Recently, I started planning for our trip to Portugal. I have a firm handle on hotels and locations, but needed to start looking at air carriers. Since I am planning this trip on a budget, I want to save as much money as possible on airfare. That means I need to pick a frequent flyer program that allows me to start earning miles NOW.
I ran some preliminary queries on Google Flights to determine the best Airlines and Airports for both smooth and economical travel to Portugal. What I found was that most of the airlines that I would be considering all belong to a group called Star Alliance. The problem is, I knew nothing about their program or how it works. An Alliance is a whole new concept for this Rookie!
I read a few articles from The Points Guy, but they were pretty “high level” for me and I finished them with more questions than answers. I reviewed the Star Alliance Website but still felt uncertain on some things. My next thought was to search the program at Your Mileage May Vary because they explain things in way that is easier for me to understand. I did come away with a better understanding of the program.
WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT STAR ALLIANCE
Star alliance is a Network of 28 Airlines that partnered in order to provide an improved travel experience for their passengers. Combining forces makes for seamless connections, increased reliability and allows for constant innovations to make our travel smoother and more comfortable.
There is no single Star Alliance Frequent Flyer Program. You need to join one of the programs offered by any of the Member Airlines. Membership in any of the programs gives you full access to the whole Star Alliance network, with no need to register with any additional program. By using a single Frequent Flyer Program whenever you fly, you can reach a higher status faster.
Whenever you fly with one of the member airlines, you will need to provide your frequent flyer number when booking your flight or when checking in, and the miles or points will be credited to your account automatically.
With Star Alliance, you can use your accumulated miles or points to purchase a flight or an upgrade into a higher class of travel. You can redeem miles for an award ticket on any member airline, no matter which of their Frequent Flyer Programs you earned your miles on.
The member airlines share common ticketing and check-in counters as well as lounges, baggage facilities and other services. To ensure you always make your connections, they run real time tracking on passengers and baggage from their Connection Centers.
THE 28 MEMBER AIRLINES
- Adria Airways
- Aegean Airlines
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air India
- Air New Zealand
- Asiana Airlines
- Austrian Airlines
- Avianca Brasil
- Brussels Airlines
- Copa Airlines
- Croatia Airlines
- Ethiopian Airlines
- EVA Air
- LOT Polish Airlines
- Shenzen Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- South African Airways
- Swiss International
- TAP Portugal
- Thai Airways International
- Turkish Airlines
WHAT I STILL NEED TO FIGURE OUT
Currently, I do not belong to a Frequent Flyer program for any of the Star Alliance Member Airlines. I am trying to Figure out which one of the 28 programs is the best one for me to sign up for base on these key features:
- Ease of earning points
- User friendliness of site or app
- A good selection of Points Transfer Partners
- A simple process for redemption.
The primary airlines that I am looking at for our trip are TAP, Lufthansa, Air Canada, and Swiss. So far the best routes I have found are direct flights from Chicago to Lisbon on TAP. I have also found some workable schedules on Lufthansa and understand that both are great airlines.
Air France or KLM are unlikely options, but if I found the right scenerio I would be willing to book it. I am a Delta Skymiles Member and could apply my points to the airfare. They have a whole different set of points transfer partners and belong to the Sky Team Alliance instead of the Star Alliance.
TAP has a program called Miles & Go and Lufthansa’s program is Miles & More. Although I have no desire to fly with United, they have the Mileage Plus program. I just need a program to accrue points in that will transfer within the Star Alliance group. Since the best way to earn points is through signing up for their credit card, I also reviewed each of their programs to see what their credit card offers were in terms of sign up bonuses.
TAP Miles & Go
Although it looks like they have Credit Cards, they are pretty hard to figure out. I am not seeing any lucrative sign on bonuses.
I think it may be wiser for me to use either the Lufthansa or United programs.
Lufthansa Miles & More
Their program seems easy enough to use and they have a Barclays Credit Card. The card has a sign on offer of 20,000 award miles after your first purchase and payment of the annual fee, then an additional 30,000 award miles after you make $5,000 in purchases within the first 90 days. Annual fee is $89.
Although 50,000 points is a good points start, $5,000 in spend over 90 days is a lot to manage.
United Explorer Mileage Plus
This program has the United Explorer Mileage Plus by Chase Credit Card. It has a sign on offer of 40,000 miles after making $2,000 in purchases in 90 days. The annual fee is $95 but waived for the first year.
Earning 40,000 miles with a $2,000 spend in 90 days seems very attainable. The program seems easy enough and the first year annual fee is waived. Lots of positives here.
You can also transfer points from other Rewards Programs to the United Mileage Plus Program.
- Chase Ultimate Rewards Points transfer at a 1:1 Ratio
- Marriott Points transfer at a 2:1 Ratio
- Hyatt Points transfer at an ugly 2.5:1 Ratio, Yikes!
- IHG Points transfer at an even uglier 5:1 Ratio. (Best to save them for our Hotel Stays on the trip)
I am leaning toward the United Mileage Plus program but should I sign up for the Explore Mileage Plus card or a universal card like Chase Sapphire Preferred.
- The United Explorer Card offers 40,000 miles which is a decent credit card sign up bonus for spending $2,000 over 90 days.
- The Chase Sapphire card offers a 50,000 points bonus for spending $4,000 over 90 days. The benefits are otherwise fairly similar.
Opening one of these accounts would give me a good points boost toward tickets or upgrades with one of the Star Alliance Member airlines. Once I have chosen a miles program, I will be able to determine how many points we will need to have for our airfare. For now that is still a variable.
Figuring all this out is actually pretty complex for a Rookie like me. I still have a lot of uncertainties about what the best strategy is. I will continue to comb through articles and follow travel blogs for the next few months before making any final decisions.
If you have any advice to share from your own experiences with these programs, please leave a comment.
Wish me luck!