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

A lot of people ask me 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.

It would be great if there was a ‘slam dunk’ easiest option.  There used to be – Aegean was the default choice for while, and bmi British Midland before that – but no longer.

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
  • Whether the programme allows family accounts

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 ….

Or perhaps you’re doing a one-off Star Alliance flight with your family – in which case you need a scheme which offers a family account as otherwise you’ll have 3-4 accounts with too few miles to use.

It’s all very complicated!

Here are some examples:

I stick with Lufthansa Miles & More for Star Alliance 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.  They have a UK credit card and – until January 2018 – I am able to pay my hefty VAT, PAYE and self-assessment tax bills with it.  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.  And they don’t do family accounts.  And online booking for Star partners is poor.  For many people, Miles & More is a terrible choice – it just happens to work for me.)

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 a couple of years  ago and, because I needed higher priced seats – not offered to Star Alliance partner airlines – 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 FOUR segments on Aegean itself each year – you can no longer get status purely via partner airline travel.  If you want the quickest route to Star Alliance Gold status, and you can fit in a four segment trip to and around Greece on Aegean once a year – Aegean is the scheme for you.

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’.  Avianca also doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on redemptions – even on airlines like Lufthansa who charge them to their own members!  The airline has a track record of making ‘no notice’ changes to their scheme, however, and if you have issues you are dealing with a company based in Latin America.

Asiana, the South Korean airline, 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.

This is only a sample of the options available from the 28 Star Alliance airlines.

Only two Star Alliance partners have UK credit cards – Lufthansa Miles & More and United.  In addition, 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).  You can also move Amex Membership Rewards points into Starwood – at a bad 2:1 rate – and then onto other airlines.

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.  You may come to a different conclusion.

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Comments

  1. Lewis Watson says:

    Is any 4 four flights on aegean enough for gold? Or have I miss understood

    • No, it is 4 flights plus a (relatively) very small number of status points.

      • As mentioned earlier in another comment, you can get Aegean Miles+Bonus elite status without any flights on Aegean metal. Here’s what the T&C’s mention:

        “The Blue Member that accumulates 12,000 Tier Miles, including at least 2 flights with Aegean and/or Olympic Air, or a total of 24,000 miles regardless of the partner airline, within a year from the date of the first transaction (registration or first flight) or from entry in the tier or from an older flight that registered miles that has not expired, will be upgraded to SILVER tier.”

        “The Silver Member that accumulates 24,000 Tier Miles, including at least 4 flights with Aegean and/or Olympic Air, or a total of 48,000 miles regardless of the partner airline, within twelve consecutive (12) months from the date of the first oldest flight that registered miles which has not expired or been used for tier upgrade, after being upgraded to/retaining Silver tier, will be upgraded to GOLD tier and will receive the Gold Card.”

        Same goes for retaining the status once it is achieved, where you need less miles – 16000 to retain silver, 24000 to retain gold without ever stepping on an Aegean Airlines aircraft.

        Here’s the link: https://en.aegeanair.com/conditions-notices/milesbonus-terms-and-conditions/

        It’s also worth mentioning that you can buy some tier miles, should you run short and don’t have any plans to travel:

        1. Purchase Tier miles
        1.1. Tier miles can only be purchased by active Miles+Bonus Members that belong to the Silver or Gold tier.
        1.2. Silver Members are eligible to purchase up to 1000 Tier miles within their membership year (twelve consecutive months from the last tier upgrade/retain), while Gold Members are eligible to purchase up to 2000 Tier miles respectively.
        1.3. Purchase of Tier miles refers to the future and cannot have retroactive effect.
        1.4. Purchase of Tier miles cannot be canceled after completion, thus the transaction value is non-refundable.
        1.5. Tier miles are sold in sets of five hundred (500) at the price of 25.00€ per set.

        2000 tier miles (if you are gold) will cost you 100€ so it might be worth looking at this option if you only need as much and a flight that would give them to you costs more.

        I find this program one of the best for European residents who prioritise on having *A gold status, although my opinion might be biased by the fact that I am living in Greece and have Athens as my home airport. The difficulty is to reach gold, if you don’t fly a lot, but once you reach it it’s relatively easy to retain (quick tip: crediting SAS Plus in Aegean is by far the best way to earn miles quickly, and SAS Plus is not much more expensive than SAS Go).

        Thanks for the nice article!

  2. Simon Cross says:

    The key thing in any frequent flier program for me is the ability to preserve my miles.

    Which Star Alliance airlines enable you o preserve your points with some activity in one form or another and how often do you need the activity?

    • Key thing for us is can we actually get award seats once we’ve got the points. Availability gets a lot tougher when you’re redeeming for more than one seat per flight. I’ve got a lot of respect for Rob being able to manage this with his brood. Kudos.

    • Get the UK M&M card, then charge a recurring free (e.g. £2.99/pm Google Storage) to that card every month. Miles preserved indefinitely..

