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
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 status. A 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.