Introduction

Many argue that Star Alliance is the best of the three alliances. With 27 member airlines, it is bigger than both oneworld and SkyTeam, and it correspondingly has far and away the most expansive route map. With the exception of intra-Australian routes and the South Pacific, a Star Alliance carrier has a large presence in any given region on the planet. In addition to that, many airlines have both lucrative frequent flyer mile programs and top-tier first and business class products. These conditions incentivize higher flying on the Star Alliance airlines; it’s usually the easiest on these carriers.

Key Facts

  • Name: Star Alliance
  • Website: www.staralliance.com
  • Three Notable Members: United Airlines, Singapore Airlines, All Nippon Airlines (ANA)
  • All Members: ADRIA, Aegean Air, Air Canada, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airlines (ANA), Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, EVA Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, SWISS, TAP Portugal, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines
  • Loyalty Tiers: (1) Star Alliance Gold, (2) Star Alliance Silver

Three Notable Features

  • Valuable programs and points: A large alliance doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a particularly strong one (SEE: SkyTeam), but Star Alliance suggests otherwise. Of its long list of members, many of them, like Singapore and ANA and Lufthansa (and many more), are considered to be among the best in the world.
    sq-f
    Suites Class on Singapore Airlines
    ana first class dining.jpg
    Dining in ANA First Class
    lufthansa first class
    Lufthansa First Class

    As a further benefit, many of these same airlines have compelling loyalty programs too. For higher flyers, this means that they can accrue valuable points when they fly on partner airlines, and in turn, redeem them on others (many of which are equally good). The perks reciprocated among members are industry-leading too. No other alliance can come close to competing with Star Alliance in these regards, and for that reason, this organization represents one of the premier travel organizations. The already valuable benefits and perks become even more so when you consider the…

  • Huge route network: Star Alliance is significantly larger than its competitors, oneworld and SkyTeam, as measured by a number of metrics that include: number of members (27, compared to 14 and 20, respectively), daily flights, and destinations served. Given that, there are so many options and opportunities for higher flyers to take advantage of. Such flexibility makes traveling the world significantly more convenient; a single ticket on a Star Alliance carrier can take you practically anywhere in the world, plus if you have status on a member airline, it’ll be universally reciprocated no matter where you go and how you get there (provided it’s on Star Alliance). These benefits are offered by other alliances too, but because they aren’t as big, they’re more limited in their usefulness.

    star-alliance-tatl-routes
    A comprehensive route map of Star Alliance’s transatlantic flights. No other alliance has this many offerings across the Atlantic!
  • “Move Under One Roof”: A few years ago, Star Alliance initiated the “Move Under One Roof” project, which attempts to consolidate member airlines into a single terminal at every airport they serve. With thousands of destinations to account for, this is quite the ambitious goal, but collectively, they’ve been successful so far in realizing it. For higher flyers, this means that when they connect between flights, they usually don’t have to change buildings, their bags are less likely to be lost, and provided they have status, they can enjoy a greater selection of lounges and other amenities. Other alliances have since followed suit, but haven’t been as effective as Star Alliance has.

    PEK Terminal 3
    “Move Under One Roof” has been most successful at Beijing Capital, where all Star Alliance flights operate out of the massive Terminal 3

Three Notable Drawbacks

  • For U.S. travel, United is a weak link (for now): Even though I’m a loyal customer, I’m not blind to the fact that United has its share of flaws. Compared to the other legacy carriers (i.e. Delta and American), United falls to a distant third place, and its lucrative loyalty program doesn’t do enough to close the gap. Aside from its public relations department, it’s not a bad airline per se, but it’s currently not up to the same standards as its competitors. Many of its hubs, like Newark and Washington Dulles and Los Angeles and Chicago, leave a lot to be desired for passengers. They’re all in desperate need of renovation, struggle with crowd management, and can be hard to navigate.
    ohare crowd
    Just another day in the United Hub at Chicago O’Hare…

    The onboard experience isn’t much better. While the introduction of Polaris Business Class is a step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go before the airline offers a premier product. In fact, some estimate that it’ll take over five years for the long haul fleet to be refurbished. For those who don’t get a newly Polaris-outfitted plane, they’ll be treated to this:

    United Polaris First Review
    Pre-Polaris Business Class seats on United. The seats are only slightly wider than those in economy class!

