Airline airport lounge access varies greatly, Each airline, alliance, and class of service changes which lounge one can access. There are several ways to gain entrance to a lounge. These include club membership, credit cards, elite status, and/or class of service. The issue though is that not all access is granted the same across all airlines or alliances. On a recent trip, I discovered that Star Alliance has the most restrictive lounge access policy of any of the three major alliances. The Star Alliance is the only alliance that does not allow premium class passengers who are not elite frequent flyers to access lounges on every segment of their journey.
Star Alliance Lounge Access policy
The Star Alliance has several different policies depending on airline club membership, class of service, or alliance status. Yet, for premium passengers who may not be loyal to alliance, Star Alliance offers the least access.
Star Alliance official policy:
International First Class Customer, you have access to International First Class and any Star Alliance member carrier’s own lounges at the airport where your flight departs (not including ultra-premium exclusive lounges*) if the following conditions are met:
You present a boarding pass in International First Class on a Star Alliance member airline operated flight
Your flight departs on the same day of your visit or latest by 05.00 AM next morning.
The lounge shows the Star Alliance Logo at the entrance. You are entitled to bring one guest travelling on any Star Alliance flight departing from the same airport on the same day.
International Business Class Customers:
As an International Business Class Customer you have access to any Star Alliance member carrier’s owned Business Class lounge at the airport where your flight departs, if the following conditions are met:
- You present a boarding pass in International Business Class on a Star Alliance member airline operated flight
- Your flight departs on the same day of your visit or latest by 05:00 AM the next morning
- The lounge shows the Star Alliance Gold logo at the entrance
You are not entitled to bring any guests.
Notice the keywords here, “at the airport where your flight departs.” This means if you are connecting in a lower class of service you do not have lounge access. Premium class passengers who do not have Star Gold benefits only get lounge access at point of departure of the flight in the premium cabin.
When this Hurts Passengers
Let’s pretend here and think of different scenarios. If you were to fly Air New Zealand Los Angeles to London in Business class and connect to Swiss Air in economy to Geneva. Unless you have Star Gold status, lounge access in London could be denied. The same is true in reverse. In Geneva there would be no lounge access.
Or even worse, imagine you’re in First class for your flight. Unfortunately, you have to make a domestic connection in the USA. One might fly Frankfurt to Chicago in First or Business Class on Lufthansa and then connect to Omaha with United in economy. Due to this policy, lounge access in Chicago could be denied. As United’s policy for Star Alliance premium class passengers states, “Customers may only access a United Club location at the departure airport for their international Business class flight.”
Real life Lounge Access Denial
I was traveling Seattle to Vancouver on Air Canada. The flight only offers economy class; therefore I was in economy. In Vancouver, I connected to Lufthansa First Class to Munich. On my way to the gate, I wanted to explore the newer United Club. Upon entering the lounge and scanning my boarding card, I was denied access.
Denied? What a surprise, I’m flying international long haul First Class. The agent was very friendly and apologetic, but explained that because I was booked in an Air Canada Economy and then Lufthansa First, I could only have lounge access in Vancouver, not Seattle. She claims that Air Canada will not pay or reimburse United for my visit. She also said that this is a common issue.
I was honestly shocked. A premium First Class passenger denied access to a lounge? I was opting to fly Seattle to Vancouver to Munich because Lufthansa does not offer First Class from Seattle. Immediately, the premium experience was adulterated.
Comparing Lounge access policies
Star Alliance has the strictest and most backward lounge access policies. Both Skyteam and OneWorld grant lounge access on all segments of the itinerary. Both other alliances recognize that premium cabins are not available on all routes.
Oneworld Lounge access policy:
First and Business Class customers connecting on the same day of travel, or before 6am the following day, can access the lounge when travelling between an international long haul (a oneworld international long haul flight is defined as an international flight marketed and operated by any oneworld carrier with a scheduled flight time longer than 5 hours) and an international short haul or domestic flight (and vice-versa).
Lounge access will be determined on the international long haul ticketed flight (either First of Business Class) regardless of the ticketed class of travel on the international short haul or domestic flight.
You must be prepared to show your boarding pass or itinerary showing travel in First or Business class on the international long haul flight, in order to access the lounge before your international short haul or domestic flight.
Skyteam Lounge access Policy
All First and Business Class passengers traveling on, or connecting to/from, a same-day international flight operated by a SkyTeam member airline have access to a lounge. Lounge access will be provided only at your departure and transfer airports, and not on arrival. For connecting customers, both the domestic and international flights must be operated by a SkyTeam member airline and all segments need to be booked in First or Business Class. Simply present your First or Business Class boarding passes for the lounge agent to validate for admission.
Star Alliance- Not for the infrequent Premium Passenger
A passenger who is seeking the best experience from departure to arrival may weigh their options before choosing Star Alliance. Part of the premium flight experience is the ground experience. Star Alliance ruins this experience for passengers connecting between airlines in some markets. It would be fantastic if every route everywhere had a premium cabin, however that is not economical.
Star Alliance needs to look at their competition and reconsider their lounge access policy for premium passengers. There is zero reason why a First or Business class passenger should not have lounge access at all airports, on all segments. Skyteam and Oneworld, I applaud you, as you both realize the importance of this. Star Alliance, learn from your competition.
What are your thoughts, should lounge access be granted for premium passengers at all airports all the time?