  3. Prins Polo says:

    A slightly different angle here – I use SAS:

    I fly Star Alliance occasionally, I’d say on average 5-6 short-haul European flights a year. I don’t really do long-haul on Star. This means, I’m nowhere close to getting any status on Star. I generally try to maintain the BA Gold – through a combination of work travel and one ex-EU on QR per year I typically get to the end of my membership year with around 1300-1700 TPs, so often have to do a last minute TP run or use a few AUPs/POUGs in a final push to get to 1500 and retain BA Gold. There is no way I can maintain both BA Gold and Star Gold.

    The main perk of Star Gold would be lounge access but I have Amex Plat so generally get access to lounges. I wouldn’t count on any upgrades because I will never be ahead of the HONs, Senators and other elites.

    With those few flights a year, I credit to SAS as I find their redemptions (on own metal) to be a good value – there are no surcharges. E.g. last week, I booked Oslo to Svalbard (LYR) and back for 10,000 miles and GBP 50 in taxes, where the same ticket bought for cash was GBP 451. I go to Scandinavia for various trips (hiking, skiing, weekend getaways etc.) frequently enough to use those points. I think you need to have some activity once in 3-4 years to keep them active so it’s easy. Points can be topped up with MR points. The website also says, if I recall correctly, that family accounts will be introduced in the coming months which would be good too..

    • Looks like it is bad news regarding family accounts! It seems they are replacing that with options for transferring to family and friends. It will be 5 euro per 1000 to transfer and you need to have held the Eurobnous account for 1 year prior to the transfer.

  4. Exeterite says:

    It’s not true that Silver will even get you into lounges operated by the airline that you hold status with. For example, the lowest tier of Air Canada’s programme will not get you into any European (LHR, FRA, etc.) AC lounges, and I think they even restrict domestic lounges to a set number of entries for the lowest tier nowadays. That said, I’m still an AC*G since they best serve my routes.

  5. From a North American (ok…Canadian) perspective, Air Canada’s Aeroplan is poor for using miles on AC because of the insanely high surcharges and what has to be on or the worst “refund/cancellation” of reward flights in the industry. However, it is quite good for using on United from the US because the taxes are so so cheap…something like less than $20 for international and $10 for domestic.

    Air Canada’s Aeroplan will change in 2020 as Air Canada terminated the agreement with Amia – the company that runs the program (and also runs Nectar).

  6. sarahluv says:

    Just to echo a comment above, Krisflyer Silver doesn’t have any lounge access whatsoever.

  7. Turkish has got 2 gold levels: Elite plus and Elite with soft landing so one year accumulating 80K miles (E+) would give 4 years *G (and then 2 more years silver). Once achieved you only need 40K miles every other year to maintain. E+ comes with 2 upgrade voucher allowing to upgrade a cheap eco ticket to biz class on TK every year (unlike LH SEN upgrades that only work for expensive tickets)

  8. How high are the taxes and fees for Lufty? Worse than BA?

    • Prins Polo says:

      Short-haul – extortionate (while BA has capped RFS). I think they were more reasonable on long-haul where BA has its crazy surcharges.

    • Terrible on short haul (£100+), not sure about long haul

      • Does anyone have any idea? Am planning a long haul one way in 1st (via Frankfurt obvs) in the not too distant future, possibly to Singapore (then back from Hong Kong with Cathay, because no taxes, and their 1st is divine).

    • LH used to have two good features – 50% less miles were needed for redemptions for flights within the next two weeks and also taxes&charges paid by miles. I used either of these once or twice and was very happy. Are they still around.

      The only snag, as Rob loves to say, is that they removed an option to buy miles some time ago and this is a dog! (another fav expression by Rob)

  9. GUWonder says:

    Egyptair has family accounts and the relatives’ flights even count toward the elite status of the head of the account.

  10. Semipro_FF says:

    My experience.. LH FT Silver actually gets you into LH lounge even when flying LOT or other partners who use Miles and More from heathrow T2

    • …. which it should. LH Silver works on all of the airlines which use M&M as their loyalty programme.

  11. Cassandra says:

    On Egyptair, just try and get them to record the miles. It is like a Marx Brother movie with many, many emails. My last flight, for example, I flew Business Rome to Cairo. No indication within 4 days of any miles recorded. I sent an email with all the information. They wrote back saying I needed to include this and that, all of which had been clearly spelled out. Nothing was at all unique. I copied the original email and attached a copy of my boarding pass receipt. The return email said that I was required to notify them within one week of travel. I wrote back that I had done so. They wrote back: but they had not recorded my email information as being provided within one week, I would have to accept that.
    I wrote back politely pointing out that the error was theirs. On and on and on. Finally, nothing. Just no further response. I keep wondering if this was deliberate since it all seemed so ridiculous. Then I received an email saying that no further action was planned. What? Why?
    So, I give up! In terms of FF miles, Egyptair is too much trouble for me, so I just try to take someone else now and base my choices on convenience and cost.