    Additionally, most all passengers on United will be subjected to hassles and inconveniences, and higher flyers will lose out because of the airline’s substandard seats, amenities, and lounges. Thank God for the promise of Polaris (and a pretty good loyalty program)!

    united polaris.jpg
    One day, higher flyers on United can look forward to a premium seat like this one…but not just yet!
  • Some second-tier airlines: United isn’t second-tier — it’s route network and loyalty program will save it from that dishonor — but it’s certainly behind some of its peers (like Lufthansa). But beyond that, there are the Star Alliance airlines that are a bit more questionable…
    adria airlines
    ADRIA Airlines is a member of Star Alliance (?)

    These include carriers like ADRIA (shown above) and EgyptAir, which still has this business class product on some of its long haul planes (shown below)…

    egypt air old business class
    While this isn’t representative of all of EgyptAir’s fleet, you can still fly this blast from the past!

    While there aren’t as many second-tier airlines in Star Alliance as there are in SkyTeam, these members are not huge contributors to the organization. They might even go so far and create “bloating” effects, which hinder and detract from otherwise fun higher flyer experiences. While the small route networks of ADRIA and Croatian are avoidable, mediocre yet expensive trips are the worst. You might subject yourself to the latter if you get stuck on one of the lesser-known carriers; don’t let that happen to you!

  • Overwhelming in size: In addition to having too many second-tier airlines, the sheer expanse of Star Alliance can sometimes be a bit much. Some might see all the options and choices provided to customers as too much of a good thing. There are that many more carriers, loyalty programs, and policies for travelers to be aware of compared to those who fly oneworld and SkyTeam, both of which are significantly smaller. When considering the number of second-tier companies, you have to wonder, would Star Alliance be better served if it “trimmed the fat?” Certainly it would be simpler to fly higher if that were the case…

    star alliance members.png
    That’s a lot of airlines!

Three Special Opportunities

  • United’s extensive MileagePlus program: United MileagePlus, all around, is my favorite loyalty program. It ticks all the boxes that you might want as a higher flyer and then some. It partners with Chase, which allows for flex value points transfers, as well as lucrative co-branded credit cards. You won’t go broke on that front! It also has access to some of the best airlines in the world, courtesy of its membership in Star Alliance, and better yet, award availability is usually good. Prices aren’t remarkably cheap, but they’re better than most and there usually are no fuel charges. There is also a lot of flexibility in terms of what you can do with stopovers and open jaws, which can significantly maximize the value of your points. If you’re a U.S. based flyer, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t have a MileagePlys account.

    air new zealand business
    Use MileagePlus miles to fly Air New Zealand to South Pacific!
  • ANA’s award chart: All Nippon Airways has one of the most lucrative award charts in the industry. While there are some drawbacks, such as no one way redemptions and fuel charges, the prices for award tickets simply cannot be beaten. For instance, you can fly round trip in Business Class between North America and: South America for 80,000 miles, Japan for as low as 75,000 miles, and Australia for as low as 105,000 miles. Seeing that United might charge upwards of 160,000 miles for any of these tickets, that’s a terrific bargain. The fares are valid on any Star Alliance carrier too!

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    Redeem ANA miles for Avianca Business Class!
  • Easy Star Alliance Gold Qualification: What saves Aegean Airlines from falling in to Star Alliance’s second-tier is its lax status qualifying standards. If you fly 24,000 miles on any partner and credit those to Aegean, you’ll earn Silver, both with the program and the alliance. Likewise, if you fly 48,000 more, and you’ll earn Gold. So, for 72,000 flown miles, with no restrictions on earnings rates, you can be an elite member of the largest consortium of airlines, and ultimately all the perks that come with it. That’s a remarkable value, especially considering that many carriers, including United, base award points on dollars spent and not distance flown. Those policies makes earning miles that much tougher, as cheaper tickets means smaller returns, but none such exists on Aegean.

As is the case with the other alliances, Star Alliance has its share of strengths and weaknesses. While Star Alliance is my favorite of the three, that doesn’t mean that oneworld and SkyTeam are definitely inferior. You probably have different experiences, perspectives, and values than I do; what matters to me may not matter to you and vice versa. The point of this guide is merely to highlight the features that makes Star Alliance unique, and help you better understand how it fits in to higher flying collectively.

Do you have any other tips/things to know about Star Alliance? Add them in the comments!