Earning elite status with airlines can deliver extremely valuable benefits along your travels. But if you’re in the habit of redeeming Miles & Points for flights (rather than, you know, paying top dollar for them), then you’d be forgiven for thinking of airline elite status as beyond your reach.
Indeed, perhaps it’s because our national airline, Air Canada, is of a Star Alliance persuasion, but one of the questions I get rather frequently is whether there are any easy ways for Canadians to achieve Star Alliance Gold status.
And as someone who held this status for many years at one point in history, I’d like to take a look at the best ways for Canadians to earn Star Alliance Gold these days without necessarily racking up the 50,000 Altitude Qualifying Miles (AQM) and spending the $6,000 Altitude Qualifying Dollars (AQD) that Air Canada Altitude would ask for.
In This Post
- Why Is Star Alliance Gold Valuable?
- 1. Amex Platinum, Shangri-La Jade, and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- 2. Asiana Club: 40,000 Qualifying Miles Over Two Years
- 3. Aegean Miles & Bonus: 36,000 Tier Miles + 6 Aegean Flights
- 4. Status Match & Challenge Offers
Why Is Star Alliance Gold Valuable?
Let’s begin with a point of clarification, since I know this can be confusing from the outset. Every Star Alliance airline has their own loyalty program (such as Air Canada Altitude, United MileagePlus, Avianca LifeMiles etc.), and each program is free to set any number of status levels and qualification requirements within its own program.
For example, Air Canada Altitude has five different status levels beyond the basic tier: Prestige 25K, Elite 35K, Elite 50K, Elite 75K, and Super Elite 100K. Meanwhile, a program like Aegean Miles & Bonus might only have two status levels: Silver and Gold.
Now, each program also designates two different status levels to correspond with alliance-wide Star Alliance status. Air Canada, for example, has selected Elite 35K to correspond to Star Alliance Silver and Elite 50K to correspond to Star Alliance Gold, while Aegean Miles & Bonus has naturally chosen Silver and Gold, respectively.
When you earn Air Canada Elite 50K or Aegean Gold, you also automatically earn Star Alliance Gold, and are accordingly entitled to its benefits when travelling with any of Star Alliance’s 27 member airlines.
While Star Alliance Silver doesn’t offer too many meaningful benefits, Star Alliance Gold is where the benefits really start to kick in. Its benefits include:
Priority airport check-in
Priority baggage handling
Airport lounge access for yourself and one guest
Extra baggage allowance (either an extra 20kg allowance, or an extra piece of baggage, depending on the airline)
Priority Gold Track airport security
Priority reservations waitlist
Priority airport standby
The complete details are available on the Star Alliance website.
In addition to the published benefits, there are some discretionary benefits as well. For example, Star Alliance Gold members are likely just below an airline’s own elite members in line for an operational upgrade – and back in the days when I held Star Alliance Gold, I had received a few such op-ups from economy to business on transcontinental North American flights, as well as economy to premium economy on long-haul international flights.
Now, generally speaking, Star Alliance Gold benefits will be most useful to you when you’re flying in economy or premium economy, because a business class ticket would already come with most of the benefits (like airport lounge access, priority check-in, or priority boarding). With Star Alliance Gold, you’ll basically get treated as a premium passenger even if you aren’t flying in a premium cabin.
However, there are even a few select benefits to Star Alliance Gold above and beyond those of a business class passenger.
One example might be access to better lounges at some airports around the world, such as the Swiss Senator & Business Lounges (E Gates) at Zurich Airport – if you were merely flying in business class, you’d have access to the very nice business lounge, but as a Star Alliance Gold member you’ll instead get access to the much more peaceful and well-appointed Senator Lounge, which even comes with an outstanding whiskey bar and lounge.
In addition, Star Alliance Gold members can bring a guest into the lounge, whereas business class passengers typically aren’t allowed a guest. The other main benefit would be the extra baggage allowance, if the two-piece entitlement when travelling in business class isn’t quite enough.
So, now that we know what’s up for grabs, what are the best ways to earn Star Alliance Gold?
1. Amex Platinum, Shangri-La Jade, and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Right now, there’s a potentially lucrative “backdoor” method to Star Alliance Gold that’s available through the Amex Platinum Card, the Shangri-La Golden Circle hotel program, and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer.
Simply by holding an American Express Platinum Card, you’re entitled to an instant upgrade to Shangri-La Jade status, and activating it is simply a matter of going to the Amex website and clicking “Enroll”. (Note that the Business Platinum Card doesn’t grant Shangri-La Jade status, only the personal version.)
Now, Shangri-La and Singapore Airlines have a mutual partnership – holding Jade status within the Shangri-La program entitles you to an instant bump to KrisFlyer Silver with Singapore Airlines (and thereby Star Alliance Silver), as well as a fairly simple status challenge for Star Alliance Gold.
You’ll need to fly three segments on flights operated by Singapore Airlines or SilkAir within four months of registration; it doesn’t matter what class of service you’re flying, how long the flights are, or even what fare class you’re booked in – any three paid segments will do. (Points bookings and codeshare flights don’t count.)
If you’re headed to South East Asia anytime soon, a four-segment round-trip on Singapore Airlines and SilkAir can be booked for as little as around $250 between certain cities, and even if you can’t work that into your trip organically, it’s definitely a price at which many would find it worthwhile to “buy” Star Alliance Gold for the upcoming year. Just remember to register for the promotion at most four months prior to your scheduled trip.
Keep in mind, however, that the status you earn via Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer will only last for one year, and in future years you’ll need to re-qualify the “normal” way (i.e., by racking up 50,000 qualifying miles through flying), so this challenge will likely be a one-time affair for most of us.
