Let's do something a bit different today and look beyond the household names in the miles and points world like Aeroplan and SPG. There's a whole world of frequent flyer programs out there, and quite a few that Canadians would do well to at least take a look at.
One of these is Aegean Airlines Miles+Bonus, the frequent flyer program of Greece's national airline. It certainly won't be usurping Aeroplan anytime soon, but it does offer certain advantages in the right situation. Let's find out what those advantages are.
Star Alliance Gold
If you've been in the game for a while, you probably associate Aegean's program with "easy Star Alliance Gold" or even "Lifetime Gold". That's because prior to 2014, it was stupidly easy to earn and retain Aegean's Gold membership level, which translated to Star Alliance Gold (since Aegean had very recently joined Star Alliance).
All you needed was 20,000 Tier Miles to get Gold, and you'd earn a free 1,000 Tier Miles just from signing up for the program. Furthermore, the Gold status was valid for three years, which is an absolute eternity in the status game.
Needless to say, a huge number of people earned Star Alliance Gold this way, myself included. It was pretty obvious that the program was designed prior to Aegean joining Star Alliance, and that it was primarily intended for Greek frequent flyers.
It's fair to say that when the transition was complete and Aegean Gold began to equate to Star Alliance Gold, the airline was caught off guard by the hundreds of flyers who could now take the airline to the cleaners by bingeing on priority boarding and lounge access after taking just a handful of flights (in some instances, just one flight!)
So in 2014, the airline changed things up, and now you need to do the following to earn Star Alliance Gold:
Note that only after you've attained Silver are you eligible to go for Gold. You've got one year for each "step", so two years in total. Also, as with most frequent flyer programs, award tickets don't earn mileage, so these have to be revenue fares. Overall, you need either 36,000 Tier Miles plus 6 segments on Aegean flights, or 72,000 Tier Miles, over a period of up to two years.
Of course, if you primarily fly on award tickets, this won't interest you much. And frankly, if you redeem points for business class flights, you get most (if not all) of the benefits that come with Gold status anyway.
But if your work schedule requires you to fly a bunch, or if you happen to book a fair number of revenue fares to complement your award travel, then you might benefit from aiming for Aegean Gold.
The best part about Gold status under the current rules, however, is how easy it is to retain Gold once you've earned it. In a year, you only need to earn either 12,000 Tier Miles plus 2 segments on Aegean, or 24,000 Tier Miles regardless of the airlines flown.
As a point of comparison, Air Canada Altitude and United MileagePlus both require 50,000 miles per year to keep re-qualifying for Gold. So the fact that you can keep Gold status with Aegean year after year, for just 12,000 Tier Miles, is incredible!
That's what I've been doing for two cycles now since the new program kicked in, and I've got to complete my 2016–17 cycle before November. I'm going for it the long way – I haven't flown with Aegean this year, so I need 24,000 miles and have about 5,000 to go. It's also useful to note that Aegean allows you to "buy" up to 2,000 Tier Miles per year to help you with your status re-qualification.
How useful is Star Alliance Gold? Well, it depends. For me, by far the best perk is lounge access when flying economy: business class is nice, but I still fly in the cheap seats some of the time (like if I can't make the award availability work, or if I'm saving up my points for a future redemption), and when I do, it's nice to kick back and enjoy some premium treatment in a lounge before the flight. And some of the lounges in the network, such as the Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge in Istanbul or the Star Alliance Lounge at LAX, are just amazing.
You earn miles in the Miles+Bonus program by flying (duh) – consult the earnings chart here – but if that were the only feasible way for Canadians to earn miles, this program probably wouldn't be worth writing about.
Thankfully, however, Miles+Bonus one of the many airline transfer partners of Starwood Preferred Guest, so you can easily transfer your Starpoints into Aegean miles. As always with the SPG program, for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer, you get a 5,000-point bonus.
You can easily earn some Starpoints by applying for the American Express SPG Card or the American Express Business SPG Card, both of which offer 20,000 Starpoints after spending $1,500 within three months. Transfer those 20,000 Starpoints over for an easy 25,000 miles in Aegean Airlines Miles+Bonus.
The Award Chart
There's quite a few sweet spots in the Miles+Bonus award chart, so listen up if you've chased that Gold status and have a heap of miles to spend. Alternatively, you might be so tempted by some of these sweet spots that transferring over Starpoints might be worth it.
I'll give an example for each class of travel – first, business, and economy, though it's entirely worth a second glance at the award chart. Perhaps I'll do another post someday that goes through the sweet spots in detail.
- A first class round-trip between North America and Europe & North Africa costs just 120,000 miles. Aeroplan charges between 140,000 and 160,000 miles for Europe and a whopping 230,000 miles for somewhere like Egypt! Lufthansa First admirers, this could be your chance to snag that experience on the cheap.
- Business class from North America to Central & South Africa costs only 110,000 miles for a round trip. Aeroplan would charge you 150,000 miles on the same itinerary. Thinking of hitting up South Africa? Consider making use of Aegean!
- Lastly, you can fly within North America for 25,000 miles round-trip in economy. What's so special about that, you ask? After all, Aeroplan charges the same amount! I mentioned this in the Notes On... the Caribbean, but Aegean's definition of "North America" includes all of the Caribbean islands. So all you need is 25,000 miles for your vacation flight to anywhere in the Caribbean, as far south as Trinidad & Tobago. How much would Aeroplan charge you for that? 40,000 miles, a 15,000-mile premium.
If you're redeeming Aegean miles, one very important thing to keep in mind is that you are only allowed ONE layover per direction. That's right, only one layover of up to 24 hours. That can be hugely limiting in terms of your routing options, and can also be pretty inconvenient if you live in a secondary market like Halifax or Winnipeg and usually need to connect in a hub airport.
Aegean Airlines Miles+Bonus is a nifty program that can be useful for many Canadians. It offers an easy avenue towards attaining and keeping Star Alliance Gold status, allows you to earn miles easily by transferring points from SPG, and offers multiple sweet spots in its relatively competitive award chart. If you're looking for ways to diversify your points holdings a bit, consider signing up for a Miles+Bonus account.