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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 today.

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

What is the best star alliance frequent flyer programme?

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.

Of course, at the moment, TAP Portugal is matching British Airways Silver and Gold members to Star Alliance Gold.  This will keep you going for a year, but you would need a longer term plan beyond that.

What should I think about when selecting a frequent flyer programme?

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

If you earn most of your miles from credit cards and redeem mainly to Asia, your answer may be different from someone who earns miles mainly from non-flexible business class flights and redeems mainly to North America.

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.  Why?   Well, I like Lufthansa First Class a lot, and availability is heavily restricted to Star Alliance partner airlines.  You can only book it within 14 days of departure via other Star frequent flyer schemes but Miles & More members can book well in advance.

Lufthansa also has decent redemption rates to the Middle East – 70,000 miles return in Business with a 25% discount for children – which is a route I use annually.  Availability is excellent in a UK half-term as German and Swiss schools are not off.

Miles & More has a UK credit card (suspended to new applications until Summer 2021) which, because it is structured as a prepaid debit card, means that I am able to pay my VAT 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, two years as Gold / Senator and 2 year as Silver / Frequent Traveller.

On the downside, Miles & More miles expire after three years – however much activity you have – unless you hold the Miles & More credit card.  They are not an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner – if I need to top up my account, I would normally use Marriott Bonvoy points although most 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 moving Membership Rewards points to their Krisflyer scheme.

A few years I booked four Singapore Airlines seats in Business Class to Singapore and, because I needed the extra availability not offered to Star Alliance partners, this had to be booked with KrisFlyer miles.  Singapore Airlines 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 two years once you achieve it and has family accounts.  It has become more relevant since it began to allow online booking of partner airline flights without insisting that you visited a Turkish Airlines office in person.

Aegean used to have unbelievably easy targets for achieving status.  The gravy train ground to a halt a few years ago when a requirement was added that you needed to fly FOUR segments on Aegean itself each year.  If you can manage this, you will earn Gold for a surprising low number of status miles.  Without it, the mileage requirement for Gold is doubled.  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.  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 is in the process of being taken over by Korean Airlines, however, and is likely to leave Star Alliance if the deal completes.

Asiana, ANA, Turkish, SAS, Air New Zealand and EgyptAir have some form of family account or points pooling.  Aegean has one too but it is only open to Silver and Gold status members.  Lufthansa allows them for members in some countries but not the UK.

United stopped expiring its miles last year which may make it more attractive to some.  I would not necessarily trust them to retain this policy long term.  It also has a partnership with Marriott Bonvoy which lets elite members transfer between the two schemes.

This is only a sample of the options available from the 26 Star Alliance airlines.

Think about how you will top up your miles when you’re not flying

Only one Star Alliance partner has a UK credit cardLufthansa Miles & More.  Our card review is here, but applications are suspended until Summer 2021.

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 the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card (we review the Marriott Bonvoy Amex card here) and move the points across.

Most Star Alliance airlines are Marriott Bonvoy transfer partnershere 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.

The lounge access rules may impact the programme you pick

There is one other important thing to remember about Star Alliance status.  A 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.

The answer is ….

…. that 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.

However, as long as TAP Portugal is willing to status match British Airways Silver or Gold members to Star Alliance Gold, it is a no-brainer which way to jump in the short term.

Comments (61)

  • pacman says:

    “Aegean – you can no longer get status purely via partner airline travel” Yes you can but the mileage requirements are doubled.

    • John says:

      He actually says that later in the same paragraph….

      • MKB says:

        But what does “This gravy train ground to a halt a few years ago.” mean? The points required hasn’t changed.

        What changed was that, for a few years, Aegean never actually required you to renew.

        To renew Star Alliance Gold with Aegean without flying with them, you just need to earn 24,000 miles. A single round-trip with Swiss in their first-class sale has done it for me for the past three years. (Although I am missing my annual LHR-ATH-xxx-ATH-LHR jaunt as a result.)

