If you’re an Australian-based frequent flyer, you’re probably a member of Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Australia Velocity. You might even be a member of a Star Alliance frequent flyer program, such as Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer or Air New Zealand Airpoints. But most Australians completely overlook SkyTeam airlines and their frequent flyer programs.
SkyTeam is the forgotten alliance in Australia. But this can actually work to your advantage! Because you’re not competing with anyone for award seats, SkyTeam airlines actually have tons of award availability on flights to and from Australia. And if you have SkyTeam Elite status, you can expect better status recognition when flying out of Australia as most Australians aren’t even a member of a SkyTeam program!
The Oneworld alliance is the default option for Australians due to Qantas being a member. The upshot of this is that Oneworld award availability can be very limited – especially on flights out of Australia. So, while it’s easy to earn Qantas points in Australia, it’s not so easy to spend them on international flights.
This guide explains how Australians can benefit from the SkyTeam alliance.
Which airlines are in the SkyTeam alliance?
Since China Southern exited the SkyTeam alliance in January 2019, there are now 19 airlines in the SkyTeam alliance. Seven of these airlines – Delta, Garuda Indonesia, Korean Air, China Airlines, China Eastern, Vietnam Airlines and Xiamen Air – fly to Australia. (Korean Air, China Airlines and China Eastern also fly to Auckland in New Zealand.)
These airlines make up the SkyTeam alliance:
Admittedly, there are no SkyTeam domestic flights within Australia. And while there are SkyTeam airlines in Africa and South America, there are no direct links between these continents and Australia. But if you regularly travel to Asia, Europe or the United States, SkyTeam airlines actually cover you pretty well. There is also a SkyTeam trans-Tasman route, from Brisbane to Auckland with China Airlines.
Here’s an overview of the SkyTeam airline routes offered to/from Australia and New Zealand:
Earning SkyTeam airline miles in Australia
Earning points in Australia with SkyTeam airlines is not that easy, unfortunately. Of course, you can earn points any time you fly with a SkyTeam airline. If you’re using the Delta SkyMiles program, you can even earn Delta SkyMiles for Virgin Australia flights. But there aren’t many opportunities to earn SkyMiles on the ground.
That said, a number of Australian credit cards offer SkyTeam airlines as transfer partners. Diners Club Rewards points, for example, can be transferred to Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Delta SkyMiles and Garuda Miles at a rate of 2:1. If you have a Citi Prestige credit card, your rewards points can also be transferred to any of these three SkyTeam airline programs.
If you have an American Express credit card that earns Membership Rewards Ascent, Ascent Premium or Gateway points, you have the option to transfer your points to Marriott Bonvoy. Your Marriott points can then be transferred to any of the following SkyTeam frequent flyer programs:
- Aeroflot Bonus
- Aeromexico Club Premier
- Alitalia MileMiglia
- China Eastern Miles
- Delta SkyMiles
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue
- Korean Air Skypass
- Saudi Arabian Alfursan
Redeeming points on SkyTeam airlines
The difficulty of earning SkyTeam miles is made up for by the relative ease of redeeming them. If you’re travelling to Asia or Europe, you’ll probably have a choice of flights to choose from! There are also a reasonable number of options to North America – though it’s unlikely you’ll find any premium cabin award availability on Delta’s direct Sydney-Los Angeles flight. You’ll probably need to transit via Asia. SkyTeam airlines are not useful if you wish to fly from Australia to Africa or South America.
The process of redeeming miles will depend on the frequent flyer program you’re using. But two good places to search for SkyTeam award availability are the Air France/KLM and Delta websites.
One of the best features of SkyTeam for Australians is the sheer amount of premium cabin award availability to Asia (and beyond)! To give you an idea of just how many Business and First class award seats are available, we searched for premium cabin award availability on a range of SkyTeam flights departing Australia during the week before Christmas. This is traditionally one of the hardest times of the year for finding award availability. But most SkyTeam airlines had tons of availability! For example…
- Almost every China Eastern flight from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Shanghai had two Business awards available
- Korean Air had 9 Business class and 2 First class seats available on most A380 flights from Sydney to Seoul. From Brisbane to Seoul, there were 3 Business and 2 First class seats.
