A year ago Star Alliance was talking about introducing a new higher top elite tier above Gold and building out dynamic award pricing on Star airlines, spending your miles as money towards award seats.
The alliance, which includes airlines like United, Lufthansa, and Singapore, now says the new top tier status plan is on ice but that they’ll focus on new benefits for existing alliance Silver and Gold elite levels, including building out “Star Alliance Gold Track” expedited airport formalities.
Australian Business Traveller reports that Star executives speculate on possible free wifi in the future for Star Alliance Golds (free wifi for everyone, or rather wifi bundled in with ticket price, is the future) and also that they might look at a higher elite tier again in the future.
Apparently — and unsurprisingly — Star Alliance member airlines were resistant to giving new benefits to a higher tier of alliance partner elite, preferring to keep exclusive benefits for their own elites and for joint venture partner airlines.
Airline alliances have been less focal for many large carriers over the past several years, as revenue-sharing anti-trust immunized joint ventures have taken shape and in some cases as airlines have made investments in each other.
United, Lufthansa and Air Canada work more closely together than United and Scandinavian. American and Japan Airlines work more closely together than American and Cathay Pacific. That’s because of joint ventures.
As it is alliances are cracking up, or at least benefits are becoming less robust and standardized, rather than growing.
- Interlining baggage. oneworld used to require interlining bags across separate tickets within the alliance, but wasn’t able to sustain that customer benefit over the objection of airlines who want more control over bag fees and to force customers onto single tickets to better control (raise) fares.
- Upgrades. This has largely stagnated. Star Alliance has a clunky upgrade product on a segment-by-segment basis that largely requires purchase of full fare tickets. It’s existed for years and other alliances haven’t matched.
- Restricted access to the best lounges. Lufthansa will make its premium lounges available to United Global Services members under limited circumstances, and to American Express Centurion cardholders too, but not to alliance members.
Access to United’s Polaris lounges are based on class of service only. American’s Flagship Dining has opened to British Airways first class customers, and Cathay Pacific first class customers at New York JFK, on the basis of who will pay. Even other partner first class customers do not get access.
Qatar Airways has their al Safwa lounge, which they sell access to cheap but won’t let partner elites into even on first class tickets. Singapore Airlines The Private Room isn’t even a particularly special experience but is restricted to the carrier’s own first class passengers.
Cathay Pacific “The Pier” First Class Lounge, Hong Kong
American Airlines Flagship First Dining, New York JFK
Even as airlines back away from alliances as a mechanism for rolling out additional customer benefits, and save their closest collaboration for joint venture partners, alliances have actually been more important for customers than anything else airlines have done to partner with each other.
Award tickets can now combine several partners in a single redemption. That’s made awards to the reaches of the globe easier to get. It’s also made awards a better play than upgrades, which reverses what was once received frequent flyer wisdom. For the economy traveler it’s meant lounge access and priority airport services as well.