“Where should I credit Star Alliance flights now that BMI has gone?”

Over Easter, I will be answering a number of the reader questions that were submitted via this article.  If you didn’t take part this time, don’t worry as I will be re-running this feature in the Summer.  Feel free to expand on or critique my answer using the Comments section below!

Today’s question is from DJ who asked:

Now that bmi is a distant memory, what Star Alliance programme should I credit miles to? I don’t really see myself attaining any form of status, so I would be interested in the best and most flexible option for earn and burn.

bmi plane

Arrggh!  This is the ultimate ‘how long is a piece of string’ question, to which there is no right or wrong answer.

Frequent flyer scheme attractiveness is a function of:

  • Earning rate for a specific route and class of service
  • Burning rate for a specific route and class of service
  • Point thresholds required for status
  • Amount of time status lasts
  • Specific benefits gained from holding status with that airline
  • Ability to earn miles from third parties
  • Whether and how they impose fuel surcharges on redemptions
  • Whether you can do one-way redemptions

Programme A may get you status the quickest if your flights are all on Carrier X in flexible business, but Programme B may get you status quicker if your flights are all in discounted economy.  Programme C may have higher status thresholds than either, but may give status for 2 years (and/or have a soft landing if you don’t renew).  Programme D may have higher thresholds than either A, B or C but have extra availability of award seats for its own elite members.

Flyer A may fly a lot so earns all the miles he needs from flying.  Flyer B may only do the odd flight, so is reliant on the airline having a credit card partner if they are to get enough miles for a decent redemption.  Flyer B may also prefer a programme that allows one-way redemptions, as he could use a small amount of miles to fly to XXX and fly back using Avios instead ….

It’s all very complicated!

Here are some examples:

I stick with Lufthansa Miles & More for Star flights now.  Why?   Well, I like Lufthansa First Class a lot, and availability is heavily restricted to Star Alliance partner airlines.  It is, however, easy to get it (for 1 person, at least) using Miles & More miles.  Miles & More also status match every few years, and have a soft landing – so if you get Gold (Senator) you effectively have status for FOUR years, 2 years as Gold / Senator and 2 year as Silver / Frequent Traveller.

Singapore Airlines is the other Star carrier that tends to restrict award availability on its own flights to its own elites.

Turkish Airlines offers status for 2 years once you achieve it, and will status match.  I have read some odd stories about difficulties with redeeming (eg having to pick up tickets in person at a Turkish office) but I don’t know the official line.

Aegean has unbelievably easy targets for achieving status.  (There is a separate post on this if you search ‘Aegean’).

Avianca has unbelievably easy thresholds for redemptions, and has ‘cash and miles’ like BMI did.  You only need 40% of the headline miles to actually do a redemption when you use ‘cash and miles’.  You can’t do mixed class redemptions though – so, for eg, you can’t book Lufthansa Business from London to Frankfurt and then First Class onwards.  If would need to be all Business or you book separate awards for each.  Their website is also buggy.

Avianca also doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on redemptions – even on airlines like Lufthansa who charge them to their own members!

Only a few Star Alliance partners have UK credit cards – Miles & More and United spring to mind.  American Express Membership Rewards lets you transfer 1:1 to SAS and Singapore Airlines.  Starwood Preferred Guest opens up some other options if you get their credit card and move miles across.

There is one other important thing to remember about Star Alliance statusA Silver card only gets you lounge access with the airline that issues your card.  If you turn up at a Lufthansa lounge with a LH economy ticket and a Thai Silver card, you’re not getting in.  (Thai Gold, yes, Miles & More Silver, yes.)  This is the opposite of BA / oneworld, where a Silver (mid-tier) card on any airline gets you into any lounge.

This means, if you fly with Lufthansa most of the time and want lounge access, you actually need to compare the flights needed for Miles & More Silver with the flights needed for (fill in whatever airline) Gold.  This complicates the analysis even further.

If you have a (very large) mug of tea, this Flyertalk thread discusses the same issue.  It is 515 posts long and doesn’t really reach a conclusion!

In general, though ….

For earning easy status …. Aegean

For cheap redemptions, especially with small balance …. Avianca

For a European-based programme with a credit card, 2 years status and soft landings …. Miles & More.

