As frequently as I travel, I must say I have learned a thing or two about different airlines. Some airlines are strictly budget in nature, others are pretty average, and then there are some that take flying to the next level. A lot of traveling is simply just that – traveling. Most often times traveling will involve quite a bit of flying, especially if you plan on traveling internationally. But how many of us just pop open Expedia, Priceline, and Kayak and just go with the cheapest results we see? There’s a method to the madness! Is it really worth it to just fly any ole airline? Ask any frequent flyer or business traveler and they’ll tell you, a preferred airline alliance matters and it’s all about the status.
A few years ago, I flew pretty infrequently, so I didn’t really understand the concept of frequent flying. I assumed that whatever airline I was flying, I could just sign up for their frequent flier program, add a few miles, and all would be hunky dorry. I never took the time to learn the complexities of the frequent flier programs. Looking back on it, I wish I had. If I flew US Airways, I had a Dividend Miles account. If I flew United, I used my MileagePlus account. I also had accounts for American, Delta, and Southwest. Now in my ignorance, every time I flew one of these airlines, I simply added the corresponding frequent flyer account number to that particular airline. When I started flying internationally, it was much of the same thing: Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM, Air France. Now I know some of you frequent fliers are shaking your heads now and reading on with a sympathetic pity that can only be matched by a fellow “road warrior” . You see the problem with this, is that out of all the airlines I have listed so far, I only really needed four frequent flyer accounts total. That’s it. Just four. Why you ask? Oh my young nubile fellow traveler, let’s explore why!
First one must understand that each if not most commercial airlines in the world belong to an airline partnership known as an alliance. There are three major alliances in the aviation world: Star Alliance, One World, and Sky Team. Each partnership comprises of airlines from around the globe. While most people typically fly the airlines closest to their home airport, it’s important to note that often those airlines with connect to a regional hub and then connect you forward to your next destination. Sometimes your preferred airline doesn’t carry forward to the next destination and you have to move forward on an entirely different airline. This is where the partnership comes in to play. Rather than being forced to buy another ticket with an entirely separate airline, the airline partnership allows you to fly on a separate partner on to your final destination. Domestically this is not so much as an issue as it is internationally. Choosing your airline and their corresponding flight can have many consequence particularly if you’re traveling internationally. For me personally, I prefer Star Alliance, the biggest the three partnerships, the one with the most destinations. While I personally abhor flying an American carrier, I’m fortunate to fly some of the best carriers internationally such as Singapore, Thai, Asiana, Swiss, among some.
Of the first two airlines I named, until recently, both were partners of an airline partnership know as the Star Alliance. Star Alliance is my usual go to for work and my personal life. Originally when I first started flying regularly, I had accounts with United, US Airways, and Lufthansa. Currently today, I hold memberships with Untied, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, and Aegean Airlines, all of which are in the Star Alliance. Now I know I stated earlier that you really only need four programs out all that I listed above and clearly the four previous mentioned airlines and their corresponding programs all belong to Star Alliance. As I began to fly more, I started to learn more about flying with an alliance. I thought that you were supposed to add your account to whatever airline you were flying when you were flying that airline. What I didn’t know was as long as you flew in the same airline partnership, you could use anyone of those airline partner mileage programs. For example, if I flew Lufthansa, I could use my United MileagePlus number to gain miles rather than my Lufthansa Miles and More account.
After nearly a year of flying frequently, I had come to learn this, but the damaged was done. I had Star Alliance miles spread out over four accounts. The good news was that I could sell and trade my points with another individual on a trading website like Points.com. The bad news was that only select airlines were in on it and none of them were the ones I needed, not to mention the points didn’t transfer 1 for 1. Some points were worth more than others so you could actually be losing points in the trade. The only option I had was to make the Star Alliance account with the most miles the primary Star Alliance account. Since I had flown quite a bit domestically, it was easy enough to choose United. Even still then I didn’t realize that was a mistake.
