China Southern Will Leave SkyTeam Next Year

China Southern has become a stepchild within the SkyTeam alliance, with Delta taking an equity stake in China Eastern and China Eastern taking an equity stake in Air France. Moreover with Delta’s Korean Air joint venture, China Southern Guangzhou connections become less important still.

American Airlines took an equity stake in China Southern (natch) but their codesharing relationship was limited by SkyTeam rules. And it’s been expected the carrier would leave SkyTeam. Indeed a Delta executive pretty much said so. It’s finally happening.

According to SkyTeam,

China Southern Airlines has decided not to renew its contract with SkyTeam, the global airline alliance, as of 1 January 2019.

China Southern’s decision reflects its strategic development, the changing trends of the global aviation industry and the evolution of alliances.

SkyTeam and China Southern have agreed to work closely together to ensure a seamless transition for all customers and partners. That process will run throughout 2019 and will complete by the year-end.

There won’t be much impact on customers over the next year. At some point, to be announced, customers traveling on China Southern will no longer receive SkyTeam elite benefits or be able to credit miles to SkyTeam partners. And award tickets issued with miles from SkyTeam airlines will no longer be able to be changed.

Those relationships will be replaced with other airline relationships. Presumably there will be greater codesharing and a frequent flyer deal with American. Whereas Delta collects fuel surcharges on China Southern redemptions, I imagine that American Airlines will not. The ability to redeem on China Southern will be a win for AAdvantage members.

There are other potential chess moves. It’s been speculated that Cathay Pacific could decamp oneworld for Star, given reciprocal ownership stakes between Cathay and Star Alliance member Air China (and with oneworld member Qatar an owner of Cathay but threatening to up and leave oneworld itself). That would be an even bigger loss for AAdvantage members. I don’t have a feel for the likelihood of this move, though I did express skepticism about such a rumor a year ago.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I agree that a defection of Cathay Pacific from Oneworld would be devastating for AAdvantage members who fly to Asia. That would leave only Japan Airlines and Malaysian Airlines (possibly China Southern) as Oneworld Asian airlines while Star Alliance would be a juggernaut in Asia with Singapore Airlines, ANA, Asiana, Shenzhen, Air China and EVA. A trade of Hong Kong for Guangzhou would be a real downgrade even though those cities are now connected by high-speed rail.

  2. Damn, I’d been saving up Amex points and Delta miles for a big business class redemption from NYC to Kathmandu. Seemed like the best way was to book China Southern via Delta miles. (I have about 75k Delta miles and with bonuses will soon have about 185k Amex points). The trip is in March 2020. Suggestions for alternatives?

  3. as a long time EXP on AA mostly because of trips to Asia on CX, Cathay leaving OneWorld pretty much means good bye American too.

    I don’t think I’m the only person with the same thoughts either. I just hope if they leave they announce it early in the year so I can switch alliances early enough to quality for Diamond or whatever the equivalent is.

  4. China Southern, needless to say, would not be a substitute for Cathay Pacific in Oneworld. Even leaving aside the mediocre quality of their in-flight product, if, like me, you work in the defense industry and carry ITAR controlled material, you cannot fly through China to connect elsewhere in Asia.

  5. If it was unclear in Gary’s post, China Southern’s departure from SkyTeam also includes its subsidiary, Xiamen Airlines, further weakening the second best alliance in Asia. If Cathay Pacific joins Star Alliance, that alliance would have a huge amount of market power in Asia. An alliance is not an airline still that much concentric might have some adverse consequences for consumers.

  6. Korean Air is a founding member of Skyteam even though they never saw eye to eye with Delta till they signed the JV. But indeed China Southern must have felt left out with all the big deals going on with China Eastern.

    China Southern signed a new JV with Air France/KLM in July this year.

  7. As a Delta Diamond, flying China Eastern on I/J fares gives 40% of distance flown as MQD and two trips to Asia can easily meet the 15k MQD requirement. China Southern agreement is by far inferior (10-20% of distance flown for MQDs). I have only flown China Eastern business class and it is comparable to Delta One (or better). I have flown China Southern domestic before and it reminded me of Spirit Airlines. It would avoid it in the future. China Southern and China Eastern offer similarly low fares to Asia but flying China Southern on paid tickets only earns a fraction (in terms of MQD/MQMs/Bonus miles), so no big loss here in my humble opinion.

  8. Correction to the report I shared in my previous comment. China Southern subsidiary XiamenAir is remaining in SkyTeam.

  9. As someone who lives in Asia, I think if CS joins One World (and CX leaves) this is a net plus for OW. OW was incredibly weak within domestic China, lacking one of the big 3 (Air China, CEA and CS).

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