Feel free to criticize my choice in the Comments section!

The earnings rate on the old bmi credit cards has been secretly increased!
Credit Card Reviews 2013 (10): TSB Premier Avios American Express & MasterCard
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Comments

  1. AviosNewbie says:

    Hi Raffles, I had a suggestion for you that is not related to this post, but don’t know where else to post so putting it here: will you be able to add a section to your website which shows new comments by date? (i.e. regardless of the date of your original post). It will be very helpful if someone posts comments at a later date, and people would like to read them. I think there is no way of knowing this currently, unless I click on your original post and scroll down.

    • No, unfortunately. I am limited by the WordPress software and this functionality does not exist. What I will do is expand to 3 the number of comments that show in the sidebar halfway down, which shows the latest comments made. 3 is still not a lot of comments, but it is one more than I show now.

      Annoyingly, the exact functionality you want is exactly what I see as Administrator, but I cannot replicate it for readers.

      • Install the JetPack plugin and use the Recent Comments widget on the sidebar. Works like a charm. :)

        • It is there! But space restricts how many I can run. Been recommended a widget that shows all comments on one page, bit like Admins see it in WP. May give that a go.

  2. For the lounge access, that’s simply because Star Silver is equivalent to BA Brown… I think BA is the anomaly

    If you can, within 12 months, fly 19000 miles on a semi-flexible economy ticket (UA, Swiss, Lufty and SQ seem to offer the cheapest fares which still credit full miles), or between 10000 and 13000 miles on a business ticket (other than “super saver”-type fares which credit 0 miles), then Aegean Gold is yours for 3 years.

    With Aegean it appears that you can just credit 1 flight every 2 years to maintain status, but it is not necessarily the best for redemptions. You can try a status match with Turkish, and then you can maintain status with 37500 miles a year. You don’t need to fly the airline to get status with it.

    • “I think BA is the anomaly” No. It is a difference between the OneWorld Allicane and the Star Allicance. (Don’t let BA’s tastefully UNDER inflated names for their tiers get in the way. *)

      Oneworld has three alliance wide levels: Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald – and the last two are BOTH worth having. Giving alliance wide lounge access, etc.
      Star has 2 alliance wide levels: Star Silver and Star Gold, but only Star Gold is really worth having. (Don’t get me wrong: The status that gets you Star Silver might itself be worth having direclty – for travel directly with your own airilne, but that is what they are giving their members, it is not worth it as an alliance status benefit.)

      Star Silver is a close match to Ruby in OW. And StarGold is perhaps Sapphire – but with some added pixie dust because you are in the top ‘alliance wide’ tier.

      In practical terms, most *A airlines give their own Star Silver equivalent members more benefits that OW airlines give their Ruby equiivalent members. So if you fly with the airline you have status with, your local membership as a Star Silver will probably be worth more than a OW Ruby would when flying ‘at home’.

      * = BAEC has under inflated levels of status:
      OW Ruby – BA Exec Club equates with a tier called ‘Bronze’ on their scale, AA equates with a tier called Gold, Iberia with one called Silver, etc.
      OW Sapphire – BAEC equates with a tier called ‘Silver’, AA equates with one called Platinum, Iberia with one called Gold, etc)
      OW Emerald – BA Equates with a tier called Gold, AA with one called ‘Executive Platinum’, Iberia with Platinum.
      In Star it can be even more confusing, with some airlines having their own ‘Gold’ status that doesn’t come with ‘Star Gold’, only star silver, or star nothing! Other airlines having members who have not yet reached ‘gold’ level in their own programme, but the level they have got to gives them ‘Star Gold’.

      • Yes, I’m aware of all that, I was trying to say that BAEC is one of the few FFPs where a status named “silver” is actually worth something – i.e. “underinflated”

        It’s quite hard to keep track of all this if you don’t stick to a single airline! Do you know of any sites which are up to date and have a decent comparison of the status levels of common airline FFPs?

      • Sir Stamford says:

        “In Star it can be even more confusing …”

        I don’t think the *A tier levels are particularly confusing to be singled out. Other OW carriers have an equally confusing tiers too. Just have a look at Japan Airlines.

        Secondly, the various tiers of Asiana are clearly explained on their website. You just can’t assume that just because your card is Gold, it will be mapped to the highest tier level in an alliance.

