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

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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 a 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!

What is the best star alliance frequent flyer programme?

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.  Lufthansa also has decent redemption rates to the Middle East, and availability is excellent in UK half-terms as German and Swiss schools are not off.  Miles & More has a UK credit card and I am able to pay my hefty VAT, PAYE and self-assessment tax bills by linking it to a Curve Card.  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.

Just last week, I booked Anika on a complex Germany – Switzerland – Chicago – middle of nowhere redemption, booked seven days in advance.  Three flights (SWISS, SWISS, United), all in business class, which only cost 56,000 miles and £289 in taxes one-way.  I was happy with that.

(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 would normally use Marriott Bonvoy points although ALL hotel transfers to M&M are currently suspended.  And their taxes can be huge.  And the earning rate for many Star partner airlines is poor.  And they don’t do family accounts.  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 Singapore Airlines seats in Business Class a few years ago and, because I needed the extra availability not offered to Star Alliance partners to get four together, this also had to be booked direct.  Singapore Airlines also has VERY low pricing to the Middle East (you fly Lufthansa or SWISS) and has various other sweet spots too.

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 few 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.  (If you do not achieve four segments, the mileage requirement for Gold is substantially higher.)

Avianca generally has lower priced redemptions than other airlines, and has a ‘cash and miles’ option.  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 Airways 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 anyone have a family account.  Aegean has one too but it is only open to Silver and Gold status members.  Turkish has one – not sure if it is local residents only – but you must supply birth and marriage certificates first.

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

Only one Star Alliance partners has a UK credit cardLufthansa Miles & More (our card review is here).  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.

Hotel transfers to Miles & More are currently suspended.  If/when they resume, Marriott Bonvoy opens up some other options if you get their Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card (review here) and move the points across.  Most Star Alliance airlines are Marriott Bonvoy transfer partners – here is the full list – and the ratio is a generous 3:1,with a 25% bonus if you move in chunks of 60,000 Bonvoy points).  You can also move Amex Membership Rewards points into Marriott Bonvoy – at a 2:3 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 grouping that issues your card.  If you turn up at a Lufthansa lounge with a Lufthansa 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.  I am flying TAP Portugal to Lisbon next month and our miles are going into Lufthansa accounts.  You may come to a different conclusion.

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

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Comments

  1. Stu N says:

    I fly Lufthansa every two or three months for work. The earning rate can be ludicrously low – it’s based on fare component only, so price you pay less taxes, fees and charges. On a £250 return your earning base can be <£100.

    That plus the three year expiry means I will never get enough miles for a decent redemption. They have done mileage booster offers recently, eg fly 4 times in a quarter, get extra 3,000 award miles but I won’t hit that consistently. Even with a credit card, unless I put all my spend through it (rather than my non-Amex spend), I’d be several years away from a decent redemption.

    People may whine and moan about BAEC but with the 2-4-1 it really is a very lucrative program by comparison.

    Remember with Amex Platinum you get lounge access at both ends on LH (locally via PP, at FRA and MUC by showing your Amex card).

  2. Re Singapore airlines, is the fast track to gold still available for Amex Platinum Card holders? As per –
    https://www.headforpoints.com/2018/05/27/amex-platinum-now-gets-star-alliance-silver-fast-track-gold-shangri-la-points/

  3. David says:

    It’s not as simple as “A Silver card only gets you lounge access with the airline that issues your card.”

    SOME star alliance airline schemes do offer this, but not all. It is not an alliance wide benefit.

    • Lady London says:

      I think the point is that if a *A airline offers lounge access to its Silvers then its only to the airline’s own lounges.

      The exception being that the satellite airlines of Lufthansa, so LX, LO and, i think, Brussels Airlines, do share this benefit across their lounges for the members of those schèmes.

  4. David says:

    Additionally I’d flag that with some schemes there is room for confusion.
    Asiana is a star alliance airline. Asiana Gold however is star silver > pain for lounge staff needing to explain that “yes it’s star alliance, yes you are gold in their scheme, but you are not Star Gold (you need asiana platinum for that).

  5. Oh! Matron! says:

    OT: I can’t find the RSS feed for HFP…..

  6. nhs84 says:

    Appears that you only earn miles with Asiana on QR flights between Incheon & Doha

  7. Got 15k United miles and 18k Ethiopian miles. Unlikely to earn more with either.

    Can I do anything interesting with them?

  8. They do have family pool, you can reach it through the app

  9. Richard says:

    Aegean is great imo. The redemption rates are strong, unless you are wanting something very complex, and once you’ve got status, it is very easy to retain. If you can do a UK-Greece trip in the shoulder season the flights are often cheap, the experience flying them is comparitivley very civilised, free (actually decent) meals in economy and drinks, and you will then only need to credit ~9k miles a year to retain gold. Even without flying aegean a years crediting of 24k miles won’t be that hard for a genuinely frequent flyer.

    • Did consider Aegean but not being able to search for award seats unless you had enough points already put shot to it. Is that still the case?

      • Lady London says:

        UA might be a good place to search instead? Works to find other *A flights, and (for now) Are Mingus awards. The lowest category of award seat, which I think is called Saver or something similar in any class, needs to show as available as these are the seats that are in principle available to other *A programs to book.

  10. Phillip says:

    One other general thing I will say is that SQ’s Krisflyer is an overall good earner on fares that other Star Airlines give you nothing… especially Lufthansa’s Business Class P Fares! You still get 100% through Krisflyer when you get 0 on many of the other programmes.

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