Oneworld Emerald: My Favorite Airline Alliance Status

Filed Under: oneworld

Admittedly status with a global airline alliance is less valuable right now than ever before, given how limited international travel is, and that many airline lounges are closed.

That being said, I wanted to dedicate a post to why I love oneworld Emerald status so much, even if it’s of limited value right now. Why am I posting about this now? Because I found myself daydreaming yesterday about some past travels, and for whatever reason several oneworld lounges came to mind, and those were accessed primarily through oneworld Emerald status.

What is airline alliance status?

There are three major global airline alliances — oneworld, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam — and combined they have dozens of airline members. Not all airlines belong to a global alliance, though many major airlines do.

One of the benefits of these alliances for frequent flyers is that there’s a certain level of reciprocity when it comes to elite perks.

You don’t earn elite status directly with an alliance, but rather you earn status with a member airline, and that status maps over to an alliance elite tier. Just to give some examples:

  • American AAdvantage Executive Platinum gets you oneworld Emerald
  • Delta SkyMiles Diamond Medallion gets you SkyTeam Elite Plus
  • United MileagePlus Premier 1K gets you Star Alliance Gold

Personally I think oneworld Emerald status is the most valuable of those by far, so let me share why.

I value oneworld Emerald status immensely

What are the benefits of oneworld Emerald status?

The oneworld alliance has three elite tiers — Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald. Emerald is the top tier status, and is typically earned with having high level status in a oneworld frequent flyer program.

What are the perks of oneworld Emerald status? Here are the high-level benefits, roughly in the order that I value them:

  • Access to first & business class lounges
  • Access to preferred and pre-reserved seating
  • Priority boarding
  • Extra baggage allowance
  • Access to first class check-in
  • Fast track at select security lanes
  • Priority baggage handling
  • Priority on waitlists and when on standby

Access lots of great lounges with oneworld Emerald status

Below I wanted to go into a bit more detail on the benefits above that I value most:

Lounge access with oneworld Emerald

The single best perk of oneworld Emerald status is the lounge access benefit, as members receive access to oneworld first & business class lounges when traveling on a oneworld flight the same day in any cabin. They’re allowed to even bring one guest with them (also traveling on a oneworld flight).

Now, there are a few things to be aware of:

As far as I’m concerned this leaves some really phenomenal oneworld Emerald lounges, including some that I’d rank among the best first class lounges around the world.

This ranges from Cathay Pacific’s The Pier First Class Lounge Hong Kong

Cathay Pacific oneworld Emerald lounge Hong Kong

…to Qantas’ First Lounge Singapore.

Qantas oneworld Emerald lounge Singapore

Again, these lounges are largely closed right now, but that will change eventually, and I can’t wait for when it does.

Preferred & pre-reserved seating with oneworld Emerald

I wish this weren’t actually a benefit that I valued, but unfortunately some airlines in oneworld charge for seat assignments, even in business class. For example:

While I’d probably otherwise usually book away from airlines with policies like this, oneworld Emerald status makes this a non-issue, as I can continue to select seats in advance for free.

Do note that each airline has a different policy when it comes to assigning oneworld Emerald members priority economy seats. Some will assign extra legroom economy seats for free (for example, American gives oneworld Emerald members with joint venture partners free Main Cabin Extra seats), while others won’t.

Assign British Airways business class seats for free as a oneworld Emerald

Priority check-in & boarding with oneworld Emerald

As a oneworld Emerald member you can generally check in with international first class, and also board with international first class. Personally I love this perk because when I review flights it’s handy to be able to board business class when first class boards, so I can snap pictures of the cabin before it gets too full.

Note that the exact policy of each airline differs. For example:

  • While British Airways and Cathay Pacific let oneworld Emeralds board with international first class, American only lets oneworld Emeralds board after all premium cabin passengers
  • Those who earn oneworld Emerald through American AAdvantage can only use American’s Flagship First check-in facility when flying on select international flights

Board with first class as a oneworld Emerald member

Extra baggage allowance with oneworld Emerald status

While I only travel with hand luggage a vast majority of the time, for those rare times where I check luggage, the extra oneworld Emerald baggage allowance comes in handy:

  • For tickets that have a weight limit, you get an extra 20kg of luggage
  • For tickets that have a piece system, you get one additional bag

For example, while American Airlines domestic first class passengers get two free checked bags up to 70 pounds each, as an Executive Platinum member (oneworld Emerald) I get a third free checked bag with the same weight limit.

How does oneworld status compare to others?

So, why do I prefer oneworld Emerald status to top tier status with Star Alliance or SkyTeam? First of all, the oneworld alliance is the only one to have a true “top tier” alliance-wide status. For example, Star Alliance Gold is the highest Star Alliance status, and you generally get that with mid-tier airline status.

Big picture:

  • Star Alliance Gold doesn’t get you access to international first class lounges with any airlines, while I consider that to be the single best oneworld Emerald perk (and please, no one tell me that Lufthansa Senator Lounges are in fact first class lounges)
  • SkyTeam Elite Plus is just generally uncompetitive; for example, SkyTeam Elite Plus members with non-US airlines don’t even get lounge access when traveling domestically within the US, while elite members with oneworld and Star Alliance do

Bottom line

2020 isn’t the year where status with a global airline alliance is particularly valuable, but that won’t stop me from appreciating all the great perks I’ve received through oneworld Emerald.

