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How do I earn elite status with an airline alliance?

Nov. 14, 2019
4 min read
How do I earn elite status with an airline alliance?
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Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

With the end of 2019 approaching, many travelers are working on plans to cement their airline elite status for 2020 and beyond. However, if you frequently find yourself traveling internationally, you might be more concerned with earning elite status with an alliance of airlines rather than one single program — like Star Alliance Gold or Oneworld Sapphire. TPG reader Ken wants to know how exactly to earn elite status with an airline alliance ...

[pullquote source="TPG READER KEN"]I've always wondered, how does one build status with airline alliances (like Oneworld, Star Alliance or SkyTeam)?[/pullquote]

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The main reason that alliances offer elite status is so you can enjoy elevated benefits on partner airlines, even if you aren't flying with the carrier on which you originally earned elite status. The good news for Ken is that he doesn't need to take any extra steps to earn elite status with an alliance. Once he's earned status with an airline that's a member of an alliance, he'll automatically have elite status with that alliance.

Related: Your guide to airline partners and award charts

Let's take a look at how this breaks down for the three U.S. legacy carriers.

United is a member of Star Alliance, the oldest and largest of the three major airline alliances. United elites enjoy the following Star Alliance elite status:

  • Premier Silver: Star Alliance Silver status
  • Premier Gold (and up): Star Alliance Gold status

Star Alliance Gold can be a very useful status to have, as it grants you access to most member airlines' business-class lounges regardless of the class of service you're traveling in (restrictions apply).

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American Airlines is the largest airline in the world and a member of the Oneworld alliance. AA AAdvantage elites enjoy Oneworld status at the following rates:

  • Gold: Oneworld Ruby
  • Platinum and Platinum Pro: Oneworld Sapphire
  • Executive Platinum: Oneworld Emerald

Oneworld Emerald confers some great benefits, including access to the Qantas first-class lounge at LAX on international economy tickets operated by Oneworld carriers.

Oneworld Emerald elites can access the Qantas first class lounge in Los Angeles on eligible economy tickets. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.)

Last but not least is Delta, which is a member of the SkyTeam alliance (though lately it's been more focused on expanding through individual airline partnerships). Delta Medallion elites earn SkyTeam elite status at the following rates:

  • Silver Medallion: SkyTeam Elite
  • Gold Medallion (and up): SkyTeam Elite Plus

Most travelers will earn alliance elite status through their primary airline and never think twice about it, but there are a few notable exceptions where it's worth factoring this into your calculations. If you want to earn Star Alliance lounge access but don't spend the $8,000 a year required to earn United Premier Gold (and therefore Star Alliance Gold status) in United's new program, you might be better off crediting your United and Star Alliance flights to another airline, like Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles instead. For more information on this approach, check out the guide below.

Related: New United Airlines program not right for you? Here are three other Star Alliance partners that may make sense

Bottom line

If Ken has already qualified for elite status with his preferred airline, he'll automatically enjoy elite status and partner benefits within the alliance that that airline is a part of. For most travelers this will be more than sufficient, but if you're looking to earn a higher tier of status within the alliance, you might even want to consider crediting your flights to an airline outside of the U.S. to get there faster.

Thanks for the question, Ken, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image by Bloomberg via Getty Images