How Does Star Alliance Gold Differ from United Premier Gold?
TPG reader Doug sent me a message on Facebook to ask about Star Alliance elite status:
“Does United distinguish between Star Alliance Gold and Million Miler lifetime Premier Gold?”
Airline alliances offer a lot of opportunities to award travelers, including more ways to earn and redeem miles, and the chance to earn elite benefits across multiple carriers. However, alliance status doesn't necessarily translate to the same perks you'd get from equivalent status with a member airline. United and Star Alliance are a perfect example of this, as there are some significant differences between Star Alliance Gold and United MileagePlus Premier Gold (whether you have status for a lifetime or a single year).
For starters, United Premier members are eligible for complimentary upgrades, while Star Alliance Gold members are not. That includes access to Economy Plus seating at the time of booking (even though that's not technically considered an upgrade). As a Star Alliance elite, you should expect basically zero preferential treatment when it comes to seat assignments on United flights.
Another important distinction is in your allowance for free checked baggage. For example, Premier Gold members get two free checked bags (weighing up to 70 pounds each) when flying in United domestic economy. In contrast, Star Alliance Gold elites get just one free checked bag with a weight limit of 50 pounds. The baggage allowance may also differ in other circumstances depending on your fare and destination.
Other benefits available to Premier Gold members include the elite mileage bonus, discounted or waived fees for things like same-day changes and perks from the RewardsPlus partnership with Marriott. Star Alliance elites won't receive any of those benefits (at least not according to official policy), so as you can tell, there's a pretty wide gap in the level of service provided.
Star Alliance Gold members mostly get low-level benefits like priority check-in and priority boarding, but there is one big advantage they have over their Premier Gold counterparts. Namely, lounge access.
It seems a bit backward, but if your Star Alliance status comes from United, then it's actually more difficult for you to access United Club lounges domestically. Star Alliance Gold gets you into those lounges (with a guest) when you're departing on any Star Alliance flight, so long as your status comes from another carrier. Meanwhile, United elites who have Star Alliance Gold status only get lounge access when departing on an international Star Alliance flight.
To summarize, your Star Alliance status will be mostly irrelevant on United flights if you also have MileagePlus Premier status. That said, if you already have lifetime Gold status with United and you don't fly enough to reach Platinum or higher, then you could consider earning status on another Star Alliance carrier for access to domestic lounges. Of course, there are other ways to get lounge access that might be easier.