Mulling over easy Star Alliance Gold status: Is it worth it?

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On last weekend’s Frequent Miler on the Air, Greg and I talked about the offer from Singapore KrisFlyer to earn easy Star Alliance Gold status during our “Mattress running the numbers” segment. We previously reported that Singapore is offering the chance to get Star Alliance Gold status by transferring 250,000 points from bank partners. Our verdict was that this promotion doesn’t make sense for most people, but it might for me.  It’s a stretch, but I’m considering it even though good sense tells me it is a ridiculous pursuit for most people (and also probably for me!).

This was A350 regional business class between Brisbane and Singapore, which features a full lie-flat seat.

Star Alliance Gold status benefits aren’t that valuable

Singapore’s Gold status doesn’t translate to much benefit when flying Singapore Airlines. Instead, the key benefit of this status is that it gets you Star Alliance Gold status and that is what initially drew my eye. Ultimately, I discovered that Star Alliance Gold status actually isn’t terribly interesting to me, though it may be for some readers. With this status, you’ll get the following benefits:

  • Star Alliance lounge access (including United Clubs within the US)
  • Priority check-in
  • Priority boarding
  • Extra baggage allowance
  • Priority baggage handling
  • Priority reservations waitlist
  • Priority airport stand-by
  • Complimentary upgrade to Business First Class on the Heathrow Express

Getting United lounge access when flying domestically within the US is a terrific benefit for someone who will travel often through airports with United Clubs. Even United elite members don’t get free access, so this could be worth a lot to someone who can often take advantage of United Clubs.

However, the rest of the benefits don’t excite me very much for a few reasons that are somewhat unique to my situation (though some of these may apply for a large segments of readers):

  • I have United Premier Silver status thanks to Marriott Titanium, so I already get priority check-in, priority boarding, and a free checked bag already. Marriott has made it quite easy to requalify for Titanium this year, so I will likely have United Silver again next year.
  • For the past 5 or 6 years, my international travels have almost exclusively been award travel in premium cabins. That means I already get lounge access since I’m traveling in business or first class as well as all of the other benefits of Star Alliance Gold status.
  • Priority baggage handling and priority stand-by likely wouldn’t make much difference in my travels

For my situation, United club access when flying domestically would really be the only meaningful benefit of Star Alliance Gold that I can’t already access. And if I really wanted United Club lounge access, I could get a credit card that includes it (along with 75K United miles) for $450 (or $525 for the consumer version) via one of the United Club credit cards. In fact, those who primarily fly United could replicate the major benefits of Star Alliance Gold by getting one of the United club credit cards (keep in mind that benefits like a free checked bag and priority boarding will only apply to you when when flying United). Getting status through Singapore preserves a 5/24 slot if you would rather not get a United card, but otherwise it isn’t hugely beneficial.

Again, as Greg said on the show last weekend, transferring 250K points to Singapore KrisFlyer just to get Star Alliance Gold status is pretty silly unless you can not get one of the United club cards and/or you frequently travel internationally in economy class (where Star Alliance lounge access might be an awesome benefit for free food and access to showers before and after long flights).

Opportunity cost is high

Above and beyond the fact that I don’t see a ton of value in the benefits of Star Alliance Gold status, there are some serious downsides to transferring 250,000 flexible points from Amex, Brex, Capital One, Chase, or Citi to Singapore.

  • Loss of flexibility. Transferring to Singapore means that I’d lose the flexibility to use those transferable points for the best partner for each trip I book.
  • I’d be locked into overpaying for awards. Over the next couple of years, I am most likely to book domestic travel or international travel to Europe or Asia. In any of those cases, Singapore just doesn’t offer the best value:
    • Singapore charges 12.5K each way for economy class within North America or 23K each way for business class. Turkish charges 7.5K / 12.5K each way for the same domestic flights or 10K/15K for international flights within North America (though booking through Turkish can be challenging). In many cases, Avianca LifeMiles would also be cheaper than Singapore for North American itineraries.
    • Singapore charges 72K each way for Singapore or Star Alliance business class to Europe. Compare that to the fact that LifeMiles offers one route to Europe for 35K miles in business class (and see an example in that post showing how to hack other routes under 50K). ANA charges 88K miles round trip for Star Alliance business class to Europe. Iberia charges just 34K each way on its nonstop flights from New York to Spain during off-peak dates. Transferring to Singapore ensures that I’ll overpay by at least 20% per passenger compared to what I’d have probably otherwise spent.
    • Singapore charges north of 100K each way for Star Alliance partner flights from the US to Asia whereas ANA (an Amex transfer partner charges about that round trip for business class on partners to Asia. In that example, booking via Singapore would cost me 100% more miles than booking on my own. They do charge as few as 73K miles each way on some of their own flights, but that still isn’t likely to be the best option.
  • Singapore miles expire after 36 months regardless of activity. Transferring into Singapore puts me on the clock.

By transferring to Singapore, I’d likely be paying at least 20% more for the awards I want (thereby “wasting” at least 50K miles, but possibly more). Is it worth overpaying for those awards in exchange for domestic United club lounge access? Probably not since I could get that and 75K United miles for ~$500 a year with the Club credit card (or just buy membership).

And all of that is to ignore that transferring over 250K points from a currency like Ultimate Rewards points means that in order to get the chance to overpay for the flights I want, I will also lock myself out of other redemptions with those points: the same number of points could be used to book 10 nights at a Category 6 Hyatt hotel (which could easily be worth thousands of dollars in some situations) or as many as 50 nights at a Category 1 Hyatt. Since we have a Chase Sapphire Reserve in our household, transferring 250K points to Singapore means giving up the chance to pay ourselves back for $3,750 in groceries.

