your miles in the next section.