- Vietnam Airlines typically releases 4 Business class seats per flight on its routes to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, but there were no seats available in the week before Christmas.
- Xiamen Air has released 4 First class seats on most flights between Australia and China
- China Airlines had a smattering of Business class seats available to Taipei. There were also a few seats available between Brisbane and Auckland.
- Garuda Indonesia has award availability most days from Perth, Melbourne or Sydney to Bali and Jakarta. There are plenty of Economy seats, but most flights only had 1 or 2 Business awards available.
You can book any of those seats if you have miles with any SkyTeam airline! That said, it’s worth noting that you can use Qantas points to book China Eastern flights. It is also possible to redeem Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles on Korean Air, but only for round-trip awards to North America.
SkyTeam elite status
As with any alliance, your elite status earned with any SkyTeam airline will be recognised by all other SkyTeam carriers. SkyTeam Elite status is equivalent to Silver status with most airlines. Meanwhile, SkyTeam “Elite Plus” status is equivalent to Gold and comes with benefits such as lounge access.
However, it is SkyTeam policy that lounge access is only available when travelling on an international flight (or a domestic service connecting to an international flight). No lounge access is offered on purely domestic itineraries. This catches out a few people when flying around the United States. (Interestingly, Velocity Gold and Platinum members do get complimentary lounge access on domestic Delta Air Lines flights within the USA – even though Delta’s own frequent flyers don’t.)
As well as the SkyTeam member airlines’ own lounges, you’ll enjoy access to special SkyTeam lounges with Elite Plus status. One of these lounges is located in Sydney.
Which SkyTeam frequent flyer program should I join?
If you’re a member of any SkyTeam frequent flyer program, you’ll be able to earn and redeem points on any other SkyTeam alliance airline. But which program should you join? For Australians, there is no clear favourite. But there are three SkyTeam programs that stand out to us as good choices. Each program has its own pros and cons, so you should consider your personal travel patterns and needs.
1. Delta SkyMiles
Delta SkyMiles is the obvious choice for Australians for several reasons. Firstly, you can earn and redeem SkyMiles on Virgin Australia flights. If you have SkyMiles status, you can also enjoy the benefits of your status when flying with Virgin Australia. SkyMiles status also comes with some great benefits if you ever happen to visit the USA, such as complimentary upgrades on Delta flights. Delta does have a minimum spend requirement for earning SkyMiles status, but this is waived for non-US residents.
If you’re starting out with SkyTeam, you can even take advantage of the Delta SkyMiles Status Match Challenge. This gives you complimentary Delta status for 90 days and unlocks a fast-track to renew the status for up to 19 months.
Another great feature of SkyMiles is that the miles never expire. However, Delta no longer publishes award charts so you never know exactly how many miles you’ll need for a reward flight. The upshot is that award flights on Delta can be fairly poor value – especially Business class from Sydney to Los Angeles. But redeeming SkyMiles with SkyTeam partners can still be fair value. And you’ll have access to the great award availability we discussed earlier. You can redeem SkyMiles to fly with any SkyTeam airline, as well as other partners like Virgin Australia.
2. Korean Air Skypass
Korean Air Skypass is actually one of the best value SkyTeam frequent flyer programs in terms of redeeming miles. But it doesn’t come with the advantage of Delta’s Virgin Australia partnership. It’s also fairly difficult to earn Skypass miles in Australia, and redeeming them can be time-consuming. It is now possible to book most SkyTeam award flights on the Korean Air website, and stopovers are allowed on award bookings. But SkyTeam partner airline awards must be round-trip and redeeming points for family members is a complicated process. One unique benefit of Skypass is the ability to earn and redeem miles with Emirates.
3. Air France/KLM Flying Blue
Flying Blue is the frequent flyer program of Air France, KLM and various other airlines including Aircalin. This is a generally regarded as a better value program than SkyMiles, although this may have changed recently. Flying Blue stopped publishing award charts earlier this month, and the entire program is a bit of a dog’s breakfast at the moment!
Pros for Flying Blue include the ease of being able to book most award flights online and the ability to easily buy additional miles. But Flying Blue miles do expire if you don’t take at least one flight with a SkyTeam airline every 2 years.
Join the discussion about SkyTeam frequent flyer programs on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Skyteam Which program?