Star Alliance Reduces Lounge Access Benefit For Gold Members

United Airlines has limited Star Alliance Gold access to lounges across much of its network. This was against Star Alliance policy. Star Alliance policy has been changed to allow airlines to deny Gold members access to contract lounges.

Here’s the change United made:

  • United has been inviting business class customers and Star Alliance Gold members flying coach to use contract lounges in about 30 airports.

  • However earlier int he month United has mostly eliminated access for Star Alliance Golds who aren’t in business class.

  • The cities where United offers invitations to contract lounges – rather than to United’s own lounges or those of Star Alliance partners – includes Amsterdam; Athens; Barcelona; Cape Town; Chengdu; Delhi; Dublin; Edinburgh; Glasgow; Lima; Madrid; Manchester; Milan; Mumbai; Naples; Nice; Osaka; Palermo; Pape’ete; Porto; Prague; Quito; Reykjavik; Rome; Santiago; Shannon; Stockholm; Venice; and Zurich.

  • Some of these cities have lounges operated by Star Alliance carriers that Star Gold members would be able to use. This includes Athens, Chengdu, Delhi, Osaka, Singapore and Zurich. United continues to invite Star Alliance Gold members in coach to use contract lounges in Tel Aviv and Singapore.

United’s New Policy Violated Star Alliance Rules

United’s cost cutting measure, taking away lounge access from Star Alliance Gold members in coach in most cities where there’s no Star Alliance lounge option, ran afoul of Star Alliance lounge access policy. Here’s what the policy said when United implemented the policy.

Contract Lounges

At airports where neither a Star Alliance branded lounge nor a Star Alliance member carrier offers a lounge, third party lounges are contracted by some of our member airlines. As a Star Alliance Gold customer travelling on a Star Alliance member airlines operated flight from such airports, you have access to these third party contract lounges, if the member airline you are travelling on has a contract with this lounge.

Star Alliance policy was that Gold members flying economy got access to contract lounges, period. United didn’t want to do this anymore.

Star Alliance Lounge Access Has Been Devalued To Accommodate United’s Change

I asked United about their new policy violating Star Alliance rules, and by the time they got back to me the Star Alliance lounge access policy had been degraded to match United’s new policy. Here’s what the policy says now:

Contract Lounges

At airports where neither a Star Alliance branded lounge nor a Star Alliance member carrier offers a lounge, third party lounges are contracted by some of our member airlines. As a Star Alliance Gold customer travelling on a Star Alliance member airlines operated flight from such airports, you may have access to these third party contract lounges. Please refer to the Lounge Finder to identify which lounges you may have access to, according to the policy of each airline*.

*Check the current policy of the airline with which you are travelling.

The policy used to say that Star Alliance Golds have access to contract lounges. The policy now says they may have access and that this access is government by “the policy of each airline.”

Star Alliance Itself Is Degraded By The Change

Airline alliances have largely been in decline, giving way in importance to joint ventures. United, for instance, gives more credit towards elite status when you fly their joint venture partners than when you fly mere members of Star Alliance. Recently Star Alliance gave up efforts to launch a new top elite tier.

United is a founding member of Star Alliance. They wanted to degrade Star Alliance benefits. Star Alliance published policy has been changed to match.

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. […] A couple of weeks ago we discovered that United Airlines had decided to remove access to 3rd party lounges for Star Alliance Gold members traveling on its aircraft outside of its Business Class cabin and, in a move that appears timed to match United’s regressive step, Star Alliance has now updated its lounge access policy to allow its members to choose not to offer Star Alliance Gold members access to 3rd party lounges at all (HT: VFTW) […]


  1. It’s a race to the bottom for value versus loyalty other than the top two tiers in any travel program out there. As a 45 year business traveler slowing down flying is just not fun anymore.

    Passengers are aggressive if you move one inch into “their” space, entitlement is rampant ( airlines and hotels) CC hacking is driving a lot of this ( yes CC companies have a lot of the blame to shoulder) So call “travel bloggers” are simply producing ” see me” postings or How I hacked a trip. Most of us out there earn our points the hard way we actually fly/pay for the tickets and rooms! Like the old EF Hutton commercial.

    First class today look like a collection of street people. I once had a blogger on an International flight in FC he was “reporting” on the trip he was for all intentional purposes in his PJ’s. Someone commented and he said he was going on to another long haul trip to “report” it and gather miles. By the By he needed a bath, so hopefully he was booked on EK 380 FC so he could shower

  2. We need a really good recession to get airlines and hotels to remember who butters their bread.

  3. Quite frankly, given how nasty some of these lounges have become, it’s not a big loss. While traveling for work, I generally prefer to eat at the much improved airport etablishments than the lounge buffett. The exeption being lounges in Europe and Asia, where the food is decent and not reheated leftovers from the nearby government cafe.

