Last week I received an email from a public relations person inviting me to come up to New York for a Skyteam press event tomorrow, celebrating the alliance’s 10th anniversary.
Unfortunately I’m pretty heavily committed tomorrow so I’m not headed up there, though they were offering lots of senior-level interviews (Skyteam’s Managing Director and their Chairman) which could have been interesting.
In person you sometimes get much better answers than in writing, where folks are much more careful and guarded. But I still shot back to them a couple of questions that are really the ones that interest me most.
View fromg the Wing: the primary consumer benefit of alliances is earning and redeeming miles on alliance partners and access to partner lounges and SkyTeam obviously provides both. But in terms of mileage redemption, SkyTeam as a whole lags behind both Star (in particular) and oneworld in opportunities to use miles for premium cabin international travel. Alliance-wide there’s not redemption access to the first class cabins of those partners which offer it, and business class inventory is on the whole tougher to get. Do you see this as a challenge/opportunity? (Or do you disagree with this statement?) And if so any plans to improve here?
The ability to earn and redeem miles has always been a key passenger benefit of alliances. It is true that there is a finite amount of space available on board each flight, and that can make finding award inventory for a specific itinerary a challenge at times. This fact of life applies to all alliances. Despite lacking the ability to add flights, SkyTeam is committed to doing what it can to improve the frequent flyer redemption benefit across all member airlines. For example, our Mileage Upgrades program enables frequent flyers to use miles to upgrade to Business Class on international flight itineraries on most SkyTeam member airlines. We continue to collect feedback and results from passengers to improve future phases of the program and we are considering an automated version, including expanded criteria for eligible flights and the ability to make and confirm requests online. Frequent flyer programs are one of the most important alliance benefits for travelers and SkyTeam continues to pursue enhancements to this program.Bottom-line, there are only so many seats, redemption is hard (no reference to how it compares in other alliances). And then, ooh, look over there, shiny things! We’re working on our alliance upgrades! (Again, no comparative analysis vis-a-vis other programs).
View from the Wing: Are there other unique selling propositions for SkyTeam compared to rival alliances that I’m overlooking?
The basics of the three global airline alliances are the same, however we know that the passenger’s ultimate choice of airline, and hence their choice of alliances, is primarily based on where a passenger is traveling from and where they are traveling to. In other words, does the network match the need?
SkyTeam has a very robust route network. Its carriers operate from the most modern and convenient hubs across the continents. In fact, a key element of the SkyTeam alliance is the hub-and-spoke system, which provides unparalleled connectivity and an easy way for customers to travel. Because our members have complementary networks, and because SkyTeam provides faster transfers, particularly across hubs, passengers can fly on any SkyTeam member from their departure city and reach any location in the world.
Ok, now the fight is on! We’re comparing ourselves to the other alliances. Their argument: the most modern and convenient hubs, and faster transfers.
But… really? Atlanta, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Nairobi? Amsterdam is a decent place to connect, and so is Incheon, and for that matter Detroit and Memphis.
But I’m not sure I’d say they have most modern hubs with the fastest transfers. I mean, I’d put Munich and Vienna (and even Zurich and Frankfurt) up against de Gaulle any day. Almost anyone’s hubs are better for connecting than Atlanta or JFK. And who offers better connections in modern terminal space than Singapore and Cathay at their home airports?
It’s a good talking point but it doesn’t really ring true.
As someone who redeems more miles than probably anyone else, I can say that I value my miles in oneworld and Star programs more than those in Skyteam programs. I value the ability to redeem for international first class. And I value the top-end world carriers like Cathay and Singapore and All Nippon that populate the other alliences more than traveling on Korean and Air France.
Being a part of an alliance is better than not being a part of an alliance. Delta’s partnerships, with Air France and with Korean and now with Vietnam Airlines, make their miles much more valuable than they would otherwise be. But I do always come back to, “compared to what?” and compared to oneworld and especially Star, they’re a bit of an also-ran on the world airline alliance stage.