To make air travel more enjoyable, and even less costly, Airfarewatchdog (www.airfarewatchdog.com) strongly recommends attaining elite status with a single airline -- and its respective alliance -- for the benefits. Some of the most popular perks include lounge access, priority check-in and security lines, and waived checked baggage fees or increased baggage allowances.
Star Alliance (www.staralliance.com), with its 27 member airlines, is arguably the best and certainly the largest of the three airline alliances. The other two are OneWorld (www.oneworld.com) and SkyTeam (www.skyteam.com). Star Alliance includes some of the world's most respected airlines, including Singapore, Lufthansa, Swiss, United, and SAS.
While many airlines offer fast-track promotions to attain elite status, such as by paying a fee to participate in a challenge (such as this US Airways offer), here's an insider track to attaining alliance-wide elite benefits.
Aegean Airlines (http://en.aegeanair.com), a Greece-based newcomer to Star Alliance, has the easiest path to Gold status with a low threshold of 20,000 status miles. (Most other programs require 50,000 miles to be flown before earning this top-tier status).
How does this work? First you have to sign up for the Aegean "Miles and Bonus" program. Then, when checking in for any Star Alliance-affiliated airline's flight, credit your miles to your Aegean membership number rather than the program affiliated with the airline you're flying. This means you will earn Aegean miles, which you can later redeem for Star Alliance award flights on any partner airline. For example, let's say you fly between New York and Los Angeles on Continental or United nonstop (roughly 5,000 miles round-trip) and provide your Aegean frequent flier number at check in. After four round-trip flights, you will have earned Star Alliance Gold status. Even after just one round-trip flight, you will have earned Star Alliance Silver status, which on Aegean requires only 4,000 miles. That entitles you to free checked bags, which can save hundreds of dollars over a period of time.
One caveat is that when crediting miles to the Aegean program, you pass up on the complimentary elite upgrades that United and Continental give their own elites on their flights.
So who should take advantage of this strategy? It's great for anyone who travels a lot internationally and wants access to lounges, priority check-in and security lines, and free checked bags. Or someone who does not care about first-class upgrades or flies on regional jets that don't have first class anyway. You are still earning miles with a Star Alliance program allowing you to redeem them on any Star Alliance airline. Star Alliance Gold status, when earned on a foreign-based carrier such as Aegean, also offers lounge access to four North American-based airlines' lounges, no matter what class of service you're flying, as this article explains.
And, once you attain elite status with Aegean, the bonus miles start piling up for each flight you take in addition to the actual miles flown.
Most United, Continental, and US Airways fares (the three Star Alliance airlines in the U.S.) are valid for earning status miles, but there are a few low fare classes that do not qualify (most are with Continental). Check this link for eligible fare classes.
More details about Aegean's Star Alliance Gold program can be found here.