Most airlines fall into one of three major alliances – One World, Star Alliance or Skyteam. This allows airlines to perform smooth baggage transfers, book on each other's flights and give passengers the option of earning frequent flyer points on partner-operated flights. But some key airlines have resisted the big three alliances – including these that Australians might find themselves on.
For Australians, the most prominent airline outside the big three alliances is Virgin Australia. It doesn't stand entirely alone though, and works with a number of airlines elsewhere on codeshare flights to enable easier connections. These include Etihad, Air New Zealand, Virgin Atlantic and Singapore Airlines. And, if you're a member of Virgin Australia's Velocity Club, points for flights earned on these airlines can be piled into the pot. See virginaustralia.com.
Virgin Australia business class. Photo: Supplied
Richard Branson's original airline no longer flies to Australia, but it still has some mighty useful routes connecting the US, Caribbean, South Africa, Hong Kong and Dubai to London. An increasing number of trans-Atlantic flights are being offered to Manchester and Glasgow, for those who want to avoid Heathrow. Virgin Atlantic has partnerships with similar airlines to Virgin Australia – with Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia the best bets for putting any earned frequent flyer points into. See virgin-atlantic.com.
While obviously useful for connecting Australia to Hawaii and internal Hawaiian domestic flights, Hawaiian Airlines is a great bet for twin base holidays using Honolulu as a break in the journey. Dodging LAX by going straight from Honolulu to the likes of Portland, Las Vegas and San Diego is mighty useful – and points earned from flights can be filtered into a Virgin Australia Velocity Club account. See hawaiianairlines.com.
Hawaiian Airlines business class. Photo: Supplied
Now one of the global big boys, Emirates flies from the five big Australian cities to its hub in Dubai, then onwards to dozens of useful airports in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It has also teamed up with Qantas, so that many Emirates flights are Qantas codeshares, and frequent flyer points can be deposited into either airline's scheme. See emirates.com.
On board Emirates.
See also: Flight test - Emirates economy
Etihad flies from Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney to its base in Abu Dhabi, then on to a slightly different set of destinations in Europe, Africa et al. It has a slightly looser arrangement with Virgin Australia along the Emirates/ Qantas lines – meaning you can earn Virgin Australia Velocity Points on Etihad flights. But the Etihad Guest scheme is worth a look for regular travellers to the other side of the world, as points from flights with several airlines can be deposited in there. These include Air New Zealand, Malaysia Airlines, American Airlines and Garuda Indonesia. See Etihad.com.
Etihad Airlines A380-800 Economy class cabins. Photo: Supplied
See also: Flight test - Etihad Airlines economy
Europe's least obnoxious budget airline flies to 32 countries, and has over 700 routes – including to perhaps unexpected destinations such as Essaioura in Morocco, Tel Aviv in Israel and Inverness in Scotland.
Unusually for a budget airline, it has a loose and little-known tie-up with one of the big boys. Emirates Skywards points can be used to book Easyjet flights – which can be extremely useful during peak summer season when cash prices ramp up. See easyjet.com.
EasyJet crew sport fashion-forward uniforms. Photo: EasyJet
In a region containing more than its fair share of dubious carriers, Bangkok Airways maintains relatively high standards in South East Asia. Using Bangkok as a base, it flies to several airports across Thailand, plus key spots in Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Malaysia. China, India, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore are also linked up, making the airline very handy when putting together multiple stop Asian itineraries. It codeshares with Etihad, Qantas and Emirates, meaning points can accrue towads any of these airlines' schemes. See bangkokair.com.
Bangkok Airways Airbus A320. Photo: Alamy
Air Asia is the most useful of the South-East Asian budget airlines, with Australian connections (via Kuala Lumpur or Bali) from Darwin, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and the Gold Coast. It has its own Big frequent flyer scheme, but points from AirAsia flights can't be added to any other airline account.
On board AirAsia.
See also: Flight test - AirAsia X economy
From seemingly nowhere, JetBlue has snuck up to become the fifth largest airline in the United States. Its main bases are New York, Boston, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, and there's an east coast slant to its routes. But it also serves plenty of small destinations, like Tucson in Arizona, Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts and Palm Springs in California, while doing a handy line in connections between the US and the Caribbean and Central America. Frequent flyer points earned on JetBlue flights can be added to Emirates Skywards or Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer accounts. See jetblue.com.
JetBlue passengers vote for their destination during a promotion.
WestJet originally started as a Canadian budget carrier, but it has spread its tentacles over North America. Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver are the main hubs, but there are plenty of flights to small destinations in regional Canada. Perhaps even more usefully, WestJet connects to several destinations in Mexico and Canada. As of May, it's possible to earn Qantas frequent flyer points on WestJet flights. See westjet.com.