Star Alliance is the biggest airline alliance in the world with 28 member airlines including Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Avianca, Avianca Brazil, Brussels Airlines, Copa Airlines, Croatia Airlines, Egyptair, Ethiopian Airlines, EVA Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, SWISS, TAP Portugal, Turkish Airlines, THAI and United. In the second quarter of 2017 Shanghai-based Juneyao Airlines is set to become the Alliance’s “connecting member.”
Benefits of Star Alliance Tier Status
Star Alliance has two status levels: Star Alliance Silver and Star Alliance Gold. Star Alliance Silver has only two benefits, neither of which is groundbreaking.
- Priority Reservations Waitlist
- Priority Airport Standby
Real benefits come from attaining the Gold status, because in addition to the above you will get the following:
- Priority Airport Check-In
- Priority Baggage Handling
- Airport Lounge Access (to over 1,000 lounges for member and one guest flying on a Star Alliance carrier)
- Priority Reservation
- Waitlist Priority Boarding
- Extra Baggage Allowance (extra 44 pounds or one additional piece of luggage)
- Priority Security Clearance (Gold Track Security)
Earning Star Alliance Elite Status With United
- Premier Silver status gets you Star Alliance Silver
- Premier Gold, Platinum, and 1K get you Star Alliance Gold
- PQM–Premier Qualifying Miles
- PQS–Premier Qualifying Segments
- PQD–Premier Qualifying Dollars
For Premier Silver, you need 25,000 PQMs or 30 PQSs and $3,000 MQDs (Medallion Qualification Dollars). To reach Premier Gold, you need 50,000 PQMs or 60 PQSs and $6,000 PQDs. For our purposes, you can stop right there, because reaching Gold will get you the top Star Alliance Gold level.
How to Get Rid of the PQD Requirements
Spending $6,000 a year on United flights can be a problem if your company’s policy is putting you on the cheapest flight. Cheapest flights mean cheaper fare classes, which means low earning rates. Fortunately for us, United does offer a way to get your PQD requirement waived if you put enough spending on its qualifying credit cards.
Whether you want to go down this route and put that much spending on your credit card depends on how much you value Star Alliance Gold status. If you do a lot of international travel, then getting the status might be very valuable for you. If you don’t travel much internationally, you might find that the perks and benefits of the Star Alliance Gold status are overrated. For example, you won’t get access to United Club lounges on purely domestic routes.
And, of course, no status in the world is worth getting into credit card debt, so if you can’t pay your balance off every month, you might want to rethink your strategy.
Four Credit Cards That Will Grant You a PQD Waiver With Qualifying Spend
There are four United MileagePlus Credit Cards that will offer you the PQD waiver for meeting spending requirements.
- United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
- United MileagePlus® Explorer Business Card
- United MileagePlus® Club Card
- United MileagePlus® Club Business Card
United MileagePlus Explorer Cards
Both United MileagePlus Explorer Cards have identical benefits. You get a sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 in three months (50,000 miles at the time of writing) and you earn two miles per dollar on United purchases and one mile on everything else. In addition, you get a 10,000-mile bonus after putting $25,000 on the card in a calendar year. That comes in handy, because $25,000 is what you are required to spend in order to be eligible for the PQD waiver. If you are going this route anyway, that’s a nice extra perk.
There are more benefits to the United MileagePlus Explorer Cards, like a free checked bag, priority boarding, and two United Club passes annually. In addition, you’ll sometimes see a better award availability when you log in to your MileagePlus account, and the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year.
United MileagePlus Club Cards
Both United MileagePlus Club Cards have identical features. You earn two miles per dollar on United purchases and 1.5 miles per dollar on everything else. With 1.5 miles per dollar on all purchases, this is a better-earning United card. You will also get two free checked bags and Premier Access benefits, which is a nice set of services that are only available to Mileage Plus Premier and Star Alliance Gold members.
- Premier Access check-in: designated airport check-in lines
- Premier Access security lane: exclusive security lanes
- Premier Access priority boarding: among the first customers to board
- Premier Access priority baggage handling: among the first bags to be delivered
You’ll get a waiver on “close-in award booking fees” when you book the ticket three weeks before the flight. That benefit alone can save you $75 per per occurrence.
But the main feature of this card is free United Club membership, which is why its annual fee is a whopping $450. You do, however, get a $100 sign-up bonus after your first purchase to bring it down to $350 in the first year.The United Club Membership is a very valuable benefit that normally costs $550, and it includes access to both United Clubs and Star Alliance clubs. (To access the latter, though, you must be traveling on a Star Alliance ticket).
Your Spending Can Be Combined
You can combine spending across all eligible United cards and your authorized user spending counts toward the PQD waiver.
Is Chasing the Star Alliance Status Worth It?
To be clear, getting the Star Alliance Gold status is harder than reaching the more meaningful oneworld or SkyTeam tier levels. And it’s hard to recommend going through all these hassles unless you fly Star Alliance airlines a lot and almost exclusively.
For example, spending $50,000 on Delta credit cards can get you not only enough qualifying dollars (MQDs), but also enough qualifying miles (MQMs) to propel you to Gold status and corresponding SkyTeam Elite Plus status, even if you’ve never set a foot on a SkyTeam airline before. And there are plenty of American Express credit cards that can help you to achieve this goal.
Are There Alternatives?
If you fly United a lot and want to try and see whether you should chase the status, consider applying for the United MileagePlus Club Card instead.
It will cost $350 for the first year after the sign-up bonus, after which you can cancel it or continue to use if it suits your needs. Or you could cancel it and start chasing the status.
As a United MileagePlus Club Card member, you will already be entitled to Premier Access benefits. Granted these benefits are only available on United flights, not partners, but the lounge access that comes with the card is actually better than the one from the Star Alliance Gold level, since you can bring up to two people with you to any United Club lounge regardless which airline you fly.