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When a hotel or airline loyalty program puts introduces an apparently unnecessary devaluation I can’t help but wonder if they truly understand how they’re helping to make the competition look better…and that’s how I feel about Star Alliance right now.
3rd party lounges (also sometimes called “contract lounges”) are lounges that are not run by an airline or a global alliance but, instead, are run by independent operators who charge the airlines to grant their elites complimentary access in locations where those airlines don’t have a lounge or partner lounge for their elites to use.
A couple of weeks ago we discovered that United Airlines had decided to remove access to 3rd party lounges for Star Alliance Gold members traveling on its aircraft outside of its Business Class cabin and, in a move that appears timed to match United’s regressive step, Star Alliance has now updated its lounge access policy to allow its members to choose not to offer Star Alliance Gold members access to 3rd party lounges at all (HT: VFTW)
It’s interesting to note that until Star Alliance updated its lounge access policy it would appear as if United was in breach of that policy courtesy of the change it announced two weeks ago.
If Star Alliance wanted to make oneworld look better or if it wanted to make Priority Pass membership look more attractive it really couldn’t have done a better job (Priority Pass membership will grant access to a lot of 3rd party lounges that Star Alliance Gold is no longer good for).
While oneworld Sapphire and Emerald flyers get lounge access worldwide regardless of what cabin they’re booked into, Star Alliance is now effectively giving its members the green light to refuse lounge access to some of its most loyal flyers if they find themselves in a location where Star Alliance airlines don’t have their own lounge.
What’s the point? I cannot imagine that giving Star Alliance Gold members access to 3rd party lounges is genuinely costing the airlines or the alliance a significant amount of money…so why do away with the benefit?
This move reeks of cheapness.
How To Tell If You’ll Be Affected
If you have Star Alliance Gold status you’ll only be affected if…
- You’re traveling in Economy/Premium Economy out of an airport or a terminal where Star Alliance airlines don’t have a lounge of their own and…
- If your airline is United Airlines or is an airline that in the coming weeks/months chooses to cut lounge access to Star Alliance Gold members who aren’t traveling in Business Class (or higher).
Amsterdam is a good example of one such location – the Star Alliance lounge finder tool shows that although the airport offers a Star Alliance branded lounge it’s located in the Schengen area of the airport and is therefore of not much use to travelers flying outside of Europe.
There are four other lounges in Amsterdam (2 are non-Schengen) that various Star Alliance airlines use for their elite flyers…but all four are 3rd party/contract lounges and would therefore not be available to non-Business Class Star Alliance Gold elites if the airline they’re flying chooses to remove 3rd party lounge privileges just like United has done.
How To Get Around This Issue
Most 3rd party/contract lounges belong to one or more of the big worldwide lounge programs (like Priority Pass) so if you have a membership in one of those programs you’re not reliant on your airline granting you access to 3rd party lounges when you choose to fly in one of the cheaper cabins.
Priority Pass comes as a benefit of a whole host of premium credit cards in the US (e.g. the Platinum Card® from American Express, the Business Platinum Card® from American Express, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve card) or, if you don’t have access to these cards, you could consider a membership plan taken out directly with Priority Pass.
Note: before you rush into getting a credit card with Priority Pass membership or rush into a membership directly with Priority Pass, make sure you make a proper assessment of how much this United Airlines/Star Alliance move will have on you.
It may be that your travel patterns don’t take you anywhere near an airport where there isn’t a dedicated airline lounge you can use or that all the airlines you fly are civilized and choose not to remove benefits from flyers for no good reason.
Do your research before diving in.
Outside of persuading some flyers to make sure they have a Priority Pass membership and making the oneworld alliance benefits look even better than they already did (in comparison to Star Alliance pathetic offering) I’m not entirely sure what Star Alliance hopes to achieve here. Thus is certainly not going to be a huge money-saver.
It’s entirely possible that United went rogue with its decision to remove 3rd party lounge access from Star Alliance Gold members and that the alliance, rather than stand up to the cheapness of one of its founding members, decided to change its rules so that United was no longer in breach.
If that’s the case it’s a toss-up to decide which is the more pathetic – the airline that keeps cutting benefits or the alliance with fewer balls than a eunuch?