Star Alliance will add low-cost and 'hybrid' airlines to its network, with South African carrier Mango first to sign up under a new 'Connecting Partner Model'.
The new plan will see routes operated by second-tier airlines used to grow the Star Alliance network's reach beyond its 28 core members.
"We see a definite trend of convergence between the traditional full service and low-cost business models in the airline industry" said Star Alliance CEO Mark Schwab.
"At the same time, our customers are telling us that they need access to markets where we do not yet provide ideal coverage," Schwab admitted, adding that "Africa is one of the markets which we are focussed on growing."
"In many cases network carriers are not in a position to fill this gap and hence working with future Connecting Partners will allow us to provide an extended network to our travellers."
Future partners are likely to be drawn from within the ranks of current Star Alliance membership where offshoot low-cost airlines serve routes which their parents do not, such as Singapore Airlines' Scoot, Lufthansa's EuroWings and Air Canada's Jazz.
"Many of our members have transitioned parts of their operation onto these platforms, so initially we will concentrate our efforts onto these 'friends of the family'," Schwab said.
Frequent flyer benefits
While Star Alliance Gold members travelling on a Connecting Partner airline will enjoy "a tailored set of privileges" in line with the partner's own offerings, Schwab says those airlines will not be members of Star Alliance per se.
"For example, elements of the Star Alliance proposition that already part of the Mango product offering will be available to our Gold customers."
There will also be an opportunity to earn frequent flyer points in your chosen Star Alliance airline scheme on Connecting Partner airlines, provided you are connecting from or to a Star Alliance flight.
Mango is expected to be threaded into the Star Alliance network in the third quarter of 2016.
The writer travelled to Chicago as a guest of Star Alliance
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