    That means the lounge is only good to get plastered drunk

  4. Surprised it took UA so long to follow DL down this path. Indeed, DL cut contract lounge access for elites flying in economy several years ago. I don’t believe SkyTeam ever required that benefit, either.

  5. Seems like another reason to avoid United. But let’s keep s**ting on AA.


  6. One thing to note, though. On the list of cities, AMS and FCO have Star branded lounges now. Wouldn’t they be ok still under the (annoying) new terms?

  7. Gary, do you have proof that this change was facilitated because of United’s change, or actually an alliance level decision that United simply released early? It’s ridiculous to accuse United of something on baseless claims. But I guess that’s your usual MO so, not surprising.

  8. Let’s see…industry consolidation + consistently low oil + 10 year and counting bull market = record profits

    But, oh yeah, let’s make a few more fractions of a penny per share by cutting soft product and benefits like this

    Must be nice to be an oligopolist

  9. Let’s see how long it is until an alliance restricts lounge access even further — something like no additional guest allowance based for mid-elite-tier status, and/or a restriction on how many hours in advance of scheduled departure, and/or annual cap on visits for a given elite status account number.

    @SB, lounge locations can matter. If a lounge is on the Schengen side of passport control, it may be less useful for a passenger than if it’s on the non-Schengen side. And If a lounge is on the non-Schengen side of passport control, it may be less useful for a passenger than if it’s on the Schengen side.

    AMS passport control can be a mess at times. I’ve had line waits there as long as 40+ minutes (even as it’s more commonly sub-10 minutes for me), and that means accessing a Star lounge at an airport may not always work out for reasons of time or even travel documents.

  10. @Matt, the prime facie evidence is there that UA wanted the policy change and then Star Alliance recorded the change as UA wanted it: Star Alliance-distributed content changes show enough.

    While I have no doubt that UA is not alone in wanting this change, I also have no doubt that UA got its way with Star Alliance changing its policy on this.

  11. I was under the impression that the airline who handed out the *A Gold card was liable for the cost of lounge access, not the operating airline.

    Although the wording of the Star Alliance policy suggests otherwise, it certainly makes sense that A3 or TK wouldn’t want to pay for a contract lounge when you are flying LH or UA…

  12. The lounge operator getting to charge the flight operating carrier for the lounge usage by their passengers, would be the benefit for the lounge operator when its lounges are being used. And what’s the benefit to the flight-operating carrier paying other airlines for lounge access? That the operating carrier gets revenue from the ticket coupon being used for the boarding pass presented for lounge access, business that may have otherwise gone to a different airline than the flight-operating carrier if lounge access were not bundled into the trip for the passenger by the * operating carrier..

    Why do airlines increase the qualification requirements for FFP status? Because the FFP-operating carrier wants more money coming their way from flights credited to the program and because it alters the costs incurred for when it’s the flight-operating carrier for its own FFP members.

    In SkyTeam and Oneworld, it has been the operating carrier paying for FFP status-based lounge access. I would be very surprised if Star Alliance is working off a method where the operating * carrier no longer pays anything for FFP status-based lounge access since they used to pay for it before. While voting structure in Star Alliance has changed, I would be surprised if that has completely undone the model of flight-operating carrier paying for both COS and FFP status based lounge access for passengers from its flights.

  13. Let’s just see when these airlines cutting lounge access for *Gs in economy try to sell these same customers on paying the airline a one-time lounge access fee for the lounge being used by business class customers.

    I am expecting that it’s just a matter of time until airlines want a slice of that pie for one-time contract lounge access and use contracts with some contract lounge operators to make the above possible at some airports.

    Why is UA continuing to provide contract lounge access to *Gs at TLV and one other airport served by UA? There must be some kind of situation that has UA continue to offer that contract lounge access at TLV and one other airport. Curious to find out why.

  14. I’m going to assume that the continued lounge access in TLV and SIN has more to do with the contract those lounges have with the airport than any magnanimity on United’s part.

    This change is very irritating, for example SQ don’t mention contract lounges in their description of the perks of KFEG status. Presumably this omission is because they never had to spell it out before, but I like to know in advance what lounge access I’ll have.

    United already blocked *G from their Polaris lounges, now contract lounges, what next?

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