        • MKB says:

          … just to add, getting Gold in the first place is 48,000 miles (or 24,000 + 4 Aegean flights).

          • Lady London says:

            Some schemes are hard to earn a status but easier terms to renew once you have it.

  • Niklas Smith says:

    ”Asiana and ANA are, I think, the only Star Alliance carriers to let anyone have a family account.” SAS Eurobonus offers ”point sharing” in groups of up to eight people (not restricted to family):

  • James says:

    I rarely fly Star Alliance, but when I do, I credit them to Air New Zealand. The reason for this is that Air NZ airpoints are super easy to understand and redeem. 1 airpoint = $1. And you can use them to book any flight… no need to search for reward availability. This makes them super useful for booking internal flights around NZ when I head back to NZ to visit family. I appreciate I’m in a unique situation being a NZer but it certainly goes to show Rob’s point that “it depends”.

    • Bob says:

      Air NZ are the closest Star has to BA in terms of awarding segments with a fixed rate. I managed to gain Star Gold with Air NZ by mainly flying domestic segments in Poland a couple of years ago. The total miles was minimal. I also have to give Air NZ much credence for extending Gold not only in 2021 but to April 2023 for me. They’ll be getting my Star flights again for sure. Shame the Virgin/Singapore/Air NZ tie-up stopped.

      • Lady London says:

        Interesting. I had written the Air in New Zealand *A program off as poor.

        How many segments did you have to do ?

        • Bob says:

          Gold is 900 status points. In Poland, internals are 15 to 40 per segment and transfer at Warsaw is swift [plus dedicated Gold lounge – a very good one in my view]. Bear in mind some of those segments are less than the train fair [£15-£20] and often only 30 minutes. An early flight from Wroclaw to Lublin via Warsaw, and then Lublin to Gdansk would net 60 points on the cheapest fare bucket. Most [all?] other Star programmes would give you nil for that. Similarly, business would net 160 points. Again, most other Star programmes would give you nil to 2000 miles for those four segments. Repeat five or six times [for business]. The good thing is: it is actually useful. I never found I was ‘mileage running’ for the sake of it – every segment had a purpose. Plus the third party lounges at Wroclaw and Gdansk and Katowice and Krakow are good [the less said about Poznan the better], plus the gold lounge at Warsaw had better quality champagne and food than Galleries First. IT IS SMALL – but when no one is there is superb. Or was. My last visit was February.

  • tony says:

    SAS offers a family account function. Also accrues at 100% on LH P class which is comparatively generous. From what I can see, YQ charges aren’t obscene, either and the easy to achieve silver card gets you access to SK lounges in the summer and at Christmas when business travel is low.

  • Dev says:

    I don’t like Star. But for the few flights that I do with them, I just plonk the miles into Singapore Krisflyer… might as well aim for the best!

    • John says:

      Best airline but one of the worst programs

      • Dev says:

        But with a transferable currency option, and restricted for their own program for first and biz, it’s actually a decent choice. I got enough OW and SKyTeam points to get any where else. I use SQ for the occasional aspirational F trip.

  • Vin says:

    With Lufty you can also buy more miles / pay to extend validity / gift them for a fee (with a current 20% transfer fee discount )

  • Jan M says:

    Ugh. Of all the airlines to get a refund out of this year Lufthansa was by far the worse. Their customer service was appalling.

    • tony says:

      I assume you didn’t have any skin in the game with MH? Last I heard, they rejected the chargeback made by my credit card company, despite their actions apparently contravening the merchant agreement. Utterly shameless. At least LH/LX paid me out in August.

    • Phillip says:

      I have to say, Star Alliance airlines have been the worst for refunds and customer service during the pandemic in my experience. Air Canada and TAP at the very top.

  • E says:

    Lufthansa do family accounts for members in EU countries (they do state that it’s for EU countries and they list them, and UK is obviously not on there). Readers outside the UK may benefit from that.

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