Star Alliance Won’t Be Adding New Elite Tiers After All

Jun 2, 2019

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Star Alliance is backtracking on plans to introduce up to two new higher elite tiers for members of participating frequent flyer programs. The airline alliance, whose members include Lufthansa, United, and Singapore Airlines among others, announced plans to introduce new elite tiers nearly a year ago at the annual International Air Transport Association (IATA) summit. At this year’s conference, Star Alliance outlined plans to improve the alliance’s existing elite tiers instead.

In 2018’s IATA General Meeting and Air Transport Summit, Star Alliance announced plans to introduce a Platinum and possibly even a Diamond tier in addition to the existing tiers. The 2018 announcement was likely influenced by the lack of benefits, perceived as underwhelming and subpar by the alliance’s highest tier frequent flyers.

However, roughly a year after those plans were announced, Star Alliance has now said it will no longer pursue adding additional tiers and will work on making improvements to existing elite tiers.

IATA Chief Executive Alexandre de Juniac speaks at the annual IATA summit. (Image by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
IATA Chief Executive Alexandre de Juniac speaks at the annual IATA summit. (Image by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

Star Alliance Elite Status Today

Currently, Star Alliance offers just two elite tiers: Silver and Gold. While Star Alliance does not directly maintain a frequent flyer program, travelers who achieve elite status with a Star Alliance member airline receive reciprocal benefits across the Star Alliance network.

For example, United MileagePlus frequent flyers who achieve Premier Silver status will also receive Star Alliance Silver status. MileagePlus frequent flyers who achieve Premier Gold status or higher receive Star Alliance Gold status.

Here are the benefits elite frequent flyers on Star Alliance receive upon achieving Silver or Gold status:

Star Alliance Elite Benefits Star Alliance
Star Alliance
Priority Reservations Waitlist x x
Priority Airport Standby x x
Gold Track (Expedited Airport Experience) x
Extra Baggage Allowance x
Priority Boarding x
Business Class Lounge Access x
Priority Baggage Handling x
Priority Check-In x

With just two elite tiers, the difference in elite benefits between the two tiers is substantial. And though Star Alliance Gold flyers receive many great benefits, many upper-tier Star Alliance elites want the airline alliance to add a third tier to differentiate mid-tier frequent flyers from the highest-tier frequent flyers. For example, a traveler with United Premier Gold, the second elite status tier at United, receives the same reciprocal benefits as a someone with United Global Services, the highest elite tier at the airline.

At other airline alliances, like Oneworld, three elite tiers are offered to frequent flyers: Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald. Emerald status allows Oneworld member airlines to differentiate mid-tier frequent flyers from upper-tier flyers. Emerald frequent flyers also receive enhanced benefits including access to first class lounges Japan Airlines First Class and Cathay Pacific First Class departure lounges, which comes with amenities such as complimentary spa service.

Cathay Pacific first class lounge. Photo by Katie Genter/TPG.

Potential Improvements to Star Alliance Elite Status

Speaking to the Australian Business Traveller, Star Alliance’s Vice President of Customer Experience Christian Draeger elaborated on the alliance’s existing elite status tiers, saying, “We’re in the middle of a review on this, but it’s not only about new benefits: it’s also the extension and the upgrading of existing benefits.”

Though Draeger seemed to be focused on the now, he did say that, “it might very well be that (the third tier) will be periodically looked at again. But right now, we’re just really focused on the benefit side.”

One benefit that Star Alliance is actively expanding is the alliance’s Gold Track program, which allows Star Alliance Gold flyers to take advantage of an expedited airport experience including at security and immigration. Gold Track is currently available at over 200 airports across the globe.

Star Alliance Gold Track as seen in the ticketing and departures hall of an airport. (Image courtesy of Thai Airways)
Star Alliance Gold Track as seen in the ticketing and departures hall of an airport. (Image courtesy of Thai Airways)

TPG‘s JT Genter, who holds Star Alliance Gold status through Asiana Airlines, has this to say about his experience as Star Alliance Gold member versus his experience as a Oneworld Emerald flyer: “Whenever I fly United domestically as a Star Alliance Gold, I’m underwhelmed by the experience. Even moving to a preferred or extra-legroom seat requires a supervisor override. Meanwhile, I’ve never had an issue on a Oneworld airline getting an upgraded economy seat — even on Fiji Airways, which is just a Oneworld Connect member.”

The Points Guy recently enjoyed the renovated Singapore Airlines first class lounge in Singapore (SIN).
The Points Guy recently enjoyed the renovated Singapore Airlines first class lounge in Singapore (SIN).

Should Star Alliance add first class lounge access as a benefit for its higher-tier frequent flyers, travelers would be able to access some of the world’s most luxurious lounges, such as Lufthansa First Class Lounges, Singapore Airlines’ First Class Lounge in Singapore (SIN), SWISS First Class Lounge in Zurich (ZRH), and Thai Airways’ Royal First Lounge in Bangkok (BKK).

For now, the dream of new Star Alliance benefits or status is likely still just that: a dream.

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Featured image of Gold-member accessing Business Class Lounge courtesy of Star Alliance

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