Star Alliance Airport Lounge Access Explained

Star Alliance Airport Lounge Access Explained

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One of the great things about the “big three” global airline alliances is that they offer reciprocal lounge access for travelers. In this post I wanted to take a closer look at the Star Alliance’s lounge access policy for travelers, as understanding the nuances of airport lounge access can be complicated.

As a general rule of thumb, you can expect that you’ll get lounge access with Star Alliance either if you have Star Alliance Gold elite status, or if you’re traveling in first or business class. That doesn’t consistently apply within the United States (when traveling on United), which I’ll address as well.

First let me cover the basics of the Star Alliance, and then I’ll talk about the alliance’s policy on lounge access when traveling in first class, business class, and when having Star Alliance Gold status. Note that you can always reference the Star Alliance Lounge Finder for the basics of Star Alliance’ lounge access rules (though I’ll try to simplify it even more in this post).

In separate posts I’ll cover the lounge access policies of oneworld and SkyTeam. Let me say that in general I think oneworld has the most generous lounge access policies, followed by Star Alliance, followed by SkyTeam.

The basics of the Star Alliance

First let’s cover the very basics. The Star Alliance is the world’s largest airline alliance, with over 25 member airlines. The alliance was founded in 1997, with United Airlines, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, and Thai Airways, being the founding members.

Nowadays Star Alliance has the following member airlines:

Aegean Airlines
Austrian Airlines
EVA Air
SWISS
Air Canada
Avianca
LOT Polish Airlines
TAP Air Portugal
Air China
Brussels Airlines
Lufthansa
Thai Airways
Air India
Copa Airlines
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
Turkish Airlines
Air New Zealand
Croatia Airlines
Shenzhen Airlines
United Airlines
All Nippon Airways
EgyptAir
Singapore Airlines
Asiana Airlines
Ethiopian Airlines
South African Airways
Star Alliance airlines
Star Alliance is the biggest global airline alliance

Star Alliance first class lounge access

Let’s start with the Star Alliance lounge access policy when traveling in long haul, international first class. The Star Alliance lounge access policy for first class is as follows:

  • You have access to international first class and/or any Star Alliance member carriers’ own lounges (with certain exclusions, which I’ll address below)
  • You must present a boarding pass for travel in first class on a Star Alliance flight
  • You must be departing from the local airport in first class
  • You must have paid for your ticket with cash or miles; staff travel doesn’t qualify
  • You are entitled to bring one guest, and they must be traveling on the same flight
Star Alliance First Class Lounge Los Angeles (LAX)

Note that not all Star Alliance first class lounges are available to first class passengers on other Star Alliance airlines:

If you ask me, one major weak point of the Star Alliance’s lounge access policy is that if you’re accessing a lounge based on the cabin you’re traveling in, it’s the departing flight that counts. Say you’re flying Lufthansa first class from Frankfurt to Los Angeles, and are then connecting from Los Angeles to San Francisco in United first class. You wouldn’t receive any lounge access in Los Angeles, since access is based on your departing flight (which would be United’d domestic first class, and that doesn’t come with lounge access).

Let me emphasize that individual airlines may have more generous policies that apply only to their own passengers. For example, if you fly first class and connect to business class on airlines like Lufthansa, Singapore, SWISS, etc., you may get first class lounge access while in transit. However, that only applies to the carrier’s own lounges, and isn’t an alliance policy.

Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt (FRA)

Star Alliance business class lounge access

Now let’s talk about the Star Alliance lounge access policy when traveling in business class. Note that lounge access for domestic United passengers differs a bit, so I’ll cover that in more detail below. The general Star Alliance lounge access policy for business class is as follows:

  • You have access to any designated Star Alliance business class lounge
  • You must present a boarding pass for travel in business class on a Star Alliance flight
  • You must be departing from the local airport in business class
  • You must have paid for your ticket with cash or miles; staff travel doesn’t qualify
  • You aren’t entitled to bring any guests

One added wrinkle is that individual airlines may have more generous policies for their own passengers. Just to give an example, say you’re flying from Frankfurt to Chicago to Los Angeles, with that second flight on United. A United first class ticket from Chicago to Los Angeles doesn’t offer lounge access based on Star Alliance policies. However:

  • If the Frankfurt to Chicago flight is on United, you could use United’s lounges in Chicago
  • If the Frankfurt to Chicago flight is on Lufthansa, you couldn’t use United’s lounges in Chicago

That’s because Star Alliance lounge access is based on the departing flight (and the Chicago to Los Angeles flight doesn’t offer lounge access), but individual airlines may have more generous policies (United offers lounge access to same-day connecting United long haul business class passengers, above and beyond the Star Alliance policy).

United Polaris Lounge Houston (IAH)

Star Alliance elite lounge access

Star Alliance Gold is the elite tier that offers access to Star Alliance lounges in conjunction with same-day travel. This gets you different lounge access than you’d get if traveling in first or business class, as the policy differs a bit by airline:

  • You can access any designated Star Alliance Gold lounge; in some cases these will be business class lounges, in some cases they’ll be better, and in some cases they’ll be worse, though they’ll all have the Star Alliance Gold logo at the entrance
  • You need to provide proof of your Star Alliance Gold status, ideally by having it associated with your ticket, in which case it will show on your boarding pass
  • You must present a boarding pass for travel on a Star Alliance flight departing from the local airport in any class of service
  • You must have paid for your ticket with cash or miles; staff travel doesn’t qualify
  • You are entitled to bring one guest, and they must be traveling on the same flight
  • United MileagePlus Star Alliance Gold members may only access the United Clubs within the United States when traveling in conjunction with a Star Alliance international flight; however, they can access other Star Alliance lounges when traveling domestically (like the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge LAX, for example)

I think it’s interesting to note how different airlines treat Star Alliance Gold customers:

  • Lufthansa gives Star Alliance Gold members access to Senator Lounges, which are better than the carrier’s lounges for business class passengers
  • Singapore Airlines gives Star Alliance Gold members access to KrisFlyer Gold Lounges, which are worse than the carrier’s lounges for business class passengers
  • United Airlines gives Star Alliance Gold members access to United Clubs, which are worse than the carrier’s United Polaris Lounges for business class passengers
  • It’s also up to each Star Alliance airline as to whether or not they want to allow Star Alliance Gold members into contract lounges, when there are no Star Alliance lounges available; some airlines offer this, while others don’t
Lufthansa Lounge Milan (MXP)

What about United Airlines lounge access?

US airlines tend to get in the way of the alliance “groove” when it comes to lounge access. That’s because within the United States you generally don’t get lounge access just for flying domestic first class, or on account of having elite status. Rather US airlines try to sell lounge memberships.

If you’re traveling within the United States on United, what does that mean?

  • A first or business class ticket within the United States on United generally won’t get you lounge access, with the exception of a limited number of premium routes
  • Star Alliance Gold members through United MileagePlus don’t get United Club access when traveling within the United States on United; however, Star Alliance Gold members who earn status through a program other than United MileagePlus can access United Clubs when traveling domestically

See my detailed post on United Club access.

United Club Houston (IAH)

Bottom line

One of the great things about the global airline alliances is the reciprocal lounge access perks they offer to those traveling in premium cabins, as well as elite members. This is worth knowing, because in many cases you may have access to better lounges than you expect — don’t necessarily just go to the lounge that your airline gives you an “invitation” for.

In general lounge access for Star Alliance Gold elite members is pretty great and straightforward. Meanwhile for first & business class passengers it can get a bit complicated — the major limitation is that alliance lounge access is determined based on your departing boarding pass, which isn’t ideal for those connecting beyond long haul flights (since those typically have the most generous policies).

What has your experience been with Star Alliance lounge access?

Conversations (34)
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  1. Pablo F Guest

    A question: What happens if proof of your Star Alliance Gold status is not associated with your ticket, (e.g.: if your boarding pass shows association with another Star Alliance airline - not Gold level - can you still use the lounge privileges associated with the Ariline for which you hold Gold level status)?

  2. Unobtanium Member Guest

    If I am reading this correctly, I could get lounge access (as a United Gold) in IAH both on the outbound and return at the contract/partner lounges most likely?
    I have a MSP-IAH-EZE RT flight in Econ.
    Would I also get access to a United Lounge in MSP since it's the same day and ticket as my flight to Argentina?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Unobtanium Member -- Yep, you'd get lounge access in Houston in both directions. You could also access the United Club in Minneapolis on the way out. Enjoy your trip!

  3. Wit Guest

    I have UA Platinum and LH Senator status. If I fly a domestic USA flight operated by UA and have my UA status on my boarding card - what should I do to get into UA club lounge? Is it enough to show my LH status or it has to be embedded in my BP (although I would prefer UA).

