United has reduced the free baggage allowance for their partner airlines’ Star Alliance Gold and Silver members.
Without any public, official announcement (and just changing details on their website) the free checked baggage benefit for Star Alliance Gold members was reduced from 3 bags (up to 70 pounds each) to a single bag (up to 50 pounds) on domestic itineraries.
And Star Alliance Silver members no longer will receive a free checked bag on domestic itineraries at all.
This change does not affect United’s own MileagePlus elite members, only the elite members of United’s Star Alliance partner airlines.
And while there’s a general trend in aviation towards bilateral relationships and smaller joint ventures (elites of those partners are affected by this change), having extracted as much value as possible from the alliance model, and an improving economy that requires less generosity to passengers (since there’s not as much incremental revenue such generosity generates – planes are full anyway), it’s worth remembering that:
- With these changes United remains in compliance with Star Alliance rules. There is no baggage benefit as part of Star Alliance for silver members, and here’s the benefit for Golds.
- This isn’t the first time they’ve reduced the benefits they offer to their Star Alliance partners’ elites. Star Golds, for instance, were once entitled to economy plus seating on a complimentary basis.
Aegean Elites Take an Incidental Hit
Meanwhile, Dan’s Deals declares the change as United ‘tiring of Aegean elites’. That doesn’t seem right.
Aegean Airlines is the easiest Star Alliance member with which to qualify for status. You get 1000 (qualifying!) miles when you sign up and achieving 4000 miles within 12 months earns Silver status. (Note that while all US Airways paid fares earn 100% miles in Aegean’s program, not all United fares do.)
Aegean’s status is, as of now, lifetime as long as you maintain an active account — meaning that as long as you have account activity every 36 months, once you achieve Star Alliance status you keep it. And until this change that meant accruing 3000 qualifying miles in your first year as an Aegean member could get you a free checked bag on United — potentially for life.
Aegean’s Star Gold status is earned with 20,000 qualifying miles… meaning lifetime access to airline lounges when flying Star Alliance same-day.
I expect this generosity to eventually change, via a change in the program’s terms and conditions, but it remains a valuable tool. I am an Aegean Airlines Gold member via status match from british midland’s Gold status (a one-time offer they made, Aegean does not normally status match).
But the ‘Aegean loophole’ is hardly the driver here, it’s a great option but few people know about it and United wasn’t really leaking revenue in a material way such that they’d change their policies of how they deal with all other Star Alliance members.
Matthew’s point about the improving economy and full planes, combined with how lucrative bag fees have been, are the drivers. United will still fill its planes without giving free bags to partner Silvers, so they believe not charging the fees has been a negative for revenue rather than generating incremental business.