The Pros and Cons of Star Alliance Status via Aegean Airlines
On the heels of my trip to India on Singapore Airlines and achieving Aegean Star Gold (while having Turkish Star Gold to make the trip a bit easier), I thought I’d write a post detailing what exactly having the status entails, and how it compares to having the status via a domestic carrier like United or US Airways.
General Star Gold Benefits:
- Lounge access on international Star Alliance itineraries, and the ability to bring a guest into the lounge. This is big mostly on coach tickets, since business class tickets tend to give access to the same lounge. Only Star Gold members can bring in guests. In most cases, these lounges are the same lounges available to business class passengers, with two major exceptions:
- Singapore Airlines has separate Krisflyer Gold Lounges at Singapore for Star Gold passengers, which are not as nice as the SilverKris Business Class lounges.
- Lufthansa has separate Senator Lounges at their hubs, which are nicer than the Lufthansa Business Class lounges (since they’re technically First Class lounges for partner airlines).
- ANY Star Gold can access most non-United/US Airways lounges in the US on a domestic Star Alliance itinerary. These include the Lufthansa Senator lounges at Washington-Dulles, Atlanta, and Detroit, and the SWISS Lounge at JFK Terminal 4 (which is landside before security). It does not include the Singapore lounge at San Francisco. I can’t think of any others off the top of my head, but feel free to comment if you know of other lounges.
- Priority check-in at First or Business class counter
- Priority boarding, with First or Business class passengers
- Priority baggage and extra baggage allowance
- Priority waitlisting and standby
Pros of having Aegean (or other foreign airline) Star Gold as a U.S. Passenger:
- United/US Airways lounge access on U.S. domestic itineraries. United and U.S. Airways Star Golds do not get access to the United Club or US Airways Club on domestic itineraries without paying for access via membership/credit card/day pass. However, Star Golds in other programs do. It’s also important to note that all Star Golds get access to foreign lounges in the US (as noted above). While these US Airways/United lounges aren’t always the nicest, they can be a great place to get wi-fi access and a drink before a flight. Also, in the event of irregular operations (like cancellations), getting help in the lounge is easier than at the gate.
- Easier qualification and re-qualification. Both United and US Airways require one to fly 50,000 miles each year to attain and keep Star Gold status. Aegean required me to fly 19,000 within 2 years and will give me that status for the next 3 years. Not only that, but it seems like re-qualifying may be as easy as crediting one flight in the next 3 years.
Cons of having Aegean (or other foreign airline) Star Gold as a U.S. Passenger:
- No complimentary domestic upgrades: United and US Airways offer domestic upgrades to their own elites but not to others.
- No free EconomyPlus on United: This is restricted to United’s elites. 50K+ miles flyers get it free at reservation and 25K+ flyers get it at check-in if available. You could always ask at the gate, but with many flights being full and United having a bunch of elites have after an airline merger, this is likely not an option.
That being said, I think Aegean is a great program for two types of flyers:
- Someone who flies US Airways or United primarily, but not enough to achieve status on those airlines. It takes 25,000 miles each year to achieve Silver status on US or United, which is Star Silver and just a bit above being a general member. It takes 50,000 miles each year to achieve Gold status, which is Star Gold and offers a lot more marginal benefits. However, Aegean has a much simpler qualification:
- When you sign up, you get 1,000 miles that are both status and award miles.
- You need 3,000 miles in the first year to achieve Aegean Blue, which is Star Silver. This status gets you free baggage on US Airways and United!
- After qualifying for Aegean Blue, you have one year to get 16,000 miles to qualify for Aegean Gold, which is Star Gold. That brings it to 19,000 miles total for Star Gold.
- Someone who qualifies today will have their card valid until 12/31/2015 – that’s over 3 years!
- Since Aegean is a newer airline in Star Alliance, there hasn’t been much word on how to re-qualify since most members are on their first cycle of status. The wording makes it seem that crediting one flight every 3 years may be enough, but we’ll see in a year what happens to those who got in on this when it came out.
- A normally SkyTeam/OneWorld elite flyer who desires Star Gold for occasional flights. That’d be someone like me, who’s a Delta Gold Medallion and Skyteam Elite+. I’ve been eying a switch to American, which is in OneWorld. However, since I live in Los Angeles, there are a lot of instances where US Airways or United is a lot cheaper than Delta for a particular trip. Since my status is good for 3 years, I’m sure I’ll find an instance where I’ll be saving real money by buying a cheaper flight and not having to pay the ancillary fees that non-status passengers have to pay.
