What are the real benefits of having a Star Alliance Gold card?

Lufthansa First Class, Business Class and Star Alliance Gold sign at Frankfurt airport
Lufthansa First Class, Business Class and Star Alliance Gold sign at Frankfurt airport, Photo: Oliver Roesler, Lufthansa

One of the great benefits of having frequent flyer status with an airline, which is a member of one of the three large airline alliances, is that your tier status will also be honoured when flying on another airline in the same alliance.

Within Star Alliance there are two alliance-wide tier levels – Star Alliance Silver and Star Alliance Gold.

Star Alliance Silver is the first tier level after the entry level and although you do not get a great deal of extra benefits at least you get priority on waiting lists. Some airlines may also offer business class check-in and then there are of course some extra benefits when you travel with your ‘home carrier’. Star Alliance Silver is equivalent to ‘Skyteam Elite’ in the Skyteam alliance and ‘OneWorld Ruby’ in the OneWorld alliance.

Star Alliance Gold is the top tier level and one which really makes a difference with priority check-in, fast track, lounges, priority boarding and priority baggage delivery. It is equivalent to ‘Skyteam Elite Plus’ in the Skyteam alliance and ‘OneWorld Sapphire’ in the OneWorld alliance.

Although some airlines may offer a Diamond or Platinum level in their programs, or various invitation-only levels, when you travel on another Star Alliance carrier you will still be Star Alliance Gold. There is no such thing as ‘Star Alliance Platinum’ or ‘Star Alliance Diamond’, although there have been discussions about introducing such a level, but so far no agreement has been made. The only alliance offering something similar is OneWorld with its Emerald level.

So what do you actually get with a Star Alliance Gold card?

Well you can rather easily find out and read about this on the Star Alliance webpage, so there is no point in repeating all of it. But what does it mean in practice? What do you really get? This on the other hand will be explained below, based on personal experiences.

Priority Reservations Waitlist

This means that if your flight is full but you really want to get on that flight, in a specific class of travel, and you are being placed on a waitlist, you will have priority on that list ahead of other passengers who are only Star Alliance Silver or who do not have status at all.

In practice you need to travel on some kind of flexible ticket to use this. If you travel on an award ticket the benefit is of no use, just like if you travel on a cheap non-flexible ticket. But if you require a lot of flexibility in your life, for example because of your job, and you may end up with last minute changes, then it could be useful.

Priority Airport Stand-by

This is very similar to the previous benefit but happens at the airport, for example if you want to get on an earlier flight. Again this requires you to travel on a flexible ticket where the ticket rules allow changes to be made, either for free or at a charge.

It is worth noting that this benefit could also be of huge significance during bad weather and cancellations when you may get higher priority for rebooking to another flight ahead of other passengers.

Priority Airport Check-in

Check in at the business class counter, the first class counter or the Gold counter at the airport, depending on the individual airline.

If you travel frequently with checked luggage it does save some time. If you mostly travel with hand luggage and can check in online or using an app you may very rarely get to use this benefit.

Extra Baggage Allowance

The standard procedure is to offer either one extra piece of checked luggage or 20 kg extra weight allowance on top of what is included in your ticket, and depending on if the ‘piece concept’ or the ‘weight concept’ are used.

This benefit is great if you often travel with a lot of checked luggage, or perhaps if you do so when you go on holiday.

Keep in mind though that more and more airlines are introducing hand baggage-only fares. Some airlines give this benefit also on these tickets, which thus mean you get one piece of luggage to check free of charge instead of no free checked allowance at all, while others do not honour this benefit on these tickets, which means you will have to pay  even as a gold card holder.

Gold Track

Fast track through security is easily one of the best benefits of having a gold card, especially during peak hours on weekdays and during the holiday seasons when many seasoned travellers and families pass through the airport and require more time at the security control, which is perfectly understandable, but time-consuming.

‘Gold Track’, which is mentioned on the Star Alliance webpage, is the Star Alliance brand of the fast track service provided by Star Alliance carriers at some airports around the world. The Gold Track signage is easily recognisable and looks virtually the same at all airports.

At many other airports fast track is also provided to Star Alliance Gold but it is up to each individual member airline to decide if they want to pay for it. If an airline has contracted the airport fast track at a specific airport it is usually available also to Star Alliance Gold members of other airlines.

