Unlike some other travel writers and air travel commentators, I’m still a big fan of airline alliances. Those are the large, multi-airline, varying degrees of cooperation, groupings of airlines, promising “seamless travel”, “earn and redeem across our network”, “global recognition”, and other buzzwordy come-ons that often fall short. But not always. Of the three big alliances, oneworld, Skyteam, and Star Alliance, the latter, Star, is my favorite. Not only nor even primarily because it is the biggest, not because it’s the oldest, but because it is by far the most integrated. They come closer to delivering more of those cloudy benefits than do the other two, in my experience as a traveler and in what I read as an analyst of the travel scene. They are definitely doing so with this move.
Star’s “Move Under One Roof” initiative – something they all talk about, but *A (as it’s often abbreviated on sites such as Flyertalk) is doing so much more with it. This initiative in London, at London’s premier international airport, Heathrow, really outdoes everybody. Read the story from Future Travel Experience, watch the video in that link, and then read on here. Continue reading
From USA Today:
United Airlines to add Denver-Panama City nonstop
This would have been great news for me in 2012, when I did a few flights between Colorado and Latin America. To Uruguay in my case, where I now live. I took United’s Star Alliance and Mileage Plus partner Copa on one of those flights, starting with a United connecting flight to a Copa Airlines international gateway. But had to fly to Washington Dulles (IAD) to connect to Copa.
From Panama, Copa Airlines has nonstop flights to many cities in South America, even to under-served Uruguay at our Montevideo International Airport (MVD). (Posted edited to expand information, add some links and images, after initial posting from WordPress’ inadequate mobile app.)
I’ve been writing a lot about airline alliances lately. Not always with the most accurate predictions (but just wait…) As a fairly frequent traveler over the years, whether for work, family, or now as an expat, I need to maximize my miles. So knowing (and speculating on) who is partnering with whom, who else I can earn miles and status benefits with, and thus what grouping I should plan my future travel on, is important. Also I find it fun. Yeah, I know.
Couple of weeks old, but I don’t hang out much in the Finnair forum on FlyerTalk all that much. Nor for the most part with oneworld alliance airlines. I’ve burned off the last of my American AAdvantage miles with my upcoming LAN flight home to Uruguay in August. I do have earnings in LANPass, but my recent paid LAN flights were credited to unaligned Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, rather than to LAN’s own program within oneworld.
But I have noticed that the oneworld alliance has been getting weaker and shakier, at least in comparison to the booming Star Alliance and the now no-longer-leftover SkyTeam. Finnair’s move, as reported in this thread at FlyerTalk, looks to be weakening one of the core European players in that alliance.
In the past few years, other European airlines have either left that alliance, scaled back service significantly to just intra-European and near-Europe routes, or gone out of business entirely. Hungary’s Malev is no more as of early this year, and they discontinued their Budapest-USA service a couple of years before that. I flew them just intra-Europe a few years back, when they were a Northwest Airlines partner despite being in competing alliances. Ok, nothing special, pride-of-a-small-proud-country airline. (Like pathetic little Pluna of Uruguay, which exists despite the country not being big enough to justify its own airline.) But another hub, another network in the alliance gone. Aer Lingus used to be a oneworld member. It switched to so-called low-cost, mostly Europe-centric and lessened TATL, with subsidized weird deals, even doing a wet-lease Washington-Madrid flight flying as United Airlines. Aligning on other routes with FF benefits and codeshares with United, arch-enemy of oneworld co-founder American.
Elsewhere, oneworld is further weakening. American Airlines is a mess, with a bankruptcy reorganization crippled by employee unions making deals with a competitor to take them over. Even though that competitor itself still hasn’t completed its 8-year-old merger and has warring unions. The only other North American oneworld carrier, Mexicana, went into bankruptcy and was grounded about two years ago. There is no Central American carrier, while Star Alliance just gained two (or three, or four, or even five, depending on if you count Avianca and Taca separately, and Copa and Copa Colombia, and LACSA as different from Taca.)
There’s been no Canada representation since the early 2000’s takeover of Canadian Airlines by Star Alliance co-founder Air Canada. The only north-south lift in Western North America of substance is provided by non-alliance partner Alaska Airlines, who also partners with arch-competitor SkyTeam founder Delta (and in Europe, with founder AirFrance-KLM.) In South Asia, oneworld was supposed to gain Kingfisher of India by now. But while the Kingfisher Beer brewery is doing great, the airline is bouncing checks and repeatedly being grounded, likely soon for good.
Yes, oneworld has gained some airlines in that same timeframe. Royal Jordanian a few years ago. Most recently airberlin, which though tiny compared to Lufthansa, does serve well as a northern and central European hub carrier. But with Malev gone, Finnair weakening (and don’t ignore Finnish flagship company Nokia’s failings as part of what will drive down international travel to Finland), oneworld’s European position is weak. Yes, IAG is a giant international conglomerate that now owns British Airways, Iberia, and now former Star member British Midland BMI (being folded into BA). But look at the geography: Both England and Spain are on the periphery of Europe, not its core. Berlin is core, but airberlin can’t fully compete against Star founder Lufthansa‘s giant built-over-decades Frankfurt and Munich hubs. Nor its wholly-owned or affiliated partners Austrian (Vienna hub), SWISS (Geneva and Zurich hubs), and LOT Polish (Warsaw hub)
I’m no insider. But it doesn’t look good for oneworld from where I sit on the plane. And it thus makes me less likely to book on any oneworld carrier until this all shakes out. Unless it is a carrier such as American or LAN which is a full partner including Elite earnings and benefits with non-oneworld Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
Well I blew it.
AviancaTaca Group and their subsidiary airlines Taca, LACSA (the Costa Rica branch of Taca), Taca Perú, and Avianca all joined Star Alliance today 21 June. Along with their competitor in Central and northern South America, Copa Airlines, whose accession was never in question. With AviancaTaca even jumping the gun by a day on its websites yesterday.
Which makes me just about as prescient about airlines as most airline CEOs, who continue to lose money and go in and out of bankruptcy.
I still stand by the logic in my earlier posts about why LAN would want to find a way out of oneworld into Star. But not happening now.
Keep an eye on the Stars, however. I do not expect this to remain static. Logically Star still is a better global partner for LAN than is the weak oneworld, and Star needs a continent-wide South American partner. Which neither Copa nor AviancaTaca provides.
But for now… mea culpa. I stand in good company with the Bloomberg London reporter who said 2 days ago (at 00:39 into the video) that LAN is leaving their alliance, and with the Copa agent in DC who had come to the same conclusion as me about AviancaTaca not joining (or at least not staying) in Star Alliance.
Until then, however, AviancaTaca LifeMiles is now going to be my primary Star Alliance frequent flyer program, totally replacing the devalued United Mileage Plus with its ridiculous fees. LifeMiles has great earnings on its own fares, and now has an excellent Star Alliance online booking engine, along with a flexible cash-vs-miles sliding scale. I just was able to find an LAX-to-Montevideo award in August for only 19,000 1-way miles. And because I only have 10,801 LifeMiles right now (all earned from just one cheap Uruguay-USA flight a week ago with booking/fare bonuses), I can use 10,500 + $131 USD as a dirt-cheap way to get that ticket. Not sure if I will, because I’ve got an AAwful Airlines AAward for that timeframe already, but it is a super value.