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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. Anything redeeming about Aeroplan (the Air Canada one)? Have some orphaned miles in there and now kind of want to move to Aegean. Good excuse for a Mykonos holiday ever year as well…

  2. Regarding your comments on SAS Rob..

    Sure their one-way award prices in Europe (i.e. 18k points for LHR-CPH) are not great but their are real bargains to be had. You could fly to Tromsø, Lofoten or Longyearbyen for 18k miles as well. This is a great price if we are talking about buying the ticket a few days before departure. A very relevant option should there be a solar eruption and forecasts of northern lights for these destinations. 6K for domestic flights in the nordics is also very good. If you can position yourself to Oslo or Copenhagen, it is easy/cheap to position yourself to the above-mentioned Norwegian destinations and Faroe Islands which is part of the Danish Kingdom.

    100K for return business to their long-haul destinations is also decent. Only problem is availability with only 2 biz seats released 330 days in advance. They also have a partnership with Singapore Airlines allowing business and first redemptions (I believe they try to limit awards to their own programme otherwise?)

    Also, they introduced a family pooling function last year. This allows up to 8 people to form a group, regardless of whether they are family or friends. There is no requirements for the same address. This can rack in substantial amounts over time. SAS points have an expiry of 5 years, so plenty time.

    Lastly – they have great specialised offers for purchased travel. A couple of times per year they have a promotion where the children only pay the taxes on their tickets. This can be a game changer for a family looking for cheap premium cabin travel like Premium Eco or Biz. They also have special tickets for young people between 12-25 years. These have fixed pricing which caps short haul flights at roughly £80 one-way (depends on destination), which is great but have to be booked separately from adult/kids tickets.

    Last few pointers:
    – Status lasts for year achieved and next coming year
    – Amex partner
    – Easy achievement (45K points in a year) (Basically 2x intercontinental biz trips per year)
    – CPH/OSL/ARN all very easy locations to connect should you redeem for SAS

    Sincerely think and hope its a viable option for headforpoints readers as it is probably the star alliance carrier that is closest to the UK and with many great offers. Their marketing department is shocking though, so it’s no surprise they get so little coverage. Would be great if You/Rhys tried them out yourselves on a long-haul trip for a proper comparative analysis.

    • Thanks. If SAS wants to offer us a long haul, one of us will do it.

    • Really like SAS bonus pooling system, more flexible compare to BA HHA as you can pool anyone to your account with different home address.
      Also really good value reward ticket for kids. Booked next Easter to HongKong with only 150k MR points for 1 adult and 1 child, even better than BA 2 4 1.
      However, availability is an issue.

    • Stuart says:

      SAS 10k rt from OSL to LYR is an absolute steal and the reason ive hired many an avis car. Also an amazing place to visit in the deep mid winter. End of the world stuff

    • The SAS only eat flies and ketchup before they go into the field, apparently. They’d feel right at home with SAS. Who give no lounge access or fast track at any airport unless it is a Star lounge. Even BA beats SAS from the U.K. Unless you factor in PP or DragonPass too. And that’s saying something…

  3. Novice says:

    What about United?

    Are they not any good?

    • RussellH says:

      I used United earlier this year for LH flights GLA-FRA-HKG out in Bus back in 1st. This was an LH Bogof deal Rob publicised last year. But because Miles+More is cash based for their own flights we would only have got 6 000+ miles each, no use to anyone.
      Someone here suggested that I looked at United, and we credited our miles there, and ended up with around 4.5 x as many miles, enough for a European break, and the taxes etc. are not too horrendous. There is an 18 month inactivity rule about losing your miles, but you can make a small transfer from Marriott to reset that date, and transfers are better than the standard 3:1 too.
      Downsides – while we earned more than enough miles on that strip for the first status level, we still need 4 flights on UA itself, which is not going to happen.
      Also, they are scrapping their redemprion chart on 1 November; they do say that some redemptions on quiet days will go down in price, but in general, this is unlikely to be a good thing.
      Nevertheless, we shall get something for our miles, which we would not have done if they had gone to M+M.

      • Gavin says:

        I’m doing something similar – planning to credit a long haul return on LX (Swiss) to HKG to United. It looks like I may be able to gain some extra miles by submitting a status match from BA to United before we take our LX flights, too.

  4. Sotos says:

    A correction about Aegean Airlines Miles+Bonus: you CAN get status purely via partner airline travel. You only need double the miles in comparison to flying Aegean metal. Here’s how it goes:

    – Silver (achieve): 12000 + 2 x A3 flights OR 24000 on any *A flight
    – Silver (retain, once Silver): 8000 + 2 x A3 flights OR 16000 on any *A flight
    – Gold (achieve, once Silver): 24000 + 4 x A3 flights OR 48000 on any *A flight
    – Gold (retain, once Gold): 12000 + 4 x A3 flights OR 24000 on any *A flight

    It only takes some effort to achieve Gold, then to retain is fairly easy if you fly Star Alliance.

