What is the best Star Alliance frequent flyer programme for you?

I receive regular emails recently from readers asking about the best Star Alliance frequent flyer programme so I thought it was worth running through the options again.

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

You need to remember that 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

Best Star Alliance frequent flyer programme

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.  If you can earn status, you benefit from 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.

(On the downside, Miles & More miles expire after 3 years – however much activity you have – unless you hold the Miles & More credit card.  They are not an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner either – if I need to top up my account, I use Starwood Preferred Guest points.  And their taxes are huge.  And the earning rate for many Star partner airlines is poor.)

Singapore Airlines is the other Star carrier that tends to restrict award availability on its own flights to its own members.  I have booked Singapore Airlines First Class in the past and the only way to get this was via moving Amex points to their Krisflyer scheme. I also booked four seats in Business Class last year and, because I needed higher priced seats in order get four together, this also had to booked direct.

Turkish Airlines offers status for 2 years once you achieve it.  There are severe issues around booking reward seats on partner airlines, however – you must book your tickets in person at a Turkish Airlines office.

Aegean used to have unbelievably easy targets for achieving status.  This gravy train ground to a halt a couple of years ago.  It is still an easy scheme to earn status with as long as you can fly a few segments on Aegean itself each year – you can no longer get status purely via partner airline travel.

Avianca generally has lower priced redemptions than other airlines, and has a ‘cash and miles’ option.  You only need 40% of the headline miles to actually do a redemption when you use ‘cash and miles’.  A recent upgrade to their website finally means that you can book mixed class redemptions.  Avianca also doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on redemptions – even on airlines like Lufthansa who charge them to their own members!

Asiana, unless they have changed it, has a 10 year expiry period so you aren’t at any risk of losing miles.  They are also partners with Etihad and Qatar so you could top up your account with flights on those airlines.

Asiana and ANA are, I think, the only Star Alliance carriers to let you have a family account.

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.  Of the two, Singapore has the more generous award chart – most people find SAS redemptions to be poor value on most routes.

Starwood Preferred Guest opens up some other options if you get their Amex card and move the points across.  Most Star airlines are SPG transfer partners and the ratio is a generous 1:1 (or 1:1.25 if you move in chunks of 20,000 SPG points).

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.

So …. there is no easy answer.  For a European-based programme with its own UK credit card, two years status once achieved, a soft landing and the ability to book seats other schemes cannot access (ie Lufty First Class) I still stick with Miles & More.

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  1. Hi Raffles

    A3 offers a ‘together account’ which is essentially a family account.

    Rewards are, meh.. Standard..

  2. Alan Moore says:

    United for me, despite recent changes.

    • Me too. Their redemption rates from Asia to Australia/New Zealand are reason alone to earn my *A miles with them.

    • Agreed – I accrued a reasonable chunk through taking out their CC a few times, expiry policy is reasonable (easy to extend with the odd eRewards transfer – nothing annoying like hard expirty dates or mandatory flights a la KLM).

      Still have an SQ KF account though for their redemptions, availability historically has been pretty reasonable.

  3. The best Star Alliance programme for me is the one that will give me a status match! There’s usually one on the go, although need to choose carefully in case it’s an airline you might actually want to fly regularly in the future (I’m looking at you, Turkish, not Avianca).

  4. Turkish have a family programme, although it sounds like getting it put together is a lot of hard work…A3 is much easier.

  5. Aegean still offer status by only using partner airlines but you lose the main advantage of the program by doing that. Now the Amex SPG can convert to A3 its even better for me.

  6. PilgrimofScandinavia says:

    SAS also has family account – although currently under revision. New setup expected in the autumn

  7. Aegean for me as I go to Cyprus twice a month so get enough sectors. Not sure I will ever get as much out of the programme compared to BA given I can only earn miles through flying but they offer me a second Heathrow option to Cyprus, are often cheaper and the food is pretty good.

  8. I stick with Aegean as it’s easy to maintain gold with just one longhaul SK/SQ flight, plus a yearly return to Cyprus which is upgraded for free with the gold upgrade coupons.

    And A3 has a proper business class, nothing like Club Europe.

    Also good for mileage running – you can often get things like AMS-ATH-LHR for the price of a direct flight

  9. Still possible to get status on Aegean without flying A3, but you need to do twice as many miles (so 48k rather than 24k to gain *G)

  10. Chris H says:

    Have to go to a Turkish Airline office to book rewards? My points are going down the drain at the end of the year, admittedly not huge, 30,000.

  11. SAS has lowered the price for Business to ASIA from 140K to 100K return, no fuel surcharge and refurbished plans. https://www.sas.se/eurobonus/point-charts/sas-points-charts/

    or you can fly UK to Svalbard for 30k return in economy, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2931224/Visit-Arctic-town-Svalbard-experience-real-life-Fortitude-minus-grisly-crime-course.html

  12. As someone further up has mentioned, why not United? I know that the focus of this site tends to be on how to fly Premium for “ordinary” people. However, 10K United miles one-way in Economy from Tokyo to Fiji for example, with a stop-over of your choosing e.g. Auckland? Means that if you can afford an Economy return to the Far East then reaching a dream destination like Fiji is no longer beyond the realms of possibility.

  13. I fully agree with United – it’s bizarre you don’t even really mention it. As a normal flyer (i.e. not one of the wealthy city types the site is popular with), I’ve had my best ever redemption with them. Mexico to the Galapagos, the Galapagos to Ecuador, Colombia to Canada for 30k plus £55. A tiny fraction of what BA would want (not to mention their almost nonexistent Galapagos availability).

