Friends, the time has finally come.
After four long years of revelling in the earthly luxuries of top-tier airline status, the moment has arrived to bid a sombre farewell to Star Alliance Gold.
If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you might have wondered what originally got me started along the journey of learning to travel the world on points.
Well, I’ve enjoyed flying and aviation in general for as long as I can remember, but this particular candle was first lit on a school trip in some unmemorable airport in China, when a friend and I decided to trespass into the airport lounge and were immediately chased out of there by the lounge attendant.
That’s when I realized that certain people in this world were better than others. The concept of “status” took hold in my mind, and every trip after that, I’d pass by the airport lounge and give those unforgiving glass doors a long, wistful look, determined to gaze at these halls from the inside sometime down the road.
Naturally, when I came across a wonderful opportunity to easily earn Star Alliance Gold with Aegean Airlines Miles+Bonus in 2013, I was all-in.
I didn’t give a toss about priority check-in or boarding. I couldn’t have cared less about the priority standby either. And while the extra baggage allowance was certainly useful, my attention was entirely focused on one thing: lounge access. This was long before I figured out the possibility of flying in business class using credit card points, mind you.
I was flying back home a few times a year at that point to visit my family, and so the 20,000 miles required for Gold status came through pretty quickly. And you can imagine how overjoyed I was when I finally stepped into the Domestic Maple Leaf Lounge at Toronto Pearson, swiping my newly minted Star Alliance Gold card for the first time.
I can still remember that first sip of a machine-brewed latte, that first bite of the Maple Leaf Lounge’s signature cookie, that first tortilla chip dipped in a tepid puddle of store-bought salsa.
Over the years, as I continued my travels, my Gold card served as a trusted silver lining that never failed to make economy class tolerable – and even kind of palatable. I rested my head and sampled local delights in a wide range of airport lounges around the world, from the stunning Turkish CIP Lounge in Istanbul (arguably the world’s best business class lounge) to the rather drab interiors of EgyptAir’s lounges in Cairo or any number of domestic lounges in China – the same ones I used to pass by with such envy all those years ago.
In 2014, Aegean Airlines finally caught on to the fact that any Star Alliance flyer from anywhere in the world who goes home to visit their grandma once a year was able to earn Gold status thanks to their largesse. They plugged the hole and changed their Miles+Bonus program such that you had to requalify for Gold status once a year, by earning either 24,000 miles over the course of the year, or 12,000 miles plus 4 flights with Aegean themselves. (Previously, once you got Gold status, it was yours to keep for THREE years.)
I was not to be stopped. Determined to keep the adventure going for longer, but also cash-strapped and in no position to travel the world extensively, I started doing mileage runs to requalify. Here are the runs I did in 2015 and 2016 – both immediate turnarounds.
In case there was ever any doubt, I now fully realize, with the benefit of hindsight, that this was an absolutely bonkers thing to do.
Did I enjoy sleeping overnight on hard benches in airport terminals that kept their fluorescent lighting on all night? Not at all. Did I have better things to do? Probably. Was I being completely irrational in “chasing” status when I barely did much revenue flying in the first place? Most definitely.
(By the way, if anyone wants to know anything – anything at all – about the airports in Athens, Thessaloniki, or Rhodes, I’m your guy. I literally know these airports like the back of my hand.)
This year, as you might have seen from my Guide to Aegean Airlines Miles+Bonus, I still have about 4,800 miles to go until I can requalify. I’ve decided to put an end to the madness and just let it go. My membership year ends on November 24, at which point I’ll drop down to Star Alliance Silver.
Now that I’ve upped my points game to new levels, I hardly ever buy revenue tickets on Star Alliance anymore, so it’d get more and more difficult each year to requalify for Gold. In addition, with points I’m able to fly in premium classes, and there’s very few Star Alliance Gold benefits that aren't also offered with a business class ticket.
I’ve come along way since I was unceremoniously booted out of an airport lounge as a teenager, and the status story has come full circle. This year, instead of spending a valuable weekend on yet another senseless mileage run, I did what any functional adult would do instead – I spent some time with friends and family.
This post is obviously meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but it does help me emphasize an important lesson: loyalty programs are designed to encourage you to act in a certain way, and often they incentivize actions that are not perfectly rational. Make sure that you maintain a sound mind when you’re playing around with Miles & Points, and don’t go chasing promotions just for the sake of it!
In particular, the psychological phenomenon of loss aversion is a real thing – humans tend to more unwilling to part ways with something they already have, than they are willing to gain something of equal value. This surely played a part in my flawed decisions to fly around Europe aimlessly in years past, so if you’re interested in earning airline status, fair warning that you may find it difficult to let go once you’ve attained it!