2. Asiana Club: 40,000 Qualifying Miles Over Two Years
The next few strategies simply involve crediting the mileage on your paid flights to an airline frequent flyer program for that’s “easy” for earning Star Alliance Gold status. Remember, every airline sets their own elite levels and qualification requirements, and some airlines have set the bar for Star Alliance Gold much lower than others.
One program that makes it easy to earn Star Alliance Gold is Asiana Club by Asiana Airlines. Earning Asiana Diamond, the equivalent of Star Alliance Gold, requires earning 40,000 qualifying miles every two years, which is again far more generous than the de facto standard requirement across the alliance of 50,000 qualifying miles every year.
In addition, Asiana Diamond and Star Alliance Gold status can, in theory, last up to four years because of Asiana’s rather byzantine system of a 24-month qualification period followed by a 24-month validity period.
If you were to earn the 40,000 qualifying miles at the very start of your qualification period, you’d enjoy the benefits of Star Alliance Gold for several years to come.
Earning the 40,000 qualifying miles over two years could be as simple as crediting a handful of economy long-haul flights earning at the 50% rate, or even a single business-class long-haul flight earning at the 200% rate. As an example, a person flying Toronto–Vancouver–Hong Kong return trips in economy class would earn Star Alliance Gold via Asiana with five such trips over a two-year period.
Furthermore, after earning Star Alliance Gold, the threshold for re-qualifying during the following two-year period is even easier, at only 30,000 qualifying miles over the two years to enjoy the benefits for another subsequent two years.
3. Aegean Miles & Bonus: 36,000 Tier Miles + 6 Aegean Flights
In the past, Aegean Airlines Miles & Bonus has offered one of the most generous Star Alliance Gold opportunities in history (one which I had taken fully advantage of, but eventually allowed to lapse in 2017).
However, even now that they’ve changed up the program, Miles & Bonus might still be the easiest way to earn Star Alliance Gold.
You’ll need to get there in two steps: first, earning 12,000 Tier Miles and flying on two Aegean-operated segments to get to Miles & Bonus Silver (and thereby Star Alliance Silver), and after that, earning 24,000 Tier Miles and flying on four Aegean-operated segments to get to Miles & Bonus Gold (and thereby Star Alliance Gold).
In total, you’ll need 36,000 Tier Miles and six segments on Aegean-operated flights, which is considerably lower than the standard 50,000-mile threshold. This should be within reach for anyone with a few paid long-haul trips planned, especially in premium cabins.
Indeed, you might even be able to earn 36,000 Tier Miles with just one long-haul business class round-trip fare, since some discounted business fares, such as Air Canada’s “P” fare, still earn 200% miles with Aegean Miles & Bonus.
The complicating factor is that you’ll also need a few cheap segment runs on Aegean Airlines mixed in there – two segments to get you to Silver, followed by four segments to get to Gold – so this strategy might be best pursued by travellers with a particular weakness for the Greek islands.
(You can also earn Silver and Gold status without the Aegean-operated segments, but that would require 24,000 and 48,000 Tier Miles respectively, for 72,000 Tier Miles in total, and that no longer seems very attractive at all.)
Similar to Asiana Club, the other nice thing about Aegean Miles & Bonus is the ease of maintaining Gold status after achieving it. Once you’re Gold, you only need to earn 12,000 Tier Miles the next year while flying on two Aegean-operated segments, or earn 24,000 Tier Miles outright, in order to re-qualify for the following year.
4. Status Match & Challenge Offers
Finally, you can always look for status matches and status challenges regularly offered by Star Alliance airlines as a means to earn top-tier Star Alliance Gold status.
Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles deserves an honourable mention due to their historically generous status matches and challenges. If you have existing elite status with a OneWorld or SkyTeam airline, the Turkish Airlines status match promotion usually grants you Miles & Smiles Elite status (which corresponds to Star Alliance Gold) for four months, which then extends to one year upon taking at least one international flight on Turkish Airlines.
Air Canada’s recent status challenge also offers a route towards their Elite 50K level by way of WestJet Platinum status. Anyone who submits a screenshot indicating their WestJet Platinum status is eligible for the status challenge, which requires 10 Altitude Qualifying Segments (AQS) within a 90-day period to earn Elite 50K status.
My assistant Rachel was able to fly six Air Canada segments for around $360 to earn Elite 35K, so if you’re willing to sacrifice a second day of flying around in tiny puddle-jumpers, then two separate sets of five segments each should definitely be achievable for under $700 out-of-pocket.
Always be on the lookout for any other status matches or challenges from other Star Alliance airlines as well. In previous years, we’ve seen everything from Copa Airlines to the now-defunct Avianca Brazil offering very generous status matches directly to Star Alliane Gold, so I’ll definitely be updating this article in the future when the next such “golden” opportunity arrives.
Star Alliance Gold status won’t be useful for everyone; in fact, I personally gave up Star Alliance Gold two years ago when most of my flying shifted to business class and First Class tickets booked with frequent flyer miles.
But whether it’s due to a lack of flexibility or award availability, we’ll all need to book an economy class ticket at one point sooner or later, and having airline elite status would mean priority check-in, Gold Track security, a drink in the lounge, and priority boarding. Generally speaking, with Star Alliance Gold, the ground experience as an economy flyer improves greatly.
If you’re planning to visit South East Asia anytime soon, there’s a relatively easy opportunity to earn a year of Star Alliance Gold simply by holding an American Express Platinum Card and then taking a few flights on Singapore Airlines.
I also hope you’ll carefully consider where to credit your miles in the future if you’re flying on paid long-haul fares, since they can get you much closer to Star Alliance Gold if credited to a program like Aegean Miles & Bonus or Asiana Club compared than a more conventional choice like Air Canada Altitude.