    And a status run tip: Austrian business class in Europe gives 2000 miles on Aegean’s program per cross-border segment, making this one of the best ways to quickly rack up miles for status. For example, LHR-VIE-ATH-VIE-LHR will cost you £300-£400 in business, and will land you 8000 miles.

    Something similar happens with SAS flights by selecting SAS Plus fare (credits 200% on Aegean). Also TAP can be very handy with all these business class promotions from time to time for some long flights.

    • Thanks

    • Lady London says:

      TAP also unique for reasonably priced one way cash fares apparently. Although lounges not getting wonderful reports and irrops don’t sound to be well managed. But the opportunity to pair a one way with Avios sounds like it could overcome all that.

    • Richard Harris says:

      Really useful insights – thanks!

    • Be careful about Lufthansa group P class business tickets though. They don’t post any miles into A3 so always check with wheretocredit site.

  5. Thanks to Gus and Sotos. Those were both informative and interesting posts.

  6. PeterK says:

    Until this year I had credited my STAR alliance flights to LH but ahead of a trip in J to China on Turkish Airlines (TK) I decided to start accruing on the TK Miles & Smiles programme. My China trip, a TK trip in J to Central Asia plus a couple of economy round trips to Europe with LH and Aegean have got me almost to Gold status (4k status miles short). The great thing about the TK scheme is that if you are a bit short of status miles to reach the next level you can buy up to 10k and this avoids unnecessary status mile runs to make the threshold. If I don’t take another STAR flight before the anniversary of my China flight for under £200 I will be able to buy the extra status miles to give me Gold status valid for 2 years.

    I’ve been pretty impressed with TK post travel customer service too; on my flight back from Central Asia via Istanbul the first flight was delayed which resulted in a missed connection to London. Arriving back into London more than 3 hours late I put in a claim for compensation, within 12 hours TK had confirmed my eligibility for compensation at the EU261 level. As a non-EU carrier on a flight not originating the EU they were not obliged to pay the EU261 levels but they did!

  7. Georgie says:

    One Star programme that is a bit different from the crowd is Air New Zealand which credits tier points instead of miles. Last year I was travelling loads with LOT across Poland. I would have received diddly squat in nearly all Star programmes. Airpoints credited every segment though, and I gained Star Gold from scratch quite rapidly, to the extent that I abandoned BA this year having been BA Gold for 15+ years. Star can be made to work but it is trickier than BA. It’s not all roses. The tipping point for me is the dreadful BA economy and business intra-European service. LOT, Aegean, Swiss, Lufty, Austrian, hell even Brussels on a quiet day beat BA hands down.

    • william says:

      Best thing about Air NZ is you can also use on all Air NZ flights if you ever go downunder and are valid for 5 years. They also have tons of partners.

    • Shoestring says:

      people say stuff like this [The tipping point for me is the dreadful BA economy and business intra-European service. LOT, Aegean, Swiss, Lufty, Austrian, hell even Brussels on a quiet day beat BA hands down.] – but without any rationale.

      On what basis do you think this? It can’t be on cost (talking Economy), because BA is cheaper or just as cheap. It isn’t safety record. Cleanliness isn’t a problem these days. Is it frequency of flights? – I doubt it. Loyalty program? – BA’s is more generous. I just don’t get why you make such criticisms without explaining your rationale.

      • Harry T says:

        It’s fashionable to hate on BA.

      • Georgie says:

        It is pretty self-explanatory: economy soft service in Lufty, Swiss, LOT, Aegean, Turkish and Austrian is better than BA. Hard product [legroom] is better in most of the above. And that’s from a BA Gold who typically got 12F on most BA economy segments. Swiss on a Bombardier to LCY is a joy in comparison to BA. Business class: the field is similar across the board, I agree. But even then BA is weak in comparison to Swiss. Lounge wise: apart from the Cathay First lounge in T3, there are nuggets in the Star network that equal or better LHR GF. And Star Gold is really in-between OWS and OWE. Is Avios good? Yes if you live in London. No, not if you live in the regions. Even you Shoestring should be able to add up those numbers…

        • Shoestring says:

          OK but you’d have to see soft service offering in the context of cost of ticket – let’s include lounge access to this as that’s just a £20 cost – and BA does fine in this arena, probably cheapest a lot of the time particularly if you only need HBO. No point providing better soft service if you’re £30 more expensive. (Virtually none of your names fly to my place in the sun but I’ll ignore that.)

