Asiana is leaving Star Alliance. These are the carriers I’d like to see join as its replacement


Sometime in the next couple of years, Asiana Airlines will merge with Korean Air. That’s a significant consolidation that will result in South Korea’s second-largest and largest airlines joining forces to become one sole carrier — Korean Air.

Of course, the longtime “frenemy” Asiana Airlines is a member of Star Alliance, while Korean Air is a member of SkyTeam.

Since Korean Air will be the sole airline coming out of the merger, Star Alliance will be down an airline. It will be a big win for SkyTeam with the single, megasize Korean Air, but a loss for Star Alliance.

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As a Star Alliance flyer myself, I’ve started to think through who we might see replace Asiana. The alliance already has a large Asian presence with Air China, ANA and Singapore Airlines.

However, if the alliance were to add a new carrier to replace Asiana, here are a few I’d like to see considered.

Some background

Star Alliance global hubs. GCMAP.COM

With Asiana’s exit, there will be 25 airlines left in the Star Alliance. That’s still almost twice the number of airlines in competitors Oneworld and SkyTeam.

So while there’s no guarantee that a replacement airline will join Star Alliance, we can discuss some of the airlines that aren’t yet part of a major alliance and what their joining Star Alliance would mean for travelers.

Hawaiian Airlines

A Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330-200 in Seattle. BENJI STAWSKI/THE POINTS GUY

While some of its mainland US; Auckland, New Zealand; and Tokyo routes would directly compete with existing Star Alliance members United Airlines, ANA and Air New Zealand, if Hawaiian Airlines joined Star Alliance, the alliance would have significantly more exposure through the Asia-Pacific region.

Plus, United and Hawaiian already have a partnership allowing MileagePlus members to earn and redeem miles on interisland Hawaiian Airlines flights.

In addition to interisland service within Hawaii, Star Alliance members would enjoy more flights to destinations like Australia, New Zealand, French Polynesia, American Samoa, Japan and South Korea by way of Hawaiian’s conveniently situated hub of Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL ).

It would be likely that Hawaiian’s Pualani Gold members would enjoy the benefits of Star Alliance Silver, while Pualani Platinum members would enjoy the benefits of Star Alliance Gold.

That would mean Pualani Platinum members could access other Star Alliance lounges when traveling internationally. HNL already has two Star Alliance lounges — the United Club and the ANA Lounge.

Star Alliance Gold members would also have benefits like priority boarding, additional luggage allowances, increased earning/redeeming opportunities and access to Hawaiian’s five Premier Clubs located throughout the Hawaiian islands.

Related: Mai tai-ing one on: Hawaiian Airlines (A321neo) in first class from Portland to Maui

Virgin Australia

A Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800. JAMES D. MORGAN/GETTY IMAGES

Although it lost its long-haul destinations and Boeing 777-300ER fleet during the pandemic, Virgin Australia’s membership in Star Alliance would shake up the Qantas syndicate Down Under.

After all, Virgin Atlantic has Brisbane Airport (BNE), Sydney Airport (SYD), Melbourne Airport (MEL) and Perth Airport (PER) as hubs, and once it receives its new Boeing 737-8 and -10 MAX jets, new destinations will be within reach.

Range of Virgin Australia’s new Boeing 737-8 MAX from its hubs. GCMAP.COM

The published cruising range of 3,550 nautical miles for the Boeing 737-8 MAX (expected to be delivered in February 2023) will open up new destinations in Southeast Asia as well as destinations like Mauritius and Chennai, India, from Perth. With a refueling stop in Fiji, Somoa or French Polynesia, Virgin Australia could reach Honolulu from its Eastern Australian hubs of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Even though Virgin Australia isn’t a member of Star Alliance, the airline already has partnerships with Star Alliance carriers like Air Canada, United, Singapore Airlines and South African Airways.

Currently, Virgin Australia Velocity Gold and Platinum members have access to United Clubs, Singapore Airlines SilverKris lounges and South African Airways lounges — all of which are branded Star Alliance Gold lounges.