What I didn’t understand was that each airline had it’s own mileage program that was attached to an alliance. But even within that alliance, each airline is still it’s own separate program, so each program has it’s own rules. For example, United then required you to fly 25,000, 50,000, 75,000, and 100,000 miles in one calender year to earn Silver, Gold, Platinum, and 1k status in that order. At current time of writing, I am 151,000 miles with Gold Status. *Crickets* I know right? I have over a 100,000 miles and I’m only Gold status, a status that believe it or not irritates me to no end. You see the key terminology is “one calender year”. In one calender year I flew 24,800 miles. In December, I need one more flight to make silver status. But nope. I was stuck in somewhere I can’t remember and I flew my next United/Star Alliance flight January 2. Would United cut me some slack and allow me to achieve the next level? Of course not! Therefore I had to start over again and make another 25,000 miles to reach Silver. Easily enough, I reached that within a few month at 55,000 miles or so. So the next goal would obviously be to hit Gold status. And sure enough I hit that a few months later shortly after by passing 75,000 miles. But soon status accumulation came to an abrupt halt. When December rolled around again, I was in a similar predicament: I need to fly X amount of miles to reach Platinum status. . . and naturally I missed the December 31 deadline again by maybe 600 miles or so. No problem I thought. I’ll get it early the next year. WRONG! You see, this year was the year that United revamp their mileage program. Instead of flying increments of 25,000 miles to reach the next status, now you have to start over from scratch completely! This means you must earn each status over again starting at 25,000 for Silver, 50,000 for Gold, etc AND you have to spend so much money on United flights per level all in the same year. So it’s $2,500 for Silver, $5,000 for Gold, $7,500 for Platinum, and 10,000 for 1k. *Blank Stare* No really *Blank Stare*. Most of my flights are intentional anyway, thankfully on no US carriers, so unless I plan on flying domestically on United a lot, that’s really not achievable. As of now, I’ve flown 33,000 miles for this year and I have only just hit the $2000 threshold. It’s completely unlikely if I will hit Platinum at all this year. United, you get the side eye and can have several seats!
Fortunately for me, I have a plan. Like I said previously, each airline in a partnership alliance has it’s own rules so I will be switching very soon to another airline program. The status of each program most certainly matters. With Silver status, I can get one free checked bag. That’s about it. That’s really not worth anything. On the other hand, with Gold Status, things start happening. Instead of one free checked bag, I can get two. My TSA PreCheck? Good for 5 years and paid for by United for being a Gold carrying card member. Bypass airport lines? Yes please! Airport Lobby?!
Ummm no, I’m going to take my bougie self and one guest to the Star Alliance Lounge. Yes, that lounge that has free wine and alcohol, a chef, shower, LazyBoys and occasionally, live entertainment. Once you go Gold, you can’t go back. Let’s not even get started on the occasional upgrades to Business and First class. That’s the one you want on international travel.
I’m ashamed to say I only recently started looking into other airline programs and learned their status requirements. It’s safe to say that most of Star Alliance give you more for less unlike United Airlines. As of now, I am currently awaiting my status match from Turkish Airlines. Turkish will “match your status” to a similar one under their own program for two years. You only need to fly way less miles than United in two years two maintain that status. Plus, Turkish has the most destinations of any airline in the world allowing them to have one of the lowest price flights for international travel. I can visit my husband and his family in Morocco for approximately $5-700 or so round trip depending on the time of year. Another airline would charge me the $2-3000 for the same trip. In addition to that, Gold status in Turkish Miles and Smiles program also practically guarantees me an upgrade to Business Class since they don’t have a First. Since I fly Turkish pretty regularly, I can’t remember a flight where they don’t have a full business section. Plus their nice little lounge in Istanbul is the epitome of nice lounges.
But naturally all good things must come to an end. With my current job, I’m able to travel constantly a minimum of 5 or 6 times a month. Someday, once my husband’s immigration is complete and he’s working full time, we will want to start a family or I may want to spend more time at home with him. The international flying will come to an end and occasionally perhaps once a year we will find ourselves vacationing internationally. But if I don’t fly for so much amount of time, I will lose all my obtained status and all that glory will go to waste. . . unless I utilize my secret weapon known as Aegean Airlines. A few days ago after reaching my limits with United MileagePlus I finally decided to sign up for Aegean’s program in addition to status matching with Turkish Airlines. With Aegean Miles and Bonus, you get 1000 miles just for signing up. Here’s the kicker: if you obtain 4,000 miles, you reach Star Alliance Silver. 20,000 miles in one calender year gets you Star Alliance Gold. Bingo! *And the crowd cheers for the goal* Even better, your status NEVER expires . . . unless you don’t fly at least one Star Alliance flight in a period of 3 years. And that’s just any ole Star Alliance, any number of miles, any destination. You can’t beat that. So even if I quit my job, I can still keep my status as long as I fly one flight EVERY THREE YEARS. Not a problem. All of that seems pretty doable. The big question remains however, will Aegean eventually revamp their program as well to prevent non Greek people like me from “abusing” it? Probably not, it’s unlikely but it is very much possible at some point in the future.
In the mean time, all that leaves is my Lufthansa account. As of now I’ve only reached about 17,000 miles with them. It’s takes 30,ooo to reach your first status level. It’s really not much I can do with them, so the best I can do is fly a few more Star Alliance long hauls and get the 30,000 miles to get a free flight or I can use the miles I already have for an upgrade or something else. As for my United Account, I will be using all my accumulated miles with them for an African safari with my husband in Kenya in a few weeks, something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m glad to finally put the miles to some use. After I’ve drained those miles, I will no longer use my United account once I’ve achieved Gold Status on a few long haul flights under Aegean and obtained my status match with Turkish. Turkish will be my primary account and my go to for award travel.
What airline program do you fall under and why?