It’s important to note that not all fares earn 100% mileage, so if status on Aegean is your goal, check out this page. Note that all US Airways fares earn at least 100% miles with no minimum. The cheapest United fares earn 50%, but earn at least 500 miles minimum. Also, be wary of codeshares, since the fare class of the operating carrier matters. That means if you book a US Airways codeshare that flies on a United Airlines plane, you have to follow the United chart.
What I think will be FAQs:
Q: Can you use your Aegean Star Gold card but accrue miles on United/US Airways/other program?
A: Based on my experiences: yes. In Mumbai, my boarding pass had Turkish Airlines Star Gold (a matched status) and I was able to use the Star Alliance/Lufthansa lounge simply by showing that boarding pass. Right before boarding, I went to the gate and changed the number to Aegean. Two days later, the miles were in my Aegean account.
It’s entirely possible to get the benefits by only showing the Aegean Star Gold card and not having to associate the number with your ticket. If you check-in with a bag, you should be able to show your Star Gold card and get bag fees waived. At most lounges, showing the Aegean Star Gold card and scanning that should be enough for access. And you can always change it at the gate before you board the flight.
There hasn’t been a clear-cut policy if this is allowed by the program (I won’t answer the questions about this being ethical). From my understanding, if an elite member accesses a lounge or a business class passenger with status brings in a guest, then the loyalty program gets charged for lounge access. That means that Aegean would get charged each time a member uses a lounge, but wouldn’t get reimbursed on that trip via the miles purchased by the partner program for the flight. There aren’t any clear cut rules now, but if there are, I wouldn’t mind keeping Aegean as my earning program if it means easy Star Gold (for now).
Q: What can you do with the miles you earn as you achieve Star Silver/Star Gold status?
A: Good question, me. I think the sweet spot on the spending chart is 21,000 miles earned (including the 1,000 signup bonus) – it’s just a bit over the necessary mileage required for Star Gold, and it also gets you an intra-region one-way business class ticket (i.e., one-way business class from Los Angeles to New York on United with no fuel surcharge, Tokyo to Singapore on ANA/Asiana/Thai/Singapore with fuel surcharge, or Australia to Fiji on Air New Zealand, possibly with fuel surcharges). Of those 3, I think the latter two have the best redemption value, though I am curious what United’s Premium Service transcontinental flights are like and this would be a great way to find that out. There are a couple of rules to redeeming with Aegean:
- One-ways price at half the round-trip.
- A maximum of 1 connection en-route (unless it’s impossible to connect a city pair with just one connection). Lack of availability does not preclude this rule.
- No stopovers allowed.
Cancelling an award results in loss of 50% of the miles redeemed. Thus, this program is better for last-minute tickets or ticket you’re sure you’ll use.
- Changing an award costs only 20 Euros! Cancelling an award costs only 20 Euros! Each can be up to 30 minutes before departure!
- Awards must be booked over-the-phone: I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ll definitely write up my experience with their phone reservations when I get to it.
Q: But I always try to redeem miles for business class or higher, thus negating the need for status. Would having status make me more likely to go back to coach?
A: Sure, in certain cases! A couple weeks ago, The Points Guy answered if redeeming miles for intra-Europe business class is worth it in this post. I’ve written about intra-Europe business class here and here, both times on Lufthansa. I commented on that post that it’s never really worth it, but it’s definitely not worth it if you have any sort of mid-to-top tier elite status. European business class is just a coach seat with the middle seat blocked. You get the same ground services as those with elite status (either ElitePlus in Skyteam, Star Gold in Star Alliance, or Sapphire in OneWorld). The seat itself is just coach, and the flights are barely a few hours long.
In that post, TPG noted that Air Canada’s Aeroplan, which is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, has a decent program for anyone trying to concoct an intra-Europe trip with multiple stops. Coach tickets cost between 20,000 and 30,000 miles depending on the countries visited. While there are fuel surcharges, you can build in 2 stopovers enroute. That means that you could visit 3 places for as little as 20,000 miles in coach in Western Europe.
Air Canada charges fuel surcharges for several European airlines, but not for Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, SAS (Scandinavian), SWISS, Turkish, or Singapore (which flies Manchester-Munich on their 77W, a flight I’ve seen some coach award availability on once in a while). I don’t have a European trip coming up, but I’ll be thinking of a way to use that award if I do soon.
Q: Why did you choose to go for Aegean Star Gold when you already had Turkish Star Gold from a status match?
A: The status matches (which are still happening) are good for 2 years, and flying 25,000 miles within the first year would extend it to 4 years. However, I’d have to fly more to build up my miles to an award level I could use before the miles expire in 3 years. Aegean allowed me to get 3.5 years of Star Gold from this trip, almost as good as Turkish, plus easier requalification down the road. Plus I now have enough miles for a one-way redemption I can use.