Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Aegean Airlines Fast Track to Star Alliance Gold Status

The travel blog-o-sphere has been awash in words about Aegean Airlines entering the Star Alliance (one of the “big 3” airline alliances), and the fact that with Aegean one can gain Star Alliance “Gold” status with far fewer miles than with any other airline in the alliance.

(For the uninitiated, once Star Gold is attained on any Star Alliance airline – and there are a lot, it’s the biggest airline alliance – Gold benefits are available to you on any Star airline.)

“Status” means a lot to the frequent-flyer geeks out there, and Star Gold is the first decent elite level that begins to afford a few significant perks for travelers. In general, Star Gold offers the holder of that status:
* Priority check-in lines (at the business/first-class check-in counter)
* Priority boarding
* Airport lounge access (day of travel) to any Star lounge (if your Star Gold status is with an international carrier, you can apparently access U.S. Star lounges even on domestic itineraries)
* Priority baggage handling (whatever that means)
* No baggage fees for first 2 bags
* Additional baggage allowance (more weight or one more bag)
* On some airlines, possibly preferred seating or other benefits

What makes this all more than a frequent-flyer-geek exercise is that Star Gold status can be attained on Aegean Airlines with only 20,000 “status” (flying) miles in a year’s time. So maybe this isn’t one just for the geeks. Consider:

If you fly three domestic and one international flights per year, by crediting some of those miles to Aegean, you can have a year’s worth of Star Gold benefits. Here’s an off-the-cuff look at the tradeoffs.

Say you’re a leisure traveler and take those three domestic and one international flights per year. Using random cities, those four flights might earn you:
Two RT flights, LA to Chicago = 6,800 miles
One RT flight to visit grandma, LA to Orlando = 4,400 miles
One European vacation, for example LA to Paris = 11,300 miles
Thus, you’d have accrued 22,500 miles, and you might consider crediting 20,000 of those miles to Aegean for a year’s worth of Star Gold status. (Aegean is currently offering 1,000 status miles for signing up for their frequent-flyer program.) And although Aegean’s mileage redemptions don’t seem to be anything to get excited about, you are still accruing the miles somewhere.

In general, most commentators value frequent-flyer miles at 1 to 2 cents per mile. Thus, 20,000 flying miles might be worth $200-400. It takes 25,000 miles for a basic domestic economy ticket on most Star carriers (United, Continental, USAir). Let’s take the middle ground, and say that your 25,000 miles might get you a domestic ticket (if you can find one) worth $350.

Now, let’s look at the value of Star Gold.
* No baggage fees, $25-60 (for example, 1 or 2 bags) per domestic flight (6 annual flights – 3 round trips, as above) = $150-360. (Plus, say you want to take two bags to Paris; the first is free, but the second would be $50 each way = another $100.)
* Lounge access = $425 annual (United Red Carpet Club, 1 person) or $50 one-time fee per person (with Star Gold you can take a companion, so double that value).
* Convenience (priority check-in, boarding, etc.) = whatever you feel that’s worth.

So if you’re an average traveler, with your 4 trips per year, you might just consider trading a crappy $350 domestic economy ticket for a year’s worth of perks such as above (with a “value” of $575-885, or more). Read the Aegean fine print, and look at the other myriad words spilled on this subject. Consider the trade-offs.