        Sir Stamford

        • @john:

          Because of the horrendous inflation issues, I would never have thought to compare tiers by title name in the first place, so I missed your point that BAEC was “underinflated”.

          @Sir Stamford:

          I agree that JAL (OW) probably should win the award for confusion.

          However that is one airline, and the numebr of airlines using precious gemstones in their own internal tier names is limited, so limited criticism at OW for using them. (And unelss I’m mistaken, a ‘JAL Sapphire’ (one of their internal names) will always be a OW Sapphire equivalent. And Sapphire is the only common name. So while there is plenty of room for confusion, it shouldn’t disadvantage anyone.

          I think the names *A has chosen are justified for criticism. Lots of airlines, including the *A founding member airlines, have long used precious metals to name their tiers. We have enough problems with inflation of metal names between programmes before everyone has a seconard metal.

          “You just can’t assume that just because your card is Gold, it will be mapped to the highest tier level in an alliance.”
          Who was that in reply to? I didn’t say anything about that.

          ——

          Personally I’ve lond thought there was a simple solution to all of this.

          And remmebr the coloured shadows on the oneworld symbols on the cards don’t instantly convey any understandable seniority, hardly anyone notices the shadows have colours, let alone different ones.

          Simple solution for oneworld: A single globe symbol for everyone, a double globe for ruby, a tripple globe for sapphire, and a 4 globe for emerald. They could either be full globes: O, OO, OOO (perhaps as a triangle) or OOOO (perhaps as a square). Or they could be echos: O, O), O)), O))) – which also looks a bit like strips on a jacket, etc.
          Either way far more noticble than coloured shadows.

          Simple soltuion for *A: Call the star wide levles: 1 Star * (everyone) 2 Star ** (star silver) 3 Star *** (star gold). This fits a bit like military ranks.

          Skyteam, still thinking about.

          —-

          If you want an example of how bad it has got, I’ve seen Iberia (part of IAG) lounge staff complaining that BA Silvers get let in, but Iberia Silvers do not. Creating more ‘bit feeling’ about the mergers.

          • Sir Stamford says:

            “Who was that in reply to? I didn’t say anything about that.”
            You = In generic reader (third person usage) terms, rather than you personally, to explain Asiana.

            It is true that JAL’s Sapphire will always be a OW Sapphire but they haven’t used the OW precious gemstones description consistently either. It isn’t exactly clear in the first instance where Diamond, Premier and Crystal sit without looking up their tier levels.

            OK, let’s ignore JAL and look at the founding members of OW.
            AA Gold = OW Rugby
            CX Gold = OW Sapphire
            BA Gold = OW Emerald

            The point I am making is simply ALL alliances are at equally fault for creating the confusion but it is not fair to single out a particular one for specific criticism.

            Sir Stamford

          • “The point I am making is simply ALL alliances are at equally fault for creating the confusion”

            That is where I disagree. At least OW attempted to avoid the ubiquitous metals issue by using gemstones.

            That is why I consider star to be more worthy of critcism. They only have one (alliance wide) very meaningful tier level – and it is called ‘Gold’ or StarAlliance ‘Gold’. The most readily over inflated in comparable term in any membership or card setup.

            It would be better if they had called it “StarGold” as a single term in a box.

            OW I think desever extreme criticism for the way they display their tiers – with coloured shadows. Star do display it in a much better way. But when it comes to naming, I think Star was daft, I think OW tried to be clever, but it came out lacking distinction as a result.

          • Sir Stamford says:

            I think we have to agree to disagree on this topic. Thank you David, for the opportunity for an interesting exchange on this!

            My final thoughts are as follows.

            a) I like Star Alliance for its simple approach. Apart from Asiana, if you have Gold status in one of its members, you will have Star Alliance Gold status. This can’t be said for OW as with a Gold status you could be either Ruby, Emerald or Sapphire depending on which airline.

            b) I agree with David’s suggestion that OW messed up the execution of its tier levels.

            c) Having multiple levels inside one programme mapping onto the same Star level is, of course, essential from the airline business perspective. This however can not be said from the frequent flyer’s perspective since it adds to the confusion. If you are not familiar with, say, SQ, how do you know which of these lot (KrisFlyer Elite Gold/PPS Club/Solitaire PPS Club/Solitaire PPS Club Life ) is the top tier?

