Fiji Airways will join Oneworld as first member of the alliance's new Oneworld Connect program, announced today at the IATA airline summit in Sydney.
Oneworld Connect offers what could be called a 'membership lite' package for the alliance, and will be less arduous for an airline compared to taking out full membership.
Each Oneworld Connect partner will need to be sponsored by at least three Oneworld members – a tally which shouldn’t be hard to reach, given that the alliance counts 13 members on its books – with Qantas, American Airlines, British Airways and Cathay Pacific all behind Fiji Airways.
How does this play out for the traveller?
Oneworld Connect partners will provide a baseline of benefits to frequent flyers from any Oneworld member airline, with a more extensive range of benefits offered on the partner's sponsor airlines.
That baseline sees travellers holding Oneworld Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald status (in Australia that’s equivalent to Qantas Silver, Gold and Platinum) able to use the priority check-in desks of a Oneworld Connect member, with priority boarding available with a flash of your Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald card.
There's a better set of benefits for top-tier frequent flyers from the sponsors of a Oneworld Connect airline: through check-in of luggage, earning and redeeming points, earning status credits plus lounge access for first and business class passengers and Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald cardholders.
Oneworld Connect members will also be added to the roster for Oneworld’s Global Explorer round-the-world fare.
While Fiji Airways has been announced as the first Oneworld Connect member, the alliance was unable to name a date for when those benefits would kick in.
Oneworld says it is in discussion with other carriers “from various parts of the world including the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe.”
One potential candidate would be Aer Lingus, which previously intended to re-join Oneworld but has recently ruled this out, reportedly due to the high costs associated with full Oneworld membership such as systems integration.
Connect members will provide flights from the primary hubs of existing Oneworld members to destinations not already covered in its membership network, with the tier slotting in below the current level of 'affiliate members' such as Cathay Dragon, QantasLink and American Eagle.
Oneworld Governing Board Chairman and Finnair CEO Pekka Vauramo says that "Oneworld Connect enables us to bring together more airlines to complement the alliance's global leaders, so customers can earn rewards and feel recognised while travelling even further."
However, Oneworld CEO Rob Gurney would not be drawn on the comparison between Oneworld Connect and the Connecting Partners model of competitor Star Alliance.
"We don't really compare the two," he told Australian Business Traveller. "What we have developed is a program that is specific to Oneworld and appropriate for Oneworld and its members."