    It’s a shame it’s now revenue based, but most of my flying is with other star carriers which still works on the old multiplyer x distance method.

  14. Asiana *G status lasts two years with a fairly low threshold of 40K miles earned in two years. Unlike TK you don’t need to attend a ticket office to book reward flights. The two year period is set by the month end of your joining fate. You can family transfer but need to specify the relationship – it’s not as flexible as the Together option A3 offers or a BA HHA. Asiana gives Lifetime Gold at 500K flown miles (assuming the programme is still going then) which makes it a interesting option for anyone flying a lot. You can transfer SPG miles to Asiana, but direct earn cards are not available in Europe (they are in Korea and the US). The main downsides of the programme are miles expiring after 10 years (though that is longer than some schemes) and not having a brilliant website (to book *A redemptions you need to navigate a page that is only available in Korean).

    • ankomonkey says:

      I took a one-way economy Asiana flight many years ago as it was the cheapest option. I remember the food being incredible.

  15. Radiata says:

    The SAA Voyager scheme reasonable and although recently changed to a revenue based scheme at ZAR 1.60 per point would not entail much loss for a long haul UK to SA flight unless heavily discounted.

    Star Alliance aside, SAA a Virgin Atlantic partner amongst others so flying on Virgin can be used for Star Alliance status.

    Occasional redemption sales offer good value.

    • SAA miles, like Lufthansa, have a hard expiry. That alone is enough to put me off.

  16. Matthew Reeve says:

    I echo the comments about how United fits into the picture, but also the other Star partners? Air Canada? ANZ? Thai? I always found Star to have approachable pricing (my M&M was my first ever Silver) and I have points to burn, but I tend to do that on transatlantic to North America.

    The other thing which falls under “specific benefits gained from holding status with that airline” is the visibility of standby in North America… something you just don’t see in Europe.

    Maybe this article could be turned into a sticky by breaking it down into the benefits, and assessing each in turn and sort of scoring each programme accordingly, with a summary grid at the bottom.

    • Something in the back of my mind makes me think that you have to pay to join the NZ scheme.

    • The point of the article is that there is no one size fits all. The aim is to decide what is important (eg credit card UK earning) and then look at schemes which match that. Running through 20+ schemes in detail is also something I doubt anyone is qualified to do!

  17. What about EgyptAir?

  18. I looked into KrisFlyer and M&M as I flew both but most of my travel is EU with the occasional Asian and US trip which are on SQ and VS respectively. KrisFlyer looked quite good and the earning ratios were quite good on partner airlines however PPS Club is the one you get the best benefits from and that requires a revenue spend on SQ to attain status.

    While M&M has ridiculous taxes and in some cases poor redemption value, LH has been the best overall experience for me in Europe and the credit cards for top up don’t half hurt either.

  19. doog1000 says:

    Raffles you ought to do a piece on buying miles via Avianca lifemiles – on flyertalk they are regarded as the cheapest place to source any miles directly and especially within star alliance – the twice yearly sales have brought this cost to under 1p per mile even with the strong dollar

    • I remember when the BMI Diamond Club was coming to an end Avianca lifemiles were seen as the best *A programme to redeem points. Where as the best programme for status was Aegean.

      Even with the the ever changing Avianca reward chart buying points can still be a good option when you take into account , no taxes on redemptions, nice.

    • Getting general flyers to buy miles in what is effectively a banana republic airline which had a habit of changing rules overnight is not something I am hugely happy with, to be honest. This site has a far broader readership than FT.

      • doog1000 says:

        totally understand although over the time I have been using Avianca lifemiles and getting some great deals, BA Avios have devalued more than they have!

  20. this is probably taking it a step too far … but you may also want to consider whether the frequent flyer programme you are considering credits you for the type of tickets you are likely to buy.

    http://www.wheretocredit.com/ is very useful for looking into this type of thing !

  21. Aegean do have Family account – “together account” but only if the head of the account is Silver or Gold member.

  22. TK Gold can get from status match, lasts two year, only 35000 status miles needed for re-qualifying TK Gold, and you can buy up to 10000 status miles in the second year. Have family account, and best award chart for Europe – Asia biz ticket.

  23. Hi,
    Not sure if this really counts here but need some help.
    I jut got back from a trip to istanbul on swiss airlines with stopover in Zurich. I’m really struggling in know where to credit the miles and its Y class, flown from city airport.
    I’ve only been collecting avios so far with about 10,000 in my accoutn and 6000 in hubby’s. we have some random emirates miles that are probably worth nothing. Can you give me any good pointers. I’ve looked at this: http://www.wheretocredit.com/swiss/y
    but unsure which to go for , maybe miles and more, turkish or united.
    turkish because I’ve seen them have some good deals lately, united because their redmeptions seem good to middle east. Hoping to go Thailand in the summer and if I can get those flights which credit to star, would be fab
    Thanks in advance

    • If you’ve already flown then you are restricted even further, because some schemes will not retrocredit flights taken before you joined.

      To be honest, unless you take extra flights you won’t have enough to do much anyway so I wouldn’t spend too much time on it. If you are lucky enough to get some more paid Star flights before they expire, and can thus get something from them, great, but accept the fact that you probably won’t.

      • Thanks raffles, will just try with united, if it doesn’t work, at least I’ve tried.

  24. So my Etihad business class trip in September will do the second half of what I need to get Star Gold with Asiana, which will last about 3 years and a bit.

    Just need to book the Buenos Aires trip for the summer flying with Turkish in the correct class and I should be there … almost.


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