Last week, news emerged from Star Alliance – or rather a change in the terms and conditions of their elite program. Star Alliance was absolutely silent. The essence of the news was a change that meant even flyers previously entitled to lounge access were no longer guaranteed it in some circumstances, unless they were also flying business class.

In other words, the status the worked hard to attain would be useless in certain scenarios, unless they paid for a more expensive ticket. Even though this was more death by 1000 cuts than just going for the jugular, I’m calling BS – because loyalty is a two way street.

Here’s the new Star Alliance lounge access 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 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 essence of loyalty programs is to entice behaviour from customers outside of their usual pattern, or to retain their business and keep travellers away from others. Think of a loyalty program like a hotel where you provide everything someone could possibly need, so they never consider venturing out to the cold dark world.

This new policy means that if a Star Alliance member airline lounge isn’t available, and instead it’s a PriorityPass style lounge you’d have access to, the airline isn’t necessarily obliged to provide access based on status, though most will.

The thing about a status like Star Alliance Gold is that it often takes inconvenience to reach it. By all normal methods, it takes thousands and thousands in spending and in some cases, choosing a lesser preferred routing or a higher fare to stay loyalty. Like all alliances, it’s not always easy to stay loyal, but we fight through it for the perks. That must work two ways, and…

That’s why this is BS.

Sure, some people qualify for Star Alliance Gold without a blink of an eye, but many travellers will find themselves inconvenienced at some point in the qualification process. That extra connection, the flight that’s a bit more expensive than other airlines; or that inferior cabin you choose along the way – you know the deal.

By stating that hard earned “butt in seat” loyalty benefits only apply when it is convenient for the airline in question – surprise, surprise, this was a concession to United – Star Alliance invalidates the proposition entirely. Why should I potentially concede things for you, if you won’t for me?

Lounge access is an absolutely key benefit to frequent flyers, and one of the few things a traveller can depend on and enjoy with each journey. Upgrades are hardly ever guaranteed, so lounge access has always been one of the few typically defined points in deciding the value of loyalty. If it’s not a sure thing, it all changes…

This is yet another dangerous journey in the direction of turning loyalty programs into one way streets of occasional use. Star Alliance isn’t exactly first here – Qatar Airways for example has lounges only for paid business class passengers, regardless of their status – but they also provide lounges for all the passengers with status too.

It’s one thing to offer a better option to a person paying a significantly higher fare for business class, but it’s another thing entirely to invalidate benefits on any one journey. I’d say I’m a decent example. I spend at least $25,000 a year on mostly transatlantic business class tickets. In Europe, I never both with business class. A small but wonderful perk of funnelling that spend towards one alliance is the pay off on those short journeys were I’d otherwise go without, as an economy passenger.

You take that guarantee away, my possibilities with other airlines grows immensely. Though I love a few airlines in the Star Alliance, like Singapore, ANA, EVA and Swiss, this change makes me glad I’m a Oneworld slash Virgin Atlantic guy… at least until someone else gets a big idea like this one…

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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13 Comments

  1. I am Lufthansa senator and I spend a lot of time flying United in USA. In general US have a problem with lounges which look like cheap place. Whenever I compared United Club to Lufthansa lounges or Amex Centurion I always even prefer to walk further in the airport than take United club …

  2. You hit the nail on the head saying that loyalty is a two way street. United and the star alliance have once again proven that loyalty equates only to dollars in tier pockets by reducing the few perks they have left. As a 100,000 mile plus per year flyer in a United hub loyalty used to be important to me. But when United reduced my ability to ear status this year (I fly only economy) and then reduced benefits of that status (worsening and already limited lounge access policy and a devaluation of mile redemptions) what is the point of going out of my way to be loyal? From here on out it’s cheapest ticket that works for me only.

  3. I fly business regularly and often times the lounges are too full because of this issue. In the future I may not fly business because the value is lower when you can’t access the lounges.

    1. I totally agree on over crowding, but my point is surely the better answer is to increase or change hurdles, so that you have fewer elites – not a less lucrative program.

  4. Thanks Gilbert! You hit the nail on the head. I am flying mostly premium economy on very inconvenient routes this year to keep my UA Platinum status. One of my go to lounges is impacted by this change. I may have to look at OneWorld more closely.

  5. I’m not sure why this is a surprise. All airlines and all alliances are devaluing loyalty. They’re in it for the cash and manage loyalty through corporate contracts, not through frequent flyer programs.

    Flyers should also be in the game for immediate rewards. No lounge access? No loyalty. Fly a different company.

  6. As a previously *very* loyal United flyer (million miler, 1k for years, $25k ticket spend last year), I have already booked almost $10k in tickets on BA/American and Virgin in the first two months of this year. United has lost me on the utter worthlessness of upgrade points / certs and status in general. Every time I book a flight not on United, I send their customer service an email of what $$ I’ve taken elsewhere. Drop in the bucket, but satisfies me a tiny bit.

  7. Let me see. Airline loyalty. They smack you around, you stay. You keep whining when it happens again. You stay. I have an idea…

  8. I think we have to take into account that this only applies to contract lounges and the airline you are traveling on. At least in Europe I have never had the combination of the airline I am booked on not having a partner lounge at that specific airport (okay, let’s take AGP with a SAS flight beside). Most contract lounges are a shitshow and the changes don’t apply to the airline-owned lounges – as far as I see it. So it doesn’t make that much a difference to me. If they change it to the airline owned lounges I’m 100% with you and will most probably think about switching my status form the Star Alliance to some place else.

    1. My counter would be that this is the first nail in the coffin, with this opening up of the concept, so that it can be further expanded over time.

      1. Complete agreement. For me most of the loungevisits I make are at LH/LX lounges and since I’ll be SEN in 2021 it should be fine for 80% of my flights – even if I hope they don’t expand since I would have to become a BA Gold quite soon and BSL-MUC would be routed over LHR 😀
        The point about the award ticket at Qatar is much more annoying imho.

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