United Airlines and Azul, Brazil’s third largest carrier, have quietly linked up, offering connections and frequent flyer earning to United passengers connecting to the roughly 100 destinations Azul serves within Brazil. The new relationship takes effect on 1 April 2014, just two days after current partner TAM, the largest carrier in Brazil, departs Star Alliance for oneworld, one of the necessary changes dictated by their merger with LAN. While the earning options are reasonable – 100% credit on all Azul flights – they do not qualify for elite status earning. There are also no reciprocal benefits in terms of elite status for extra baggage, lounge access or other premium offerings. The partnership includes award redemption as well, though such awards can only be booked by calling United’s reservations center.
The partnership between Azul and United may be a precursor to other potential Star Alliance deals. The alliance was reportedly looking for ways to include LCCs and smaller airlines as part of their membership without requiring major changes to the operating model or major investments. Azul was cited as a leading candidate for such inclusion. A large part of that likely comes from the group needing representation in Brazil and the two larger carriers – TAM and Gol – being otherwise occupied (Gol is partly owned by Delta, significantly reducing the likelihood they join Star Alliance).
In the meantime, however, the partnership appears to only be a one-way deal. Azul customers cannot earn on United flights, at least not that I can see on their site. Then again, I don’t really speak Portuguese.
Azul cannot replace TAM on a 1:1 basis, even only considering domestic Brazilian service. But having them as a partner is far better than the alternative of having nothing. Plus, they should offer up a reasonable in-flight experience. Azul was founded by David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue, and operates in a very similar fashion. In-flight live TV and Embrear jets for most routes are the “secret sauce” used to make things work.
- TAM sets alliance switch date: 31 March 2014
- TAM’s join to oneworld is confirmed. Again.
- TAM makes it official: They’re leaving Star Alliance
- The new LATAM headed to OneWorld
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