Star Alliance Gives Up on a New Top Elite Tier as Alliances Lose Relevance

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.

    In this way Cathay Pacific and Qantas remain outliers allowing alliance top tier elites to access their own best lounges.

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I think it is a little shortsighted of airlines to neglect their alliance partnerships. The only reason I am loyal to AA for domestic flying is because Qatar and JAL make sense for my work travel right now and I value status much more for that long haul flying that for domestic flying. In the past, I’ve been loyal to delta, because their award partners made sense for aspirational long haul award travel that I was planning for (obviously no longer an airline to fly with in the hopes of future award travel). But still, my main reason for flying them was because of their partners. If alliances continue to degrade (for example airlines continuing to decrease earning rates for flights on alliance partner airlines than on their own metal), then my obligation to be loyal to any one for domestic travel will lessen significantly. And none of them have the international route network that would incentivize me to me loyal to them for long haul travel on their own.

  2. I’m not surprised, given that so many airlines are reducing their loyalty benefits for their own flyers or making them harder to obtain. And I suppose that will continue as long as flights are full. But the Star Alliance Gold lounge benefit is something I frequently use. I’m not sure what the Alliance could offer that would be better than that, except fix their upgrade program to work as well as UA’s.

  3. Star Alliance is a pathetic joke, characterised by chaos, confusion, contradictions and inconsistencies. Moving between partner airlines on a multi-stop itinerary is so confusing in respect of luggage allowance and points earning . They don’t bother to provide passengers with information about entitlements; the website is totally inadequate; there is no point of contact for questions.
    I avoid star alliance these days ( having maintained at least Gold status through SQ PPS and TG ROP for 20 plus years). It’s not worth the hassle and the other programs have better benefits with greater clarity.

  4. I actually think it’s a good thing that they’re abandoning potential Platinum/Diamond tiers, *IF* they actually add meaningful benefits to Gold and Silver. As it stands now, Silver “status” is a complete joke and is worthless. At the very least, they should get priority check-in privileges to be competitive with OW and ST.

    In terms of new benefits, two things that come to mind are free preferred/extra legroom seating and standard *G benefits on HBO/Light/Basic fares. Also, if they’re feeling generous, maybe 1 checked bag for *S.

    Lastly, they should close the loophole for not providing benefits on wholly owned subsidiaries: Eurowings, Air Dolomiti, Olympic Air, SilkAir (well, that’ll be moot when they fold into SQ), Mango, etc. Thai Smiles joining as a Connecting Partner is a step in the right direction, but it’s still a long way to go…

  5. The Alliances are weak and it shows. Like as airlines have trotted out various “ancillary revenue” tricks — basically charging for simple things that used to be free — there’s been no accommodation for top elites. Like in the Star Alliance, many airlines now charge for advance coach seat assignments. This is a no-brainer to offer for free to Star Golds, but it’s not offered. These airlines also now charge for checked bags on their cheapest (“basic economy”) tickets. If you’re Star Gold, you generally forfeit your free bag allowance if you buy such a ticket. These policies are wrong, but the alliances aren’t strong enough to prevent them.

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