Thai Smile Becomes Star Alliance Connecting Partner

Filed Under: Star Alliance, Thai

For years the “big three” global alliances were all the rage, though over the past few years we’ve seen very few airlines join these alliances.

That’s due to a combination of factors, including high membership fees (which prevent smaller airlines from joining), as well as some airlines in the alliances having veto power, and trying to protect their own interests.

As a result, we’ve seen the alliances try to get creative by finding a pathway for smaller airlines to join the alliance… sort of. We’ve seen this in the form of Star Alliance’s “Connecting Partner” concept, as well as the “Oneworld Connect” concept.

Thai Smile to become Star Alliance Connecting Partner

It has today been announced that Thai Smile Airways will become the next Star Alliance Connecting Partner. This announcement was made at the 75th IATA Annual General Meeting in Seoul.

Star Alliance established this concept in 2016, and the first airline to join as a Star Alliance Connecting Partner was Juneyao Airlines in 2017.

It’s expected that Thai Smile will join by the end of 2019, making them the second Connecting Partner.

Thai Smile’s CEO had the following to say regarding this development:

“We are delighted that the Star Alliance Chief Executive Board has given the green light for THAI Smile to proceed with our proposal to become a Star Alliance Connecting Partner. This gives us the unique opportunity to contribute to and benefit from the strong Alliance network and at the same time pursue our own business model, providing superior air travel experience for the modern travellers at affordable prices.”

What is a Star Alliance Connecting Partner?

While full membership in the Star Alliance requires building commercial ties with all full members, becoming a Connecting Partner only requires commercial relationships with at least three Star Alliance members. The intention is that this allows Star Alliance to close network gaps that may exist on a regional basis.

With this concept, customers traveling on an itinerary that includes a transfer between a Star Alliance member airline and a Connecting Partner airline will be offered standard alliance benefits, including passenger and baggage through check-in.

Those who have Star Alliance Gold status on those types of itineraries will also receive typical benefits, including lounge access, priority check-in and boarding, etc.

Unfortunately if you just independently book a Thai Smile flight, you wouldn’t receive Star Alliance benefits.

What is Thai Smile?

For those of you not familiar with Thai Smile, it’s a wholly owned subsidiary of Thai Airways that has been operating since 2012. The airline has a fleet of 20 Airbus A320s, and they don’t have business class on any of their planes.

Thai Smile operates quite a few regional routes, both within Thailand, as well as to nearby countries. Over the years we’ve seen Thai transfer many of their routes from “mainline” to Thai Smile to lower costs.

Thai Smile adds 11 new destinations to the Star Alliance network.

Bottom line

It’s definitely good to see more airlines join alliances, even if just as a regional partner. However, I can’t help but feel the way the alliances are executing this concept creates confusion among passengers.

You receive some alliance benefits, but only under certain circumstances (if you’re on a connecting itinerary on very specific airlines). So while some people will benefit from this, I also think it will create confusion.

Also, I can’t help but feel like the growth of this concept has been really slow. It was announced three years ago, and this is only the second airline to join.

What do you make of Thai Smile joining as a Star Alliance Connecting Partner?

  1. Will I be able to book itineraries that include Thai Smile segments using miles? For example, HND-BKK on Thai, connecting BKK-UTH on Thai Smile? I need to go check on the buffalo I bought for my girlfriend’s family.

  2. I have flown on Thai Smile multiple times and I have received Star Alliance Silver status benefits every-time I have flown, namely an extra 10 kg of checked-in baggage weight. However I have status with Thai Airways and this may not be the case for someone who has status with another Star Alliance Airline.

  3. Anmol +1 to what you just said. I just had a flight with EVA’s regional subsidiary UNI airways connecting from a long haul EVA flight and was really sad to find out that my star gold benefits (through UA, not EVA) didn’t allow me any EVA lounge in tpe or Zone 1 boarding prior to the UNI Air flight. Wish all of these regional connectors had the same perks as the mainlines

  4. Good news, since I’m going to Thailand and Laos in Jan 2020, and will fly to Chiang Rai, Krabi, etc. By the way, what’s the deal with United Airlines continuing to block premium cabin availability on Singapore Airlines and Thai on award flights from Bangkok? I was planning on flying Thai or Singapore First from BKK to AKL in Feb 2020, but still no availability

  5. Thai Smile is a scam.

    Their service is slightly above lowcost carrier but charges a full TG level fares.

    Think of WN service on AA 737MAX charging DL fares.

    Big big scam, shame on Thai Airways.

  6. Eskimo, book through THai Smile’s website and it’s cheaper than the same flight on TG. I did that just yesterday for a BKK-CEI domestic hop.
    If you are elite on Thai Airways’ Royal Orchid Plus, you get all the perks on a standalone ticket, but not for any other Star Alliance elites.
    I’m based in HKG and I wonder why there is one flight per day to BKK on Thai Smile, and the rest on TG. More specifically, I wonder who on earth decides to take that particular flight, when it’s not significantly cheaper than the other half dozen TG flights in a day.

  7. @Bim

    ROP is among the least favorable Star Alliance program (unless you are captive to Thailand) . Since it is a very short hop for BKK-CEI, you still get better value flying AirAsia and paying all the fees. More frequency less delays. TG benefits only to connect from International if say I wanted to fly HKG-BKK-CEI and get what I paid for on BKK-CEI not a low cost scam.

    And you asked it yourself, who would take the only HKG flight? Well I have an answer for you. Those who GOT SCAMMED BY THAI AIRWAYS.

  8. @Jack I think you are allowed to redeem Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus miles for flights on Thai-Smile but not sure if other Star alliance airlines do the same.

  9. I am not interested Thai Smile since they don’t have business or first class. Just like I am not interested in Southwest for the same reason.
    We do fly to BKK and KUL every year so I would interested if they had better service.

  10. While ThaiSmile doesn’t have a business class, they have something called ‘Thai Smile Plus’…You get a vacant middle seat, separate cabin, meal and drinks service and 2 inches extra leg room(which is better than Eurobusiness). Plus lounge access, higher luggage allowance, priority check-in and boarding. Everything for $150 one way on domestic flights…

  11. I just had my first experience with Thai UNSmile! I was flying from BKK to Siem Reap to visit the temples with my gf. I had a choice of low cost carriers, but chose to go with Thai Airways and pay the extra fees so I could use the lounge (I am gold for 10 yrs). I booked the flight on and got a Thaiairways email confirming flight TG2590 . Note that it clearly states that the flight is operated by Thai UNSmile, just like it does when code sharing with United or other Star alliance partners.

    When i arrived at the airport, the Thai Airways counter directed me to Thai UNSmile counter for my ticket. Upon getting my ticket, I asked about my lounge pass at which point I was informed that my status is not honored and too bad. Their attitude was that “I should know better!” At that point I lost it and said with 2 Million miles of flying in my life – I know as much as anyone should ever know. After 20 minutes of back and forth trying to convince them that their experience to a knowledgeable customer is wrong, the unpleasant supervisor called the airport police – who after listening to both sides, laughed at how they handled it and apologized for them and showed me how to file a complaint.

    Bottom line: Airlines have the ability to issue a lounge pass at their discretion for various reasons… I have received many over the years. I was a loyal Star Alliance traveler and paid and extra $200 for the lounge service that I get all the time. Thai UNSmile uses the Thai Logo in their name to get the benefits of the brand and fool loyal customers.

    I don’t expect anything to ever happen, other than them having to fire an employee or two due to the lack of income they will ever receive from me in the future.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *