September 2014 Update: Looks like Aegean has changed the terms of their plan. The party is officially over!!! New terms require 48,000 miles in a year to achieve Gold, and then 24,000 miles each year to retain it. Still one of the most generous plans in Star Alliance for keeping Gold status, but now where near as generous as what I talked about below!
If you love to travel as much as we do, having some sort of travel status in an airline is a must. Shorter lines to check-in. Waived baggage fees. Lounge access prior to flight.
On most North American airlines, flying 25,000 miles in one calendar year will give you the lowest level of status. On Star Alliance (United, US Air, Air Canada, etc.), this is called Star Alliance Silver. This is enough to waive fees for the first bag and special check-in privileges in some cases, but it won’t give you lounge access.
You start hitting the fun tiers when you fly 50,000 miles in a calendar year, which will give you Star Alliance Gold. Depending on the airline you achieve this with, will get a number of goodies, including upgrades to business class, and access to the airline lounges prior to flight.
But there are a few caveats: The biggest one being that if you have your Star Alliance Gold status through United or US Air, you can’t use their lounges unless you are flying on an international itinerary. Chicago to LA just doesn’t cut it! And to keep your status, you have to keep flying at least 50,000 miles EVERY YEAR. For many business travellers this is no problem (and they easily hit the 75,000 and 100,000 mile tiers), but for us mere mortals who only travel for fun, it’s a lot of work to fly on all those flights!
That’s where the magic of Aegean Airlines comes in. Aegean who? I must admit that I wasn’t aware of Aegean until a few years ago when I found out about this easy entry to the Star Alliance Gold club!
Aegean is based in Greece, and joined Star Alliance in the summer of 2010. When they entered the alliance they kept their tiers as they were, and just tacked on getting Star Alliance Silver and Gold when you reached them. So the rules to get status are very different than most other carriers, and are by far the easiest way to achieve and KEEP Star Allaince Gold status!
First of all, the basics: Go to www.aegeanair.com and sign up for an account. Currently, new members get 1,000 points free. Boom – free points. Wasn’t that easy?
Now for the math:
In order to get their first tier (Blue), you need to earn 4,000 miles in any 12 month period. You just earned 1,000 miles by signing up, so the clock has now started, and you now have 12 months to earn 3,000 more! (Yes, those free points count towards your status. This is one of the few times when you can get points towards status without actually flying with your butt in a seat!). Those 3,000 points can be earned by flying any Star Alliance carrier and crediting the miles to your Aegean account. (But note some warnings about certain carriers later in this blog entry)
OK, getting those 3,000 miles within a year is pretty easy if you like to travel. As soon as you hit the 4,000 total mile mark you will be sent an “Aegean Blue” card, which also gives you full Star Alliance Silver status. On United, US Air and Air Canada, this alone will allow you to check your first bag for free, so that could end up saving you a fair chunk of change.
Once you hit the 4,000 miles to get the Blue card, the 12 month clock mentioned above stops, and a new 12 month clock begins. You now have 12 months to collect 16,000 more miles (and miles you earned on the flight that took you over the 4,000 mark count – or at least the ones above the 4,000 mark). If you can get those 16,000 miles in within the year… BINGO, BANGO, you’ve now earned yourself an “Aegean Gold” card, which gives you Star Alliance Gold status.
Now here is the crazy part. According to the rules as they are currently written, all you have to do is credit one flight to Aegean every 36 months, and you will KEEP the Gold status! That’s right – unlike on United where you need to fly 50,000 miles EVERY YEAR to keep status, with Aegean you just need one flight every three years. (Note that there is some debate on this point, so to be on the safe side I plan to credit at least one flight a year to Aegean). And of course, Aegean has the right to change the rules whenever they want, and there are always rumours that they will (or will go bankrupt before they have a chance), but my view is that you might as well go for it and enjoy the party while you can!
And oh, remember that part above where I mentioned that United and US Air Star Alliance members can’t use the lounges for domestic itineraries? Well that doesn’t apply to Star Alliance Gold members who got the status from airlines outside the US!! So flying from Chicago to LA on United? Just show your Aegean Gold card at the United Club, and in you (and a guest) go.
One thing you do need to be careful of is the fare class that you are flying in when racking up those miles, particularly when flying on United metal. The cheapest fare classes on United (W, S, T, L and K) only credit 50% of the miles flown when you credit them to Aegean. And some fares on Air Canada and Lufthansa earn 0%! All US Air flights however earn 100%. A full chart of the earning percentages is here: http://en.aegeanair.com/milesandbonus/program-description/earn-miles/
So that’s about it. I’ve had the Aegean Gold card for about 2 years now, and have really enjoyed having the lounge access and baggage privileges. In another blog post I will discuss my experiences with actually redeeming the Aegean miles I earned towards a free ticket.