Additionally, Virgin Australia and United recently formed a partnership that allows for codeshare flights with connections on one reservation. More United benefits for Virgin Australia flyers are coming soon.

If Virgin Australia joined Star Alliance, Star Alliance flyers would see new domestic services throughout Australia — a region currently underserved by the alliance.

Related: The best ways to use points and miles to fly from the US to Australia

Etihad

NICKY KELVIN/THE POINTS GUY

While both Turkish Airlines and Egyptair have extensive networks throughout the Middle East, by joining Star Alliance, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates-based Etihad would open the Star Alliance network to the airline’s 67 global destinations.

Doha-based Qatar Airways, a competitor of Etihad, is already a member of Oneworld, and Oneworld customers can book the Q Suite using miles. If you manage to find award space, you can book a flight from the United States to Doha’s Hamad International Airport (DOH) for just 70,000 AAdvantage miles.

Oh, how I’d love to see the same from MileagePlus on new Etihad’s business class!

Etihad already has partnerships with six Star Alliance carriers, and by using Air Canada’s Aeroplan, you can book Etihad flights at somewhat reasonable award rates.

If Etihad joined Star Alliance, US travelers en route to the Middle East, Africa and South Asia would have significantly more options.

Related: Etihad Guest miles continue to fly under the radar

Emirates

JACK GUEZ/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

A stone’s throw away from Abu Dhabi is the Dubai-based airline Emirates.

The airline recently established partnerships with United and Air Canada. While these partnerships have only come with interline agreements for the time being, reciprocal mileage opportunities will likely be announced in the coming months. In my opinion, an Emirates membership in Star Alliance would simplify these partnerships, making it easier for customers to know their benefits based on their status tier.

Emirates operates an enormous fleet of 250 wide-body jets to over 150 international destinations. I would be most keen on the addition of its 30-plus business-class lounges to the Star Alliance Gold lounge portfolio.

In the United States alone, Emirates has lounges at Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

Despite its aging business-class cabin, the addition of Emirates to Star Alliance would be a game changer. And it might also push Turkish Airlines to retrofit its outdated 2-3-2 Boeing 777-300ER business-class cabin with a newer cabin to remain competitive.

And like with Etihad, Star Alliance flyers would benefit from extensive connecting flight itineraries linking the East and the West.

Related: Going for gold: A review of Emirates’ new premium economy cabin on the Airbus A380

Icelandair

ICELANDAIR

Lastly, Icelandair is also a clever candidate for Star Alliance.

As Iceland’s full-service carrier, it flies Boeing 737 MAX, Boeing 757 and Boeing 767 jets throughout the northern United States, Canada and Western Europe — including lesser-known point-to-point routes like Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) to Reykjavik’s Keflavik Airport (KEF).

Icelandair also has an extensive network throughout Europe which allows for convenient one-stop itineraries between the US and Europe. Also, flight times between Iceland and the United States are significantly shorter than those going to mainland Europe. So stopping in Iceland can be a welcomed stretch break.

Reykjavik is already well served by the Star Alliance network, namely with flights on Air Canada, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa, SAS and United. But the Icelandair stopover rule would appeal to Star Alliance passengers on flights between the US and Europe. Icelandair also currently has a partnership with SAS.

In sum, Icelandair would be a prime candidate for Star Alliance and open up many convenient one-stop itineraries through Iceland.

Related: How to get to Iceland on points and miles

Bottom line

Even though Asiana will be leaving Star Alliance, there’s no public plan to add another airline to the alliance. Still, around the world, there are several prime candidates for Star Alliance.

While it’s unlikely that Etihad or Emirates could be convinced that joining Star Alliance would be in their interest, all of the listed carriers already have at least one partnership with a Star Alliance carrier.

So, who knows? Maybe Asiana’s exit from Star Alliance will push the alliance’s airline headhunters a little harder to find some new energy in the alliance game.

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