            Sir Stamford

          • Agree to disagree!

            In reply to your points – a, b and c:
            a) I think aligning a Gold benefits level in an alliaicne to Gold (or greater) in a programme is a bad move for an alliance. It limits the member airlines ability realign and revalue their teirs. And I think that is an improtant thing to give them.
            Especially since it is needless. And the many>one (programme levels > one alliance level) nature will add confusion if a common word is used.
            Would have been a bit better if it was “StarGold” with a prescribed size, location, etc.

            It also presents problems with airline alliance changes. If you have ‘Gold’ as the top alliance tier. Lets say *A wanted to woo AA, or CX (to go for the mid point), they – using the popular metals names for tiers, would have to realign themselves, reissue all cards, cause masses of internal membership confusion, just to align to the star model.

            b) I think OW had the right idea, but the execution was terrible: with the universally not noticed coloured shadows, the words and colours that (to decent percentage of people) don’t instantly convey seniority. Sapphire/Emerad. They are not instantly appreciated one is higher than the other.

            c) There shouldn’t be any issue from the flyers perspective either. If it is your home programme, or a programme / airline you are looking at, you will read and learn it. If it isn’t, it shouldn’t matter to you.
            The bigger question, especially with symbol size and location not being mandated (or airilnes such as BMI fogetting to put the *G logo on it, or their name) is how many cards it too many for lounge recognition.
            You don’t want your most important rare BA Premiers getting rejected at some outstation on the other side of the world flying a partner airline, becuase the person on the desk doesn’t recognise the card as BA Gold or BA Silver.

            But we all know there is always room for improvement in the lounge ‘cheat sheets’.

          • Sir Stamford says:

            Have a look at this link:
            http://www.staralliance.com/assets/doc/en/benefits/frequent-flyer-programmes/pdf/FFP-table.pdf

            From what I can see, there is only 1 *A programme (i.e. Asiana) which offers a Gold tier without it being equivalent to a Star Alliance Gold status. Therefore, I still believe it is harsh to single out *A as more worthy of criticism just because of this.

            The *A table also shows a variety of different tier levels and names often for the same airline which also offer *A Gold status. (As we know, these additional tier levels perhaps offer more airline specific additional benefits).

            To me, this second point is worth criticising because it creates confusion and inconsistencies but then again, OW is doing the same thing.

          • My original comment was “In Star it can be even more confusing…”
            And I stand by that – on the basis that Star went with widely used metals for their status.

            I didn’t single Star out as the only one to blame, and I began by bemoaning OW.

            In Star it might be only one currently doing a Gold which isn’t Star Gold, but I’m sure there was atleast one other before (but it was a couple of years ago that I looked) I also remember at least one that had a Silver level that was not Star Silver, and a special Silver that was a gold. But I’m struggling to remember them now.

            Eitherway, I think OW had the right approach – but messed up the execution. I think Star went first with a simpler approach, which has flaws.

            The OW approach allows airlines to devaule and revaule their status levels as they see fit, without moving people around inside the programme. And without creating confusion by using popular metals.

            The second point you make about multiple levels inside one programme mapping onto the same Star level. That to me is essentialy for the airlines (which are very different) to operate their FFP effectvily for their business.
            I really don’t see what the issue with that is?

  3. Phillip says:

    For those who don’t fly with Star that often, then Asiana is a good FFP as the miles don’t expire for 10 years. Plus they are currently partners with both Etihad and Qatar!

  4. As you mentioned “I don’t really see myself attaining any form of status” you should pay close attention to expiry of points.

    If you don’t have status with Miles & More or their credit card, your points will expire after 3 years. If you’re not flying enough to get status then you may not earn quite enough points for your dream reward flight within that time. Look for a program like Flying Blue (Air France & KLM / Skyteam) where points don’t expire for non-status members as long as they fly at least 1 sector every 18 months.