Not all transferable currencies are created equally. I would be even less excited to transfer from Membership Rewards points given the multitude of Membership Rewards sweet spots. On the other hand, I’d find it easier to part  with Brex points — until I considered those Avianca LifeMiles sweet spots I’d be sacrificing.

Why I still might do it

Despite the fact that I will readily admit that the value proposition here is not only questionable, it’s just not good, I still might transfer 250K points to Singapore Krisflyer. Maybe. That’s for two main reasons:

  • For the blog
  • For leveraging status into matches elsewhere

The first point is that taking Singapore up on this opportunity would provide potentially interesting content for the blog. Truthfully, I don’t think this would be hugely beneficial for us since I’ve demonstrated above why most people shouldn’t be interested in this (at least not if only earning the status miles via transfers made solely for this promotion). Still, if I didn’t blog about this stuff I can’t imagine I’d consider it, so I’m including it as a factor.

However, the real reason I’m considering transferring 250K points to Singapore for easy Star Alliance Gold status is for the potential to leverage that status into meaningful status with another airline through a status match.

We’ve written before about hopping on a hotel status match-go-round. Airlines also frequently offer status matches or challenges. Picking up Singapore Airlines Gold status might give me an opportunity to match to elite status with an airline that has benefits that would be more meaningful for me.

For instance, Greg and I have a challenge scheduled this year (see Passing the GUC: Greg gives Nick global upgrade certificates…with a catch). One of the ways I can earn bonus points in our challenge is by using the challenge to earn elite status. There is a successful report from statusmatcher.com from October of 2019 of someone successfully matching Singapore Gold to Delta Platinum. Given the reduced path to Delta elite status via challenge and the increased earnings being offered this year, earning continued Platinum status and four valuable regional upgrade certificates might be within reach. Alternatively, even if I can’t get matched directly to Delta Platinum, maybe I could get a match to Alaska Mileage Plan instead. Alaska elite status would give me some excellent benefits both when traveling on Alaska and when traveling on American Airlines. Picking up Singapore Gold status now might position me to to earn an elite status or two that I can then re-match in the future to keep elevated benefits for years to come. Maybe.

Most airlines programs want to see a screen shot of flight activity to consider a status match. I can’t show any of that over the past year. I’m hoping that perhaps the fact that most people can’t will be working in my favor, but it’s worth noting that status matches typically require showing more than just a status card, so my realistic chances of getting matched might not be great (though I’m not afraid to try multiple avenues for matching my way around).

If I’m going to do this, should I do it sooner rather than later?

Singapore says that they are offering the ability to earn elite status points from bank transfers until Feb 2022. The status should last for a year from when it is earned. It would therefore make the most sense to hold off on transferring the necessary 250K points to Singapore until you’re positioned to leverage the benefits of Star Alliance Gold status (or as late as possible). However, in my case, we’ve established that I don’t much value the benefits of Star Alliance Gold status but rather the chance to take a shot at more meaningful elite status with other airlines.

I am partly inclined to think that if there is any chance of getting Delta status out of this, I might need to be on the early end of this promotion and request a match before a flood of Delta status match requests come in from newly-minted Singapore Gold members (though on the other hand, since I’ve established that this promo won’t make sense for most people, maybe no such flood is coming). Related but separately, I think that starting this process sooner rather than later would give me some time to recover from fumbles: for instance, if Delta turns down my request to match directly from Singapore, I would like to have the time to knock on Alaska’s door for a status match (and maybe later American’s) to then see if I can parlay that into status with Delta. Giving myself some lead time would be good.

But matching sooner than necessary is exceptionally dumb for a couple of reasons:

  1. It gives me less time to gather some sense and convince myself not to do any of this.
  2. It starts the 36-month clock on the Singapore miles.

Singapore KrisFlyer miles are good for 36 months from when you earn them with no way to extend them (maybe Singapore will let you pay a fee to extend them for a while, but it wouldn’t be a good deal). If I transferred points to Singapore today, I’d start an expiration clock that doesn’t make much sense: I already have my 2021 travel booked (and I’m more than likely to cancel most of it) and I’m not hurrying to book 2022 travel yet. Transferring flexible points to start an expiration clock right now is nuts.

Bottom line

Getting easy Stat Alliance Gold status sounds interesting until you consider that the benefits of that status may not be particularly useful. If I were actively looking to book a trip with Singapore KrisFlyer miles, I would certainly be happy to earn toward elite status as a fun added bonus; transferring so many flexible points to Singapore for elite status alone just doesn’t make sense. Still, I might end up doing it – but instead of doing it for Star Alliance Gold status I would be doing it with hopes to match to Greg’s coveted Delta elite status for a few regional upgrades and bragging rights (and the hopes to then parlay that into another meaningful status match down the road that keeps me on the status-match-go-round for an extended ride). That’s a lot of dreaming about possibilities rather than probabilities that likely doesn’t justify going after the Singapore status promotion. Given that the promo lasts until February, there is plenty of time for me to find a situation where transferring to Singapore makes sense for an intended trip. I’ll hold off on transferring right now, but this Singapore promo is still going to continue to mull around in my mind and draw at me in exactly the kind of illogical way that loyalty programs hope to leverage their programs to drive irrational decision-making. Well played on that front, Singapore. We’ll see which of us ultimately wins.

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