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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)

  • Tony says:

    If you do take the TAP Miles&Go status match then beware that LH, OS, and some other *A cheapo business P class fares earn nada if flights are credited to M&G, although LX is an exception.

  • Matt says:

    Turkish family accounts are open to anyone, not just local residents. Pretty sure I made this same comment the last time you ran this article…

  • marcw says:

    For the nth time. Star Alliance silver is equivalent to ow Ruby.

    • Kai says:

      OW Ruby = business class check-in, priority boarding and seat selection across the alliance
      *A Silver = nil apart from benefits with its own airline

  • Stuart Evans says:

    I have found United best if you have a transatlantic focus, and pretty good elsewhere

    • Mikeact says:

      I’d second that, particularly with the Avios loophole .Particularly useful for NA of course.

  • Andrew M says:

    It is possible to book partner flights on the Turkish website. I’ve booked United flights on the site in the past. It’s extremely hard to find the correct page and it took me twenty minutes going around in circles before I stumbled upon it.

    • marcw says:

      Pleased to hear this has changed – it used to be you had to go to an actual office to pay the fees, but not anymore. Article clearly outdated (or just a copy-paste from a 2019/8? version).

    • C says:

      Worth noting that TK have quite favourable redemption rates, at least on TK metal. A Y redemption from South Asia to the UK on TK metal is 27,500 KrisFlyer miles, or 19,000 Miles and Smiles. The differential is even more favourable for TK. Of course, earning TK miles other than through flights is harder.

      • Odd says:

        What is the actual link to book with other partner airlines? Need to book flights with TK before the end of the year, as a notable downside to using them within Star Alliance is that their miles expire if you dont use them 3 years after earning them, no matter what you do.

        • Rob says:

          I have added it to the article.

          • Andrew M says:

            I don’t think the link that you put into the article for Star Alliance bookings is correct. It just takes you to the award chart. To book a Star Alliance flight on the TK site you need to sign into your account, click on your name and select Miles Transactions from the drop down menu. There’s a link to the Star Alliance booking page on that page. It’s very well hidden!

  • Solitaire says:

    Krisflyer is a great programme for me. As a SQ Solitaire I get almost unlimited access to Suites/F redemption seats, even on prime routes eg LHR-SIN-SYD. They are willing to waive rules and clear waitlists for their most valuable customers and show me huge flexibility. A reasonable redemption chart and no fuel surcharges (albeit they’re now built into the chart) and a useful 50k bonus with a set spend. Another sweet spot (HUGE credit to HFP for educating me) is the annual Amex transfer route – UK Amex points transferred into a UK$ Amex account (currently a 33% bonus) and onto Krisflyer. Super sweet spot at the moment – just transferred 850k points to my UK-$ netting a 289k “bonus” (I got a 34% uplift) giving me a balance of 1,139,000 points and thanks to the current Krisflyer 15% transfer bonus for Amex points, 1,309,850 Krisflyer miles were credited. That netted us almost 460k free miles (well almost free – just the $100 Amex annual fee). HSBC Premier Rewards card is another useful accrual tool and the 15% transfer bonus too at the moment. So would definitely agree that the best Star programme for a UK resident is a very personal choice dependent on specific personal circumstances as Rob alluded to. By the way the Amex points transfer from £-$ accounts was unbelievably easy to do and would highly recommend it, a 3 minute call and it was all done.

    • BP says:

      “a 3 minute call and it was all done”

      How long did it take for the points to go from the UK MR account to the $ MR account ?

      How long did it take for the points to go from the $ MR account to Krisflyer ?

      • Solitaire says:

        The 3 minute call was for the Amex agent to set up the transfer between the two MR accounts. I was advised at the time that the x-rate applied would be on the day the points are actually transferred, however for me it was the rate on the day I made the call.

        UK MR account to $ MR account was 3 days.

        $ MR account to Krisflyer was overnight.

        • SL says:

          Thanks for this info

        • BP says:

          Thank you, good to know.

          • Mikeact says:

            Just to reiterate and in my opinion,
            Think carefully about what your flying “mission” is before deciding which frequent flyer program to choose. This is critical when you can easily be caught up in the race for a higher status without thinking about what you actually need going forward.

  • Pawel says:

    This post today have big lack of knowledge.
    First Aegean mistakes, You can get status flying via partners airlines its just little harder, easier if You can do 4 A3 flights,
    nothing about together account (for Silver and Gold members) You can just “steal” miles from Your friends account 😉
    any sweet spot? You can fly LAX-HND-LHR/FRA first class for 75k miles using Aegean Miles

    Nothing about United which is good if someone don’t fly star alliance regularly, United miles don’t expire and also united have some sweet spots for redemptions for example if You book 3 way redemption like this
    LHR-IST (J)
    DPS-SIN (J)
    BER-LHR (Y)
    You will pay only 38k miles (29k +0k +9k) flight in middle is free of miles 😉

    so if You want make proper article about Star Alliance You should do better research…

    • Rob says:

      I think any article discussing sweet spots across each of the 20-odd Star frequent flyer schemes would run to about 20,000 words ….

      Your comment proves the point I made – each programme has its quirks so you need one that suits how you fly, both earning and burning.

  • Swanhunter says:

    Worth noting that Aegean Gold comes with 4 upgrade vouchers for their own flights. That can make the requalification 4 segments quite comfortable, especially if their C catering comes back to normal.

    • John says:

      Although you do have to pay a lot higher economy fares to use the upgrade vouchers. One year I sold mine on flyertalk for €20 and this year’s ones just expired

      I just wish they had extended status a year instead of 6 months, as need to go to Greece by May which means wasting money on a test unless they start to relax measures

    • Phillip says:

      Although you can’t upgrade the cheapest U, P, T fares, you can upgrade U, P, T flex fares which are not that much more than the cheapest fares! My last one way upgradeable flight from Athens to Heathrow was only €80. Be aware that if you have any vouchers from being silver when you move to Gold, those expire automatically so you can’t accumulate them.

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