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Wit -- Presenting your Lufthansa Star Gold card should do the trick, generally. Some lounge agents insist it needs to be on the boarding pass, but a vast majority of the time you should be fine just showing your card, and they can enter the info manually.

  4. Sean M. Diamond

    Just a data point that although the regulations state that staff travelers are not entitled to lounge access, I have actually been INVITED to the lounges (ie. not proactively requested access but told at check-in that I should proceed to the lounge) when flying on SN, SA, AI and ET on staff tickets as a *G.

    1. Reyyan Member

      Is adding a *G number to the reservation allowed? As far as I know LX forbids it for instance, or at least you could run into issues from management.

  5. iamhere Guest

    Ridiculous -
    - you pay for first class on a domestic ticket which is considerably more expensive than economy and you don't get lounge access.
    - in the event of changing planes, if you booked a single ticket LAX-ORD-FRA in your example, you should get lounge access for all of it because it is an international ticket. You did not fly domestically and then several days later fly internationally. (assuming you paid for...

    Ridiculous -
    - you pay for first class on a domestic ticket which is considerably more expensive than economy and you don't get lounge access.
    - in the event of changing planes, if you booked a single ticket LAX-ORD-FRA in your example, you should get lounge access for all of it because it is an international ticket. You did not fly domestically and then several days later fly internationally. (assuming you paid for first)
    - One big issue is if the lounge is a Star Alliance lounge or an airline specific lounge because no matter your class of service there could be different rules.
    Overall the complicated aspects and annoying rules make it unfriendly for travelers.

  6. yycflyer Guest

    Air Canada Signature Suite Lounges at YVR/YYZ are only available to paid cash Signature Suites Class customers. Not to those that redeemed miles for their Signature Suites Class. The first section of your post missed this exception.

  7. Matthew Guest

    What about Star Alliance silver status on a Star Alliance partner?
    Example: I am a star alliance club member , United silver status , and purchased a economy Ticket through United but it’s being operated by ANA.

    Do I get access to ANA lounge or only United?

  8. Nate nate Guest

    A variation of your hypo -- what if you’re flying from Frankfurt to Chicago to Los Angeles, with the first flight on a UA ticket/code but LH metal, and the second flight on United.

    Is this considered a United flight (following ticket/code) that allows you to use United’s lounges in Chicago, or does it follow the metal?

  9. Andy Diamond

    A particular problem when flying LH-Group airlines is that they have cancelled many third-party lounge contracts during the pandemic. So when you fly them from an outstation, you most likely have no access, regardless the booking class or status. E.g. Tallinn (TLL): Lounge access to the (nice) airport lounge for eligible passengers of LOT, Turkish or Aegean - but not the ones flying LH or LX ...

  10. Malcolm Guest

    Is there a non-Lufthansa first class Star Alliance lounge in Frankfurt? Pre-covid I flew Thai first class (Star Alliance) from Frankfurt to Bangkok and I was escorted to a lounge but I forget which one. It wasn't Lufthansa First, but it definitely was not a Senator lounge either. It had a cocktail bar and table service and sleeping area. Does anyone know what lounge they were using?

  11. Lone Gunman Guest

    Regarding the proprietary nature of Lufthansa and Singapore first class lounges, to be fair, it's not unusual.
    British Airways has its Concorde Rooms and AA has its Flagship First Dining. Although, BA has opened up the Concorde Room at LHR (but not JFK) to AA's CKs but no others. And, AA has opened FF Dining at DFW to BA first class passengers but no others.

  12. Bill n DC Guest

    Great post. I have Singapore Gold from transferring points from bank cards to SQ for award travel. So on this RT United DCA DEN, hubby and I get access to United Clubs - Crown Room @DCA Cool!

  13. David Guest

    You also should mention that UA and AC paid membership get you access to all partner lounges when flying on any star alliance carrier, example - non ua gold member can get into lufthansa lounges globally (thier business non senator lounge) as long as they have the ua club card with thier star alliance ticket.

  14. baflyer2 Guest

    Might be helpful to point out that *G members may or may not get access to third-party, contracted lounges at airports without a *G-designated lounge. This, to me, is a huge differentiator from oneworld. Oneworld's rules essentially guarantee that Emeralds/Sapphires have access to contract lounges (along with J/F passengers), which reduces a lot of confusion/inconsistency.

