With the news this week that the popular Miles & Bonus program, Aegean Airline’s frequent flyer program, was going to be adjusting how status was earned and retained, many people expressed their great disappointment. But, for the most part, it was not anger mixed with that disappointment because no one really thought that the program, as constructed, could exist for too long of a time.
The Old (Current) Miles & Bonus Program
The way it worked was that you only needed to earn 20,000 miles in a calendar year (1,000 of which they gave you upon signing up) to have Aegean Gold status, and thereby Star Alliance Gold status, for a period of three years. To cause the status to continue, you only needed to credit one flight to Aegean within that three year period to reset the status clock.
That is beyond generous – it is outrageous! Fortunately, it was outrageous to our benefit. 🙂 Such an easy to attain status meant that it was possible to get access to Star Alliance lounges cheaply as well as have all the priority benefits of Star Alliance Gold. However, it was not cheap for Aegean who paid real money (some say around $20 per visit) to a Star lounge anytime an Aegean member swiped their card. Judging by how many Aegean Gold cards I saw being swiped at lounges around Europe, I am sure that had to be a hit to the program. The good part, for Aegean, was that miles were being credited to their accounts and many people did not care about actually using the miles (to see some good redemption ideas, check out this post).
However, all of that comes to an end this November 24 as they switch to a new program and change things up. But, is the change all bad? Let’s take another look at the new program and see.
The New Miles + Bonus Program
For US flyers, we are used to airlines changing a frequent flyer program and sticking it to the travelers that fly on the cheapest fares. Thanks to Delta and United, we have had devaluations in how we spend our miles and, as of next year, devaluations in how we earn our miles. These devaluations are really only devaluations for the flyer who tries to economically get from point A to point B (with a few out-of-the-way points thrown in along the way 🙂 ). The passengers who throw down the big bucks for their tickets actually make out quite well under the new program.
So, when we hear about another program (that many of us are tied into) is announcing change with a positive flair, we begin to grip our seats and prepare for the worst. But, after really taking a good look at the new program, there are actually some real positives to the program. Of course, there are some aspects that need some further explaining of, but for now, there are some things that we can look forward to with the new program.
Recapping the New Program
To recap, the new program will require all flyers to fly each 12 month period (centered on November 24) to retain their current status (oh the horror!!!). To earn the status in the first place, most flyers will need to fly almost as many miles to earn Gold as they would to earn Gold with United, so the program will only benefit those who currently hold Aegean Gold and wish to retain it year after year.
Along with the change to how status will be earned and retained, the way miles are spent (on Aegean) will change as well. The award chart for flying Star Alliance partners will not change (at this point) so the spending changes only affect flights on Aegean or Olympic.
For the new Silver status, there are some perks, but it will not really be of a benefit to most US-based flyers, so I will not really go into the benefits/requirements of Silver in this post.
Earning/Retaining Gold Status
The earning part is mostly inline with other Star Alliance carriers with a twist. To earn Aegean Gold, you must fly 48,000 miles within a 12 month period. But, if you throw 4 Aegean or Olympic flights into that number, you only need to fly 24,000 miles. The problem will come with how you plan on earning those miles. United’s deeply discounted economy fares either do not credit at all or only credit at 50%. That means that you would actually have to fly 96,000 miles on a United fare (fare classes W, S, T, L, K, G) to earn Aegean Gold. If you credited those miles to United instead, you would almost earn their highest tier of 1K!
But, there are several Star Alliance carriers that credit to Aegean at 100%. See this page for a table of all eligible earning fares and what they credit at. So, while it might be difficult, if you are flying certain carriers (like Ethiopian, Thai, Singapore, or SAS for example) you will still be able to earn 100% mileage credit on mileage earning fares.
When it comes to retaining the Gold status on an annual basis, that is actually not that bad either. You must either fly 24,000 miles in a 12 month period or fly 12,000 miles and 4 flights on either Aegean or Olympic. Aegean comes out with several fare sales every year so you could knock out those four segments for under $150 (less if those flights are part of your US-Europe itinerary). While 12,000 miles may sound like a lot, it is actually not much more than a round-trip ticket to Europe from the US. In fact, if you fly to Asia on Thai or Singapore, you could knock the whole requirement out in one trip (not counting the 4 Aegean flights). Even some United itineraries that are the cheapest available will be of the 100% earning fare so that could help as well!
Benefits of the New Miles + Bonus
Now, we look at the new benefits. Unlike certain US carriers, Aegean is actually delivering some real perks to their new program.
Every year, an Aegean Gold member will receive 4 upgrade certificates to business class on Aegean flights! While intra-European business class is nothing to get excited about, it is certainly better than coach from a food/service standpoint (business class customers are transported by exclusive transport from plane to gate, so you get to the gate quicker). With 4 of those upgrades, that means you can use them each year on your 4 Aegean flights to retain your Gold status. Not bad! At present, there is no mention of whether there will be fare restrictions, but since they only give four, I am guessing it is systemwide.