  5. I think you’ve summed up the difficulties very nicely, Raffles – what works for one might not work for another.

    Thanks for good ol’ bmi I ended up with status matches to Aegean, Turkish, BA, Aer Lingus and (for 3/12) United (well also KLM thanks to their status match offer!). I try to credit the odd eligible *A flight to Aegean to maintain status there, but have a reasonable UA balance via their credit card sign-up bonus previously so tend to try and dump miles in there – also Aegean don’t give credit for quite a few fare buckets so they tend to go to UA too.

    I had a small pot of UA miles and transferred them across to BAA vouchers via Worldpoints. I find the expiry rules quite draconian in M&M so haven’t wanted to dump too many miles there. Thankfully SQ is an Amex MR partner so I’d plan to do any SQ redemptions via that route.

    You mentioned LH do status match from time to time and soft-land – do you have any more info on that?

    • I was a bit disingenuous with that comment. Every few years Star Alliance does alliance-wide status matches in a particular region, which M&M takes part in. The last one was for anyone with a Hong Kong address (or who could make one up) about 2 years ago, when you could match any non-Star Gold to a list of Star partners, which included M&M. Did myself, my wife and indeed our old nanny!

      The soft landing with M&M is a permanent feature. You get 2 years of Gold (plus the rest of the current membership year) plus 2 years of Silver when you don’t requalify. That gives you between 4-5 years of lounge access with the M&M airlines. I just dropped to M&M Silver last month when the Gold I got via the Hong Kong match expired.

      • Ah, OK – cheers for clarifying. Will keep an eye out for another of those! Handy to have a backup just in case 😉

  6. Raphael says:

    I think it’s also worth a mention I myself recently opened an account with ANA. From what I gather, they’re the only *A to allow family accounts. To add someone they need to be within 2 degrees of you but whether they actually check I have no idea.
    To open a family account it costs 1000 miles and you need to have them in your account. It’s a great way to collect those otherwise wasted miles of family members.

    • ANA also has excellent redemption rates for Virgin Atlantic (UK to US) oddly, as Virgin is an ANA partner. I think it is 63,000 ANA miles return for Upper Class, off the top of my head.

    • Phillip says:

      Asiana also offers a family membership account and in addition to Qatar and Etihad that I mentioned above, you can also earn and burn with EVA Air. Add to that, they allow you to accrue status points over a two year period instead of the usual one, making status more reachable, albeit slowly.

      I do agree with what has been said already though – what works for one, may not necessarily work for another, depending on travel patterns. I think it is beneficial to concentrate on a single programme to maximise rewards (or at least not spread oneself too thin across a large number of different programmes), and you usually get more perks by being a member of the FFP of the airline you fly with the most, but there is also scope to play around with more than one FFP depending on earn/burn ratios and status levels. All good fun and quite rewarding!

  7. Sam Wardill says:

    I’m in a dilemma. I have Miles & More Silver with 27k points (but also earning more with a M&M AmEx). I’m about to get Miles & Smiles Gold via status match with my BA Gold. Points expiry for Miles & More is draconian so I don’t really want to credit my *A miles to it. I was thinking of using the Miles & Smiles for lounge access but just credit *A miles to M&M but I’m now thinking that the extra bag is the real benefit (I travel to Zimbabwe with family at least once per year and we tend to go heavily loaded). I assume that, to get the extra bag, you need to credit miles to the card with Gold status. I also guess that my Miles & Smiles *A Gold couldn’t get me, wife & 3 kids into the lounge. Am I right with both assumptions? Does anybody have any suggestions?

    • Sir Stamford says:

      “Points expiry for Miles & More is draconian so I don’t really want to credit my *A miles to it.”

      You mean points expiry for TK’s Miles & Smiles? As a Miles & More AMEX cardholder, the continued usage of your card should prevent the expiration of Miles &More points.

      Sir Stamford

    • Miles & More miles won’t expire as long as you have the credit card, or indeed whilst you have status, so its not a major issue.

      No reason why you can’t use M&S to check in and then have the lounge reissue your boarding card with an M&M number. I would check FT, but I think people have had issues getting Turkish to issue award seats as well, so not clear that you want to accumulate here.

      No way of getting 5 of you into a lounge, even if both you and your wife had Star Gold. Amex Plat would get you 2 Priority Passes, each of which admits 2, which may be the way to go, you would still be paying £15 per visit for the 5th person though and PP lounges are often second tier.