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If you travel and fly often, you’re probably familiar with the concept of airline alliances. But if you’re unfamiliar with the differences between the big three (Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam), you could be missing out on plenty of perks. Not to mention, these airline alliances offer extra flexibility when it comes to earning and redeeming frequent flyer miles across multiple carriers.
United Airlines is a key member of the Star Alliance. So U.S.-based flyers who travel on United also tend to fly on and spend miles through its Star Alliance partners.
When you sign up for a frequent flyer program, you have access to award flights and elite status perks on other participating airlines in the same alliance. By using just one member number every time you fly on any of those airlines, you can earn miles and reach status faster than if you used each airline’s individual program. Then, you can use that status and all those points or miles when booking on any partner airline, not just the one you flew on.
But what makes one alliance different from the rest? Let’s break it down with the pros and cons of Star Alliance.
The benefits of Star Alliance
First things first: here are the things that make the Star Alliance great.
✅ It's the largest airline alliance
For starters, Star Alliance, which started with just five partner airlines back in 1997, has grown to include 26 airlines. That makes it the largest airline alliance in the industry, with Oneworld at 14 airlines and SkyTeam having 19.
More partner airlines means more flexibility and opportunity to earn and redeem miles across brands. Together, these airlines offer travel to over 1,300 destinations in 195 countries with more than 19,000 daily departures.
You can search for flights across partner airlines right on the Star Alliance home page.
✅ You can use miles for seat upgrades
If you want to use your points or miles for more than just your airfare, you can also redeem them to upgrade to a higher class of travel on a Star Alliance flight. What’s more, it’s the only alliance that allows this benefit across all participating airlines.
It’s called a Star Alliance Upgrade award, and you can take advantage of it by requesting an upgrade through your frequent flyer program of choice and redeeming your miles to pay. It may not be available on all flights, such as codeshare flights.
» Learn more: A complete guide to the Star Alliance
✅ More lounges
The Star Alliance also has more lounges than any other alliance — over 1,000. Compare that with Oneworld’s 650 lounges and SkyTeam’s 750. That means frequent flyers have access to more lounges in more destinations than any other alliance. Most of those are member airline lounges, but Star Alliance also operates six exclusive lounges at the following airports:
Buenos Aires (EZE).
Los Angeles (LAX).
Rio de Janeiro (GIG).
» Learn more: The things Star Alliance is doing right
The cons of Star Alliance
Of course, no airline alliance is perfect. Here’s where this one falls a bit short.
❌ Fewer status tiers
While Star Alliance may have more participating airlines and lounges than other alliances, it only offers two status tiers. What's more, that status level is based on your status with your preferred airline.
SkyTeam also only offers two tiers, but Oneworld has three. The two levels of Star Alliance status are Silver and Gold.
Star Alliance Silver elite benefits
Priority airport standby bumps you to the top of the standby list if your travel plans change and you want to book same-day travel on another flight.
Priority reservations waitlist places you at the top of the waitlist if the class of service you wanted was fully booked.
Star Alliance Gold elite benefits
You get access to all of the above, plus priority lanes at airport security and immigration, extra luggage allowance, priority boarding and check-in, airport lounge access and priority baggage handling.
Whether two simple tiers is truly a con will depend on your status and travel style, but the more tiers available, the more perks and benefits you generally gain access to. For example, Oneworld’s top tier (Emerald) offers access to business and first class lounges, not just business class like Star Alliance.
And SkyTeam offers additional free checked bags, plus priority seating, boarding, baggage drop-off and airport standby at its first tier level, making even entry-level status more rewarding than with Star Alliance.
Star Alliance’s sheer size remains a huge pro
Star Alliance is tops when it comes to the sheer number of destinations, airlines and lounge access available to passengers. But it does come at a cost, namely, fewer perks for members with lower-level elite status.
That said, it’s easy to earn and redeem points and miles with all the routes and options available. Unless you’re in it for the elite benefits, there isn't a good reason not to pledge loyalty to Star Alliance.
How to maximize your rewards
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Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card