Thai Airways’ regional subsidiary, Thai Smile Airways, is set to become the second airline to join Star Alliance as Connecting Partner with the carrier expected to come onboard by the end of this year.

The Connecting Partner model was introduced by Star Alliance in 2016 as a means to allow airlines that cannot meet the application requirements for full membership to form an association with the alliance. Eligible airlines for this partnership model are largely regional or low-cost carriers that are able to fill in regional gaps in the alliance’s global network, and prospective airlines need to have existing full commercial links with at least three member airlines.

Thai Smile Airways, which commenced operations in 2012, will add 11 new destinations to the Star Alliance network from its home base in Bangkok. The carrier flies to 10 domestic destinations in Thailand as well as 17 destinations in Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, and Laos.

The full-service airline will be Star Alliance’s second Connecting Partner after Shanghai-based Juneyao Airlines joined in May 2017. It is expected to begin serving Star Alliance connecting passengers in 2020.

Passengers can expect to receive certain benefits when connecting onto flights operated by Connecting Partners, though not all Connecting Partners offer the same privileges.

In the case of Thai Smile, travellers whose itinerary involves a direct connection between a Star Alliance member airline and the Bangkok-based carrier will get standard Alliance benefits, such as passenger and baggage through check-in.

Star Alliance Gold tier members will also get priority check-in, access to the Thai Smile Lounge and priority baggage delivery, but only when travelling on an itinerary that includes a transfer between the Bangkok-based carrier and a Star Alliance member airline. Travelling on a point-to-point itinerary with Thai Smile won’t include these benefits.

Also, as Connecting Partners are not full members of Star Alliance, they don’t typically offer miles or points earning to members of all Star Alliance frequent-flyer programmes, though they may have separate bilateral agreements with other Star Alliance member airlines for miles earning and burning. At the moment, passengers travelling with Thai Smile are eligible to earn and redeem Royal Orchid Plus miles with its parent airline Thai Airways, which is a full member of Star Alliance.

“The partnership with our first Connecting Partner, Juneyao Airlines, has exceeded our mutual expectations and we look forward to providing our customers with even more choice through the addition of the Thai Smile Airways offer,” said Jeffery Goh, CEO of Star Alliance.

Speaking about the new agreement, acting CEO of Thai Smile, Charita Leelayudth, said: “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.”

Rival airline alliance Oneworld also launched a similar partner programme last year called Oneworld Connect. Fiji Airways joined the alliance as its first and only Oneworld Connect partner carrier in December, adding seven destinations to its global network.