The Star Alliance, a group of 28 air carriers around the world, is expanding its reach into Asia. Early last week at the IATA Annual General Meeting in Seoul, the alliance announced the addition of Thai Smile to the network as a Connect partner.

Within the Star Alliance, Connect partners aren’t full members. Instead airlines like Thai Smile extend operating and loyalty partnerships to three or more connecting member airlines and act as a sort of provisional partner. Membership fees as well are less intensive for Connect partners, which is helpful for smaller operations.

Thai Smile and Star’s news comes as alliances around the globe explore new options for participation that aren’t as intensive as full-blown membership. Late last year Fiji Airways announced that it would join Oneworld as a Connect partner while Alaska Airlines has shared the same intentions. Star is now apparently stepping up its own game.

In terms of loyalty benefits, Star Alliance members (like those from United) will need to book through a connecting member like Thai Airways to earn benefits on Smiles — much like the Connect partnership employed at OneWorld. It’s not the easiest way to earn loyalty benefits on the carrier, but given the cost of alliance membership, it’s better than nothing for passengers.

— Grant Martin, Business of Loyalty Editor

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Grant Martin [gm@skift.com] curates the Skift Business of Loyalty newsletter. He is a director of product marketing at TripActions. Skift emails the newsletter every Monday.

Photo Credit: Staff from Star Alliance airlines welcome EVA Air to the Star Alliance family. The staff representatives pose on a stage specially created for the EVA Air joining ceremony, with an EVA Star Alliance branded aircraft as part of the backdrop.