  15. Gerald Guest

    So if I am hearing this correctly, a workaround to getting better access to lounges might be to get status on another alliance member rather than United -- such as Air Canada?

    1. Lone Gunman Guest

      The same concept applies with One World. The same concept does NOT apply with Sky Team.

    2. Peter Zeuthen Guest

      That is correct.
      I use my SAS Gold card to enter UA's US lounges.
      My UA Gold card won't get me in there.

    3. LEo Diamond

      But if u only single-hold, u lose the privilege to get upgrades cleared, however, if you hold double *A gold, you will enjoy both perks.

  16. Alex Guest

    Any word on where Deutsche Bahn fits into this? Their integration into *A seems to be delayed from what I can tell

  17. Andrew Guest

    Question Ben… If you’re flying United Polaris from Europe to Newark and then have an additional same day ticket on say American economy… would you still have access to the Polaris lounge in Newark while you waited for your American flight?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Andrew -- That's a great question. United does allow Polaris Lounges to be used on arrival, assuming you can access the terminal. The catch is that American and United depart from different terminals at Newark, and they aren't connected airside. So the question will come down to whether you can access the airside or not, which I'm not sure of (though maybe someone else can chime in?).

  18. LEo Diamond

    Great article!, might be worth it to mention the CA first class lounge in PEK, although not miles away from first-class quality, all *A Gold, Business, First passenger gets access to that lounge.(There is a business class lounge underneath, however, as far as I can remember, everytime I went through PEK, it is always closed for one reason or another and redirect everyone to the first lounge above)

  19. --- Guest

    Three things that you may want to clarify:

    (1) Star Alliance now requires your guest be traveling on the *same flight* as you for lounge access. It can't be just any other Star Alliance flight.

    (2) Star Gold access to contract lounges is up to the operating airline. United for example denies entry to most contract lounges for Star Golds flying in economy. See United's website for details.

    (3) When flying domestically, a UA Star...

    Three things that you may want to clarify:

    (1) Star Alliance now requires your guest be traveling on the *same flight* as you for lounge access. It can't be just any other Star Alliance flight.

    (2) Star Gold access to contract lounges is up to the operating airline. United for example denies entry to most contract lounges for Star Golds flying in economy. See United's website for details.

    (3) When flying domestically, a UA Star Gold can access *other* Star Alliance lounges, but cannot enter United Clubs. LAX is a good example here: UA Star Golds can walk to T6 (adjacent to UA's terminal) and visit AC's Maple Leaf Lounge instead, even on a wholly domestic ticket. UA Golds are not barred from entering UA Clubs even when flying international within North America, unlike oneworld/Skyteam.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ --- -- All excellent points, and updated the post to reflect that.

      PS: C'mon, pick a different username. ;-)

    2. Bernard Guest

      A variation on (3) here:

      If I am traveling in United domestic First but have no Star status, can I access other Star lounges not owned by United but connected airside? Like, say, in LAX could I use the AC MLL at T6 or the general Star lounge in TBIT, or in IAD use the LH or TK lounges?

  20. Reyyan Member

    I believe the policy has changed regarding bringing in guests. You can’t bring a guest in the lounge when you are not travelling on the same flight.

    According to the Turkish Airlines website: In accordance with the latest change made by Star Alliance on May 3, 2021, Gold card holders and their guests are required to fly together in the same aircraft.

    1. A380-800 New Member

      That is correct. Per star alliance website, the guest has to be on the same flight with the gold card holder:
      https://www.staralliance.com/en/lounge-access-policy

    2. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Reyyan -- Great point, thank you! Updated the post to reflect that.

  21. Glen Guest

    You forgot about Thai Smile (WE).

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Glen -- Good point. I made the decision to just delete Juneyao Airlines from the chart, since ultimately Star Alliance connecting partners are of limited value for the purposes of alliance-wide lounge access.

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yycflyer Guest

Air Canada Signature Suite Lounges at YVR/YYZ are only available to paid cash Signature Suites Class customers. Not to those that redeemed miles for their Signature Suites Class. The first section of your post missed this exception.

1
Gerald Guest

So if I am hearing this correctly, a workaround to getting better access to lounges might be to get status on another alliance member rather than United -- such as Air Canada?

1
Ben Schlappig OMAAT

@ Reyyan -- Great point, thank you! Updated the post to reflect that.

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