a room with red and white furniture

I haven’t seriously considered a Star Alliance flight in months, and that makes me one of the illogical people I always tell my readers not to be. On that note, there are many interesting philosophical debates to be had about loyalty programs of the to be, or not to be, essence.

Many would argue that if no one spent on marketing, no one would lose a thing, but as long as someone does, everyone does — and must. The same goes for perks and airline elite status. Once an airline is offering perks, everyone must.

So what’s the point of loyalty? It turns otherwise logical people into illogical consumers who can’t simply press purchase on the lowest priced option. There’s always a greater equation at play, and it weighs on people.

a tv on the back of a plane
BA First Class.

I Can’t Book Star Alliance Right Now

I hold top tier status in both Oneworld and SkyTeam. I love many Star Alliance airlines, but now that I’ve reviewed most of the major Star Alliance airlines and lounges, I never fly them.

Why? Because I’ve got two statuses and points goals to maintain and work toward and even if Star Alliance is marginally cheaper for a need, I need all of my flight purchases to be working towards benefits and perks from which I truly benefit.

There’s an opportunity cost if I DON’T take a SkyTeam or Oneworld flight at the moment. Sure, I might save $200 by booking SkyTeam, but that fails to account for a variety of things people don’t instantly consider on the transaction, like…

  • More Points Earned: thanks to higher points multipliers for customers with elite status flying the airline. An extra 10,000 miles could be worth $100 at a minimum.
  • Unlocking Valuable One Time Benefits: hitting status goals can unlock elite benefits like international upgrade certificates or companion tickets, which can be worth many thousands.
  • Always On” Day Of Travel Perks: maintaining a good status can unlock lounges and fast tracks, even when flying on economy tickets. This is a valuable add for people who don’t always buy up to premium cabins.

Practical Example: say I’m looking at a $2,000 business class ticket from New York to London. But — TAP has an $1800 fare. I could save $200 booking TAP Portugal. But by doing so, I’d earn a fraction of the miles because I wouldn’t receive my elite multiplier for miles, which can be 3X more points. The bonus points alone might narrow the gap to $100 in price or less, and then when you factor that I’m near a companion ticket with Oneworld or SkyTeam already, not staying loyal could actually cost me a $2000 savings on a future ticket. Because of this, I can’t even look at other airlines until I’ve over-achieved my status goals.

I get actual value from both my SkyTeam and Oneworld statuses in the form of lounge access, fee waivers, time savings and even upgrades. I know I could in Star Alliance too, but when I started out, I chose other programs over those in Star and stuck with it.

Because of that, it would take a considerable status match offer or instant perks to make me consider a swap.

a man lying down on a pillow

Loyalty Is Working On Me

I’ve mused before that people who feel as if they’re on a hamster wheel of loyalty and aren’t getting the cheese they desire should really hop off for a second and consider the effort versus reward. It’s a vital sanity check I can attest that many would benefit from.

I give myself that check regularly, yet loyalty is clearly functioning the way programs would like, because it’s creating outsized wallet share from me, to ensure I am always building. Flights for which I should be considering other airlines, I’m simply not.

I’ve found games that delivers enough for me that I’m not “shopping” for flights, I’m simply weighing options between two alliances from which I benefit. The only game left is which one of the two wins that two way wallet share.

When you think of the breadth of options out there, it’s proof that even on a seasoned and level headed person (ok, I may be neither!) the right benefits can create action and make customers less price sensitive. I’ll pay more to work towards things which bring value both as one off benefits and “always on” travel benefits.

This is where the funny side of “error fares” kicks in, because they’re not always errors. If a Star Alliance airline had an error fare to Australia, a personal fave, which I simply could not resist, it might be the only actual lever to get me to switch over and then want to earn more.

My “blinders on” approach to most flight bookings is such a drastic departure from most consumers who have three alliances, multiple non alliance airlines and all the other upstarts to consider for any purchase decision.

Done right, airline loyalty really can make people insane.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Elite plus with TK gives me several thousand $ worth in perks every year:
    -free additional luggage
    -free United Club access (even if flying eco) and lounges worldwide
    -2 free upgrades/year on TK
    -occasional free upgrades on other *A flight due to status

    Status valid 2 years, plus saves me lots of time by using biz check-in counter and always group 1 boarding.

    Airline loyalty makes total sense when done right.

    1. Yep, totally. But I’m just arguing that as a consumer, it makes us irrational to not consider other options and that, oddly, is them doing a very good job.

    2. Dude, status on only two alliances?
      I have lifetime status on all three.
      And another 200K BIS miles on UA, GS FOR LIFE on *A.
      No more “loyalty” after that.

  2. Swap Star Alliance for Skyteam and you have my current situation… being USA-based I find loyalty to Delta unimaginable LOL

  3. Well you need to consider that whoever achieves airline status by definition flies more than the average person and probably doesn’t necessarily need to look for the cheapest option but would rather spend an extra couple hundred dollars to unlock all the benefits status comes with. I see it as an investment (that is totally worth it)

  4. You also forgot to mention how well you are treated when you’re an elite flyer. Every time I fly Virgin in Upper Class, someone comes by and personally welcomes me on board and we have a brief chat. they don’t do that for other customers. So I get to feel like a rock star for a few minutes. I know that sounds stupid and vain but I am stupid and vain so it works for me. And I get all the other perks you mentioned, like free upgrades (sometimes), lounge access and all the rest. Could I save some money by flying BA? maybe, but I don’t even look anymore.

  5. I have found that I am ridiculously loyal to Qantas due to the perks, but their airfares are pretty ridiculous at the moment. The first lounge is stunning (even the first check in area is beautiful and serene and separated from the hordes of people checking in elsewhere). Oneworld is also the only alliance to have a number of first lounges in the network so it feels ‘worth it’ even though they are often 20-30% more expensive than say Thai or ANA. Holding elite status at your home port is often a great experience – access to SQ’s private airport entrance if travelling by car even if not in FC for example. It’s reaffirmed when friends are travelling with me and they are gobsmacked by the efficiency and much calmer experience. The Perrier Jouet in the lounge admittedly helps! Also the priority for points upgrades which I am amazed at how often they are approved. It is expensive but it’s such a more pleasant experience all around.

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