          Hard service – I like Exit row as much as the next man, I was 6’2″ in my prime (188cm) so of course the seats/ pitch matter – but in Europe, what are we talking? 2-3 hrs typically, it’s no big deal. BA’s Economy seats are fine – well, I guess that means Business seats are fine as well!

          Very hard to see a loyalty prog to match RFS & Avios.

          Sure I don’t like 4 hrs up the motorway to get to LHR but living in deepest South West there aren’t any closer airports so I don’t get the whines of the moaners who live 4 hrs North of LHR as that’s just normal airport distance for us.

          • Georgie says:

            In the above I was assuming BA Gold versus Star Gold. A weakness of Star is you do not get third party lounge access and fast track across the board due to Star Gold. So, for example, at Edinburgh and Manchester – Aegean, Lufty, Swiss – yes. Turkish and SAS, no. For redemptions: you’re looking 9,000 Avios for Band 1 in economy from the regions. But east Europe and ATH/IST etc? 14,500 Avios. That’s the same price as most Star programmes – which are typically 15k for Europe to Europe. Star Gold lounges beats BA Galleries easily. As said – nuggets including LOT gold lounge. Senator lounges in MUC and FRA and Air Canada lounge at T3 LHR beat BA GF for food and booze. Plus none of this ‘buy on board’ nonsense when travelling economy across Lufty, Swiss, LOT, Aegean, Austrian etc. I’ve had better food and service in Turkish and Aegean in economy than sat in the first row of Club Europe.

  8. ouaile says:

    What about Alaska Mileage Plan ? Anybody collect these in the UK ?

    Seems to have great redemption options with some nice sweet spots and status can be gained from several partners including BA and earning rate is sometimes much better than actual programs (such as Etihad)

    I am thinking about starting to collect these, especially that top up can be done when they have sale offer but want to hear if anyone has actual experience with them ?

    • Neil Donoghue says:

      I would love to know anyone’s thoughts on this as well! My worry is losing gold status with BA but there definitely appears to be some sweet spots. Buying miles is one of my cardinal sins though….

    • Optimus Prime says:

      The guys from InsideFlyerUK have a few articles on Alaska Mileage Plan. Its sweetest spot seems to be the free stopover.

    • Best redemption ever was using Alaska Mileage from DEL-NRT-SIN with JL biz class for only 25000 miles with no tax.

      • That’s on out to-do list as well, smashing price. There’s the JFK-DXB-LHR on Emirates as well that’s good value if you have the time.

    • Jim Lovejoy says:

      I’m an Alaska Air enthusiast. It has it’s sweet spots in both earning and burning. In addition it has frequent miles sales. It’s weak points are that elite status is weak outside of AS, and that it’s so US centric in it’s awards. It’s not enough for a partner airline to fly the route you want, it has to be to regions that Alaska allows redemptions. Intra Europe you’re limited to Aer Lingus and Finnair, Europe to Asia Cathay Pacific and Finnair. Europe to MidEast Finnair.
      If you are going to or from the US, or intra Asia AS miles can be very useful. Otherwise they’re niche.

  9. Which would be the more likely to get Star Alliance lounge access – Priority Pass or Aegean Gold?

    • Pangolin says:

      Aegean Gold will get you into any Star Alliance business lounge (assuming it’s not a First lounge).

      For PP only those lounges which also have recognition of Priority Pass.

      • Thanks Pangolin. Very helpful.

      • Georgie says:

        Star Gold will get you into any Star carrier operated lounge. So, all the Star lounges at LHR T2, for example. And SAS lounges in Oslo and Stockholm. And the Brussels lounge in.. Brussels. Also, Gold will get you into the Gold level lounges in, for example, Warsaw, Munich, Frankfurt, Zurich, Geneva. What Star Gold will not get you into is third-party lounges – this is dependent on the Star carrier. So if you’re flying SAS you’re not getting into any lounge unless it is a Star carrier lounge. Same for fast-track. No problems at Star hubs, but inconsistent at third party airports.

  10. Stuart says:

    Can you also write the same article for SkyTeam, since AF and KL are next door and KL is the most useful for non Heathrow flyers.

    Thanks

  11. Bonglim says:

    Perhaps worth looking the other way around:
    If I wanted a return trip to Dubai, which programme would you use?

    Probably Krisflyer (Singapore Airlines) from what I have heard.

    Any better use of.a tonne of HSBC points (they can be converted to points for BA, Singapore, Asia Miles or Etihad)

    • Yes, Krisflyer for DXB – although the returns on Star are all overnight, so I tend to go down on Lufty / SWISS (booked via Krisflyer or M&M) and back on Etihad (most recently) or Emirates or BA on a day flight, depending on what is available.

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