Airport Lounge Access

This is for most passengers the best benefit of being Star Alliance Gold. There are lounges available at hundreds of airports around the world and you get in irrespective of ticket and cabin class booked.

The services offered in at airport lounges vary significantly from lounge to lounge (you can read a lot of reviews in the lounge review section) but most lounges offer some kind of food and snacks, something to drink (often including complimentary alcoholic beverages), Wi-Fi and a place to work and relax.

The lounges designated “Star Gold” (with a Star Gold sign at the entrance) are the ones operated by a Star Alliance member airline. You can visit all of these irrespective of which member airline you fly on and irrespective of cabin class. At some airports there are more than one “Star Gold” lounge in the terminal (like at London Heathrow or Hong Kong) and then you can of course visit several lounges if you want.

Some airlines like Lufthansa, Swiss and SAS also offer dedicated gold card lounges where you do not get in with just a business class ticket.

At airports where there are no Star Alliance lounges an airline can contract third-party lounges for their premium passengers. Many airlines do so whenever there is a third-party lounge at the airport but some do not and some only at a selection of airports. If an airline has contracted a third-party lounge it will be available to all Star Alliance Gold member when flying on that airline. So irrespective of what airline program you are member of you need to check if the airline you will fly on has contracted a specific lounge.

Priority Boarding

Star Alliance Gold members are usually invited to board first together with first class and business class. For a long time this did not work particularly well on shorthaul flights within Europe but it is getting better. On longhaul flights there are usually boarding groups.

To some passengers priority boarding may be of little importance. You can choose to stay in the lounge as long as possible or even arrive at the airport as late as possible, rather than being one of the first to board and having to spend even more time in the seat.

Most passengers who appreciate this benefit value being able to board without not too many people pushing behind and without having to queue in the jet bridge or in the aisle. Also on narrowbody/shorthaul aircrafts the space for cabin baggage may be limited, but there will naturally be space available if you are one of the first to board.

Priority Baggage Handling

If you have a Star Alliance Gold card you will get a priority tag attached to your regular baggage tag. The standard one is red but there are variations.

The priority tag should mean in practice that you bag will be one of the first ones at the baggage carousel at the destination airport. In reality the quality of this service varies considerably. On shorthaul flights around Europe sometimes it makes no difference whatsoever. It generally works better on longhaul flights and on flights operated by an aircraft with luggage containers, like an Airbus A320, rather than on a Boeing 737 where there are no containers. When a container is used it is easier to have a dedicated one for priority luggage which is loaded last and offloaded first.

Priority baggage also works significantly better in some regions of the world like Asia and Oceania.

Unofficial Star Alliance Gold benefits

Some airlines block the adjacent seat to a Star Alliance Gold passenger onboard, especially in economy class to get some more space. This means the adjacent seat will be one of the last to be offered to other passengers. When this is offered it is an unpublished benefit and never something you are entitled to. Consider it an extra bonus if it happens. If you really need an empty adjacent seat or an empty middle seat, book a business class ticket.

Some airlines may also provide some recognition onboard. It may be the purser who comes to greet you after takeoff, sometimes using names, or it may be that you can select your choice of main course ahead of the other passengers, to make sure you get your first choice. Again this is never guaranteed.

So is Star Alliance Gold worth it?

Well it really depends on your travel patterns and your needs. If most of your flights are in first class or business class you get most of these benefits anyway. If you fly a lot longhaul you may spend a lot of time travelling but less time at airports, where you get most of the benefits.

The main advantage is if you travel frequently on shorthaul flights and in economy class. You visit airports frequently and  you may have a lot of time to kill which can be spent in lounges, where you can also get something to eat (which is not always the case onboard, at least for free). Priority on standby and waitlists may also be useful in case of last-minute changes, and the gold card is invaluable in case of bad weather, strikes, cancellations and other unexpected circumstances.

About MorePremium.com 1018 Articles
My interest in premium travels and frequent travels started in the 90’s, so to date I have over 20 years of premium travel experience. MorePremium.com will mostly be about my own experiences, based on my own knowledge and my travel history, but you will also find news items, analyses, tips and tricks and reports from events.

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