The topic of loyalty programmes is close to my heart. I am the queen of points. But I am also a believer in quality vs quantity. Currently, I carry one frequent flyer card and one frequent stayer (hotel) card. Others are kept in drawers or god knows where.
We are conditioned by where we live and the airlines that serve our “home” airports. If you live in Paris, it is pretty likely that you will join the Air France programme, part of Sky Team. If you live in London or New York, you have more choices. This is an obvious point that I believe most people forget. I was a Star Alliance Silver cardholder for over eight years, via TAP Portugal. The more I flew with other airlines within Star Alliance, the more frustrated I became. Using frequent flyer miles for free flights or upgrades with TAP wasn’t a huge problem, but being a very regular traveller (three to four times per week), the one thing I valued was lounge access. The Lisbon lounge was OK and I was allowed access, unless I had a ticket issued by another Star Alliance carrier. This drove me mad. Imagine flying to Istanbul, via Zurich, with Swiss and Turkish Airlines, with stopovers, and being unable to access the lounge. Why should I bother flying with those Star Alliance members?
Another thing that frustrated me was the fact that luggage policies were different from airline to airline, and I found myself arguing every time I checked in my “extra” 15kgs, which was a benefit of my card with TAP. At Heathrow, even with all Star Alliance carriers grouped together, not all check-in staff are in the loop. I resorted to carrying a print out of the website rules.
My partner had always been a member of the British Airways Executive Club. While I was a Blue member, he was Silver. As his guest, I was given lounge access. I could also fast-track security. Surely it made sense for me to keep my status on Star Alliance, and for him to keep his on OneWorld (BA)? Not quite. With Star Alliance, I couldn’t take him into the lounge, or fast-track together, whereas I was granted both privileges travelling as his guest. OneWorld won hands down. Being Silver in Star Alliance doesn’t equate to Silver on OneWorld. I started flying with BA via London every time we went to the US or even somewhere in Europe and was surprised that it was generally better value (and I love that they serve Gin & Tonic in any class). With our honeymoon ticket, I attained Silver status.
I started flying with BA via London every time we went to the US or even somewhere in Europe and was surprised that it was actually better value (and I love that they serve Gin & Tonic in any class)
So, does status really matter? From my point of view, yes. It translates into obvious benefits:
• Being able to book a specific seat when I buy my ticket (although the first five Economy rows seem to be blocked until four days before the flight – I don’t understand why, and I hate the extra time and effort required to get a first-off-the-plane single-digit seat number).
• Having more luggage allowance every time I fly, in addition to the cabin’s standard policy, so no arguing at airports. This is worth a lot to me: British Airways allow one piece of cabin baggage in Economy, two in Club World and three in First. With a Gold or Silver card, you are permitted an extra piece on top of that allowance.
• Having lounge access to every OneWorld Alliance lounge if I travel with a OneWorld carrier. All OneWorld carriers have a colour code which detail the different member programmes. If you are BA Silver, that’s AA Platinum with Diamonds Encrusted. I exaggerate, but if you have a little sapphire or emerald dot on your card, you are good to go. And again, no arguing at the lounge door. Ever. Plus you can always bring a guest, which is a nice touch.
• Benefiting from Priority Check-in. I really appreciate this, no matter what class I am travelling in.
• Being given fast-track boarding and fast-track security access for myself and a companion, although only in UK airports. I know airlines have to pay for this in other airports, but they should. Fast-track should be available everywhere.
• Being given frequent flyer miles – for free flights and upgrades.
• Being allowed to pay for upgrades through the BA “Manage my Booking” system or mobile app (this is a huge benefit, which I love).
When I stopped using Star Alliance, they sent me a “goodwill” Silver card, valid for two years. I was surprised. And pleased. Initially. Then, when checking in for one particular flight, I was told I couldn’t have my extra 15kg of free luggage as my card wasn’t “real”
How you move from one tier to another depends on the airline. Star Alliance operates on actual miles travelled, whereas BA has the concept of Tier Points, which are allocated depending on your fare, route and cabin. As a point of improvement, I would suggest that this is made clear before you book a ticket. As it stands, you only find out afterwards. TAP Portugal and Swiss have a good booking system which offers various fare options in both Economy and Business class, and if you pay more, you get more points. Whether you choose to do it or not is totally up to you, but it is transparent.
To attain BA Silver status you need 600 Tier Points. That’s three Europe to US Premium Economy trips (180 tier points each) plus a couple of European flights (20 tier points for each economy return flight or 80 in Club Europe). That equates to a spend of approximately €3000.
When I stopped using Star Alliance, they sent me a “goodwill” Silver card, valid for two years. I was surprised. And pleased. Initially. Then, when checking in for a flight, I was told I couldn’t have my extra 15kg of free luggage as my card wasn’t “real”. I was so offended, I vowed never to fly with them again. And I haven’t.