First of all, apologies for not having posted in a few days now – thanks to the hectic schedule of work, there hasn’t been time for much else. I had some time to think the other day and it occurred to me that I had not mentioned the options available when selecting an airline alliance.
There are many things to keep in mind when making a decision like this, such as how much you expect to travel, your home airport, the options available for upgrades and award tickets, and so on. Another big factor is if you will be flying for work or pleasure, or both. It is a lot easier to attain status when you are having to travel anyway!
The Big 3
The three main alliances available to flyers in the US are the Star Alliance (United), OneWorld (American), and SkyTeam (Delta). Keep in mind that there are other options, such as Alaska Airlines and Southwest. You can earn some very nice perks with these two such as a very nice partner chart as is the case with Alaska, or the Companion Pass with Southwest.
Another important factor is that when you are flying on an alliance member flight, you can credit your miles earnings to another airline belonging to that alliance. For example, you can use your Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer number to earn miles when flying on United or Lufthansa flights. Though you would have StarAlliance Gold, you would not have access to the upgrade perks and similar options available to a 1K with United.
Many travel bloggers have detailed the differences between the upgrade policies of the three representative airlines, miles values, and similar factors, so I will spare you the spiel.
From a practical standpoint, your home airport (and those in the surrounding area) has the biggest impact on what airline alliance you join. It directly impacts what destinations are available and on which carriers. Near Raleigh-Durham we have Greensboro, Fayetteville, and Charlotte. Each of these airports have pros and cons, and some fun little quirks.
Don’t be afraid to fly out of an airport further away, as it can save you a substantial amount of money! It is not uncommon for an airline to poach business on another airline’s home turf — Delta is particularly fond of offering lower cost flights from Charlotte, though it is primarily a focus city for both American and United. You will have to sacrifice some time on the initial transit and most likely connect through a hub like Atlanta or Detroit, but savings tend to be in the hundreds of dollars when comparing business class tickets.
Google Flights is particularly helpful in this regard as it offers an analysis for flights with different originating airports. It even offers suggestions for nearby airports that would offer cheaper tickets.