If you’re reading this then there’s a good chance you’re either in China or on your way to here. In either case, it’s important to understand how frequent flyer miles work before you book your next ticket.
Miles can help you get free trips to cool new places and help you travel the skies in luxury at no additional cost. However, in order for you to rack up miles you need to stay loyal to a frequent flyer alliance. That’s why it’s important to pick one that fits your lifestyle. To help you fly like a pro I’m going to tell you about the three best airline alliance groups for people traveling in and between China. The best choice for you will largely be based on your travel preferences.
Star Alliance is the oldest and largest airline alliance in the world. Its membership stretches from the United States, to Singapore, to Egypt. Some of its most notable airline partners include United Airlines and Singapore Airlines.
It also includes two major Chinese partners. Both Air China and Shenzhen Airlines are popular airlines in China. If you plan on living in Shenzhen you may be able to score some discounted tickets as the airlines is headquarter in the city. Similarly, Air China is known for their quality experience without breaking the bank. Air China also includes direct flights to many popular destinations including Japan and Europe.
Star Alliance is a great choice for international flyers with a global view. Unlike some other alliances, you will not be limited to any region in the world. International flyers who go between the US and China or who are based in China should highly consider becoming a Star Alliance member.
Sky Team has a similar feel to Star Alliance. Their partners also come from around the world and have respected Chinese airlines as part of their member list. Their Chinese partners include China Eastern Airlines and Shanghai Airlines.
There are a couple factors to think about when deciding between Star Alliance and Sky Team.
- Where you want to travel. If you plan on flying primarily in mainland China, there is no significant difference between Sky Alliance and Sky Team because both have Chinese partners that can get you almost anywhere in mainland China. However, internationally, there are some major differences. For example, if you plan on frequently flying to Singapore, then Star Alliance is likely a better choice due to their partnership with Singapore Airlines. Similarly, Sky Team has Aeroméxico – a good choice for getting to Mexico.
- Your credit card. Many credit cards, such as Chase Sapphire and Reserve, have partnerships with airline companies. To maximize your frequent flyer points you should pair credit card points with your miles. Do a quick Google search to see what options are out there. The best option of which will depend on your spending habits.
- How you spend money. Different airlines calculate frequent flyer miles differently. Most airlines still rely on a formula that includes the number of miles traveled, seating class, and money spent. However, some airlines are trying something new. For example, United Airlines is changing their frequent flyer miles scheme in 2020 to primarily rely on the cost of a flight, with basic economy no longer contributing towards frequent flyer miles. Understanding who is in each alliance, as well as how each individual airline calculates miles, is important to getting the most of your miles.
- Your personal preferences. Sometimes there isn’t much of a difference. For example, Star Alliance’s United Airlines and Sky Team’s Delta Airlines can both get you from China to the United States at about the same rate. However, if you have strong feelings towards an airlines, that can certainly play a role.
Fortune Wings Club
While the debate between Star Alliance and Sky Team is a frequent topic among international flyers, there isn’t as much discussion about Fortune Wings Club. The Fortune Wings Club primarily consists of Chinese airline companies in addition to a few international partners including Alaska Airlines and Virgin Australia.
The Fortune Wings Club has two of China's most popular airlines: Hainan Airlines and Hong Kong Airlines. Hainan Airlines is consistently ranked as one of the world’s best airlines and is largely viewed as the best airlines in China.
While luxury usually equates to expensive, that is not necessarily the case with Hainan Airlines. Despite its well-known high-quality service, tickets can be found for many popular destinations in the United States for about the same price as Delta or United. This includes complementary meals (usually offering both a Chinese and Western option) at no extra cost. Additionally, Hainan Airlines (similar to other Chinese flights) is much more generous than their American counterparts in legroom.
For those who like to frequent Hong Kong, or enjoy one-day adventures, Hong Kong Airlines is a great choice due to the airline frequently making in-between stops in the city. This makes it a convenient way to come and see the city at no extra cost at all.
And while frequent flyer mileage programs have been known for recently getting stingy with their programs, the same cannot be said for Fortune Wings Club. Due to their frequent flyer mile scheme, it is usually easier to reach Silver or Gold in Fortune Wings Club than in other airlines; especially for those on a budget. As a result, international flyers can start to see their benefits sooner rather than later.
Without a doubt there are many factors included when choosing which frequent flyer miles program to join. Thankfully, there are many choices for international flyers to pick when flying in and between China. Star Alliance and Sky Team are both solid options for those looking for a traditional frequent flyer miles program. Fortune Wings Club provides an exciting alternative for those looking for a more China-centered airline alliance with a generous frequent flyer milage program.
About the Author:
Alexander is a recent graduate from Portland State University in the United States where he received his undergraduate degree in political science. He is currently pursuing his graduate degree in international relations at Peking University in Beijing, China.