Extra Award Miles
Finally, there will be some bonus miles coming our way for our status! As an elite flyer with American programs, I am used to receiving a bonus on my miles flown based on the status tier I hold. With Aegean, it has never been like that. You get the same miles that every other passenger gets. Now, as a Gold, you will receive a 20% bonus on Aegean and Olympic flights. Not a big deal for people that do not fly Aegean all the time, but certainly something to get excited about for those flyers who do use Aegean a lot, especially if there is a choice between carriers.
The cost for these purchases is not detailed yet, but you will be able to purchase award miles and tier miles. The amount you can buy will only be restricted by your elite status. It will be interesting to see what the purchase amount is, because I am sure that many US-based flyers may find it worth it to top up with this method. For instance, if you are only 5,000 miles shy of an award with your existing award miles, instead of having to fly 10,000 miles on a lowly United fare to earn those miles, you could just buy them. We will have to see what the purchase point is to see the value of this.
50% Discount On Tickets
This is another interesting one. For Gold members, you will receive 2 opportunities to get a 50% discount on domestic tickets for you and a companion. Believe it or not, the domestic Aegean network has a lot of options, especially in the summer. Being able to hop down to various islands can be convenient but pricey during peak season. Using these discount coupons could get that price down to a more manageable amount.
Free Parking And Free Valet Parking
If you have ever tried to park at Athens airport, you know it is not cheap! As a Gold member, you will receive 2 free parking coupons at the airport as well as 1 free valet coupon. Excellent benefits, but I wish they would have added Thessaloniki’s airport to that as well since parking can be quite high here (depending on which lot). At one point, the parking for the nearest lot was around $55 per day!
This is a perk I am really looking forward to. As I said before, it has always been difficult to really get those last miles you needed for an award since you had to fly to earn any large amount (unless you held their credit card – trying to get one of those, so I will report on that later). Now, you can have up to 5 other people pooling award miles into your account, while they continue to earn their elite miles. This is a great benefit! Recently, I helped a group with tickets to Africa and they all earned Aegean Gold on that one trip. With 20,500 miles each, it does not amount to much for an award, but if they had pooled it, it would have made for a total of 120,000 miles – enough for two tickets to Europe! Of course, this would work best for family, but it is a great option to have now.
Not a lot of info about this yet, but basically, on certain flights, you will be able to get award seats for fewer miles. This could be a great benefit since the new spending chart has domestic tickets starting at only 5,000 miles one-way!
The New Spending Chart
The way you can spend miles with Aegean is actually becoming nicer for those who do not mind the GoLight fare class. For those who don’t know, the GoLight fare class is the most restrictive fare class (not unlike most US fares, but with only a 40 euro change fee) and you have to pay for any baggage you want to check. The advantage is that Gold members get 1 bag free, so that is an offsetting benefit. If you book a domestic award ticket on a GoLight fare, it will only cost you 5,000 miles for a one-way ticket (down from 6,250 miles).
For international tickets, it got cheaper as well. It used to charge based on segment so if you did not live in Athens (or Thessaloniki for some flights), you were going to have to add 12,500 miles to any roundtrip award ticket for the domestic legs and an additional 22,000 miles for the international leg. That brought your award total to 34,5000 miles, much more than most Aegean flights actually cost if you purchased them (assuming a minimum of 1 cent per mile).
Now, it is based on the miles you are flying. So, for a international GoLight fare, it will cost you 8x the flight distance with a minimum of 7,000 miles (one-way). For a flex ticket (very flexible as the name indicates), it will be 10x the distance (with a minimum of 9,000 miles) and a business class ticket will require 15x the distance and a minimum of 15,000 miles. To give an example, an Athens – London (the long end of the Aegean network) would have required 22,000 miles in the past for a roundtrip ticket. Now, it will only require 21,440 miles. True, it is only a savings of 600 miles, but that is the long example. For other flights throughout Europe, you will most likely be paying the minimum most of the time, which is 14,000 for a GoLight ticket.
As you can see, Aegean is adding a lot of benefits to the new program. But, these benefits mostly benefit Gold flyers who are based in Greece (as I am). This makes total sense as Aegean is a Greek airline and now they are trying to take their money and put it more into their genuine loyalty passengers instead of the flyers who are simply using them for lounge access (nothing wrong with that, by the way).
The sad part is that it might not make a lot of sense for most US-based flyers going forward. However, if you plan it right, you should be able to still retain your Gold status if you find it of large enough value. With some of the bonuses thrown in, that can even provide some value to those of you who choose to keep it as well. With United cutting their award earnings in 2015, Aegean might provide a great alternative as a Star Alliance mile repository for booking award travel. Even with the 50% earnings on cheaper fares, you would still be potentially earning more miles crediting to Aegean than you would crediting to United.
Of course, each flyer will need to examine the benefits and the cost to determine if it makes sense to stay with Aegean Gold after next year. One smart thing that Aegean did – they made it tempting to retain Aegean Gold by requiring only half as many miles if you already have it. So, now you know that once you let it go, you probably will not want to get it back again. But, the question is, will you let it go?