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5 mistakes to avoid when flying Star Alliance partners

Dec. 22, 2019
5 min read
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Shortly after obtaining Premier status in United’s MileagePlus program, I moved to Europe and started booking more flights with Star Alliance partners to gain miles while traveling outside of United’s network. But navigating the points and privileges of the network had some pitfalls.

Here are a few mistakes to avoid if you want to keep your trip smooth and your Premier status engaged.

Read more: Airline elite status match and challenge options for 2020

Not Knowing Your Fare Class

Beyond the booking class distinctions (First, Business, Premium Economy, Economy), each ticket has a fare class signified by a letter after the booking class. Some fare classes are not eligible for points -- and eligible fare classes vary by airline.

I learned this the hard way when I found an incredible deal from Singapore Airlines and booked an Economy (O) flight. After I took the flight and never received mileage credit, I contacted my loyalty program and learned that booking the cheapest ticket cost me every one of the 16,000 miles of my trip.

Before booking a flight, check the fare class against the “mileage earned with partner airlines” section of the MileagePlus website to see which fare classes are eligible for points, and how many.

Read more: Why I don’t always book the cheapest award tickets

Missing out on Great Mileage-purchase Deals

Sometimes, money is best spent on miles, not flights. Aegean and Avianca have both had recent sales on buying mileage that you can redeem on any Star Alliance partner or transfer to MileagePlus. By opening up accounts on partner airlines in the alliance, you can buy, swap and spread miles to help bring down the cost of a flight on various carriers or to help you score easy upgrades.

Not Checking Your Meal Preferences

Flying long-haul means there will be meals in the sky. If you don’t want to get stuck in the chicken-or-pasta binary, check into the dietary, nutritional, religious and cultural meals offered on your Star Alliance partner flight.

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Since my meal preference is a preset selection with MileagePlus, I’ve experienced the disappointment of vegetarian meals passing me by because I didn’t take the time to adjust my choice on the partner airline’s website. If I’m booking a partner airline from United’s website, or a third-party site like Expedia, the meal choice option sometimes gets lost in the machine.

Now, I always use my confirmation number to log into the airline’s own website and select my meal choice. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at some of the choices, which are often culturally specific and quite special, especially on Asian airlines. These days I’m always sure my lacto-ovo vegetarian meal will be waiting for me when I board the plane.

not Learning the Layover Policy

Sometimes a tight connection or a 16-hour layover are the only options when flying through a capital city of a large, national carrier. But with Singapore Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Air China, Ethiopian Airlines and Air Canada (in some fare classes), it can actually score you a free hotel stay or city tour, as I learned on a missed connection in Istanbul.

When passengers have a long layover (the number of hours on the ground varies by carrier), the airline arranges a free transit hotel stay, provided you have the proper visa required to leave the airport. In Singapore and Addis Ababa, a free guided city tour is included as part of a tourism campaign. When you're already on the ground, why not take advantage of a new city? This also applies to travelers who miss their connection because of a flight delay, too.

Travelers have reported free transit stays with Asiana Airlines, Egypt Air and South African Airways, but none of these airlines list the service on their website. Call or email airlines before the trip to find out how many hours on the ground you’ll need to receive a stay at a transit hotel and to confirm the hotel reservation. Or, if there is a faster connection available, the airline will book you for that instead.

And most important: not Drinking the Wine

When you’re traveling in economy in the United States, it can feel like all the elegance of air travel has been washed out of the journey. But on many Star Alliance partners, that’s not the case. Aegean Airlines offers economy passengers complimentary wine, even on short-haul flights within Europe. Many airlines offer in-flight meals and drink service on relatively short flights without a charge, so be sure to ask. Don’t make the mistake of thinking every airline is as stingy as those in the U.S.

Changes to Mileage Plus

As of January 2020, United is downgrading the point value of many of its own fare classes and making a number of other changes to its loyalty program. Lucky for you, TPG has compiled a nice guide to keeping your MileagePlus elite status without spending — all by flying Star Alliance partners, and booking Star Alliance partner flights with your United miles, like I do.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)