Any time I consider giving up on status with American Airlines, I’m reminded of how much I’d miss oneworld Emerald status. There’s something about the peak experiences that the status allows that makes me really value it.

It sure is nice to fly American business class out of LAX and use the Qantas First Lounge, or fly Cathay Pacific business class on a short hop out of HKG and use the Cathay Pacific First Lounge. Again, go figure these lounges (and in some cases, destinations) aren’t open right now, but I do look forward to when it’s possible to enjoy them again.

Anyone else love oneworld Emerald as much as I do? And anyone disagree with my take, and prefer status with Star Alliance and/or SkyTeam?

Comments
  1. I have to agree One World is the best, even though I am one tier below it still gives excellent lounge and baggage benefits including to the American flagship lounges when I visit America. I am the Silver middle tier with both OW and a SkyT Program. Yet you need Gold with Skyteam to access business lounges with if flying PE or economy. And you also only get a small % discount on choosing even ordinary aisle or window seats rather than free exit row as with One World Sapphire.

  2. Agreed. In order to use the perks and retain oneworld Emerald, it also keeps me loyal to oneworld when buying cash tickets. When the prices difference is relatively low and the departure times work out, I (almost) always pick a oneworld airline.

  3. Yeah, as disappointed as I have been with AA in the last year or two – though they are within the last couple months doing great things to turn that opinion around – I will be more than happy to re-up my EXP status, which I will do before EOY with already-booked travel. I fly frequently on BA, and basically having free reign to all of BA’s amenities in Heathrow (modulo the Concorde Room, which is basically equivalent to American Flagship First dining, unless I actually book in F) is a pretty unparalleled experience in international travel. Even with the opulent middle eastern carriers, you only really get all of their amenities in their home ports. Now that AA is partnering with JetBlue to make up for their lost market share in the NYC area, I am probably more pleased than ever to be an American frequent flyer, as long as they deliver on the potential of their new partnerships.

  4. Do you think AA is going to lower the 2021 EXP requalification standards even more than they already have done? We now know that most business travelers will not see a vaccine until the Spring and business travel is not likely to pick up any earlier than the Summer or maybe even the Fall.

  5. I remember wishing as a First Class passenger on Cathay Pacific wishing that their lounges were more restrictive with regard to status. It would be nice if those passengers at least got priority in the queue for spa treatments or shower rooms. JAL First Class lounge in Tokyo also got very crowded with status holders… However, I’m absolutely planning on working my way to OneWorld Emerald in the next year or two for precisely the lounge access reason

  6. Yep, you’re absolutely spot on. Oneworld Emerald (particularly if earned on a non-US airline while living in the US is definitely the best). I’ve had Skyteam Elite Plus and was shocked how much poorer it was in lounge access and benefits. One thing you did miss was the reciprocity on upgrades i.e., upgrade to AA main cabin extra at time of booking on oneworld, though I think the programs may be broadly similar in that regard (I know Skyteam certainly is)

  7. @Lucky, you probably should add the fact that the extra baggage allowance on OW (and *A and possibly ST) may or may not apply to hand baggage only fares and/or “basic” fares, especially on non-US carriers. It’s incredibly annoying when you still have to book a more expensive Economy ticket to avail yourself of the bag benefits that come with status.

    Your choice is usually 0 bags (basic/HBO fare) + 0 bags (status) = 0 bags total OR 1 bag (more pricey fare) + 1 bag (status) = 2 bags total. Grr…

  8. I have been to both Qatar Airways Al Safwa and Al Mourjan Lounges in Doha. Completely ruined me after that for lounge experience elsewhere…lol I have 2 trips in December on AA, considering they are counting miles this year towards status next year I might switch status to them for 2021.

  9. I agree overall that oneworld emerald is the best alliance status out there but one con is oneworld first class lounges tend to be more crowded compared to star alliance and skyteam first class lounges.
    It will be interesting to see how this pandemic will affect first class travel and whether these first class lounges will even survive.

  10. The big problem with oneworld is (lack of) its footprint in Europe. Both their European members (AY, BA) operate from hubs with relatively excentric positions, which are good for connecting to Asia and America, however it makes oneworld rather impractical for intra-Europe travel. In the past airberlin used to fill the gap, but since they went bust, I had to switch to Star Alliance.

    I totally agree that Emerald is a great status and if OW had a better European presence, I would definitely pursue it. But there’s only so many times one’s willing to travel from Vienna to Copenhagen via Helsinki 🙂

  11. Unfortunately being based in chicago means the terminal 5 lounges are abysmal so no true value there. The first class lounge if you are traveling ba or Cathay has got to be one of the worst in the world lol. I don’t use my one world privileges much but being a measly American platinum means my family can check in the fast lane and access main cabin extra on booking which is superb.

  12. Btw, minor point, but I found the qantas first class lounge at lax to be SO disappointing (compared to expectations). And I’m Australian! Showers terrible!

  13. @Lucky , could you maybe elaborate on which of the OW airlines make it quicker /easier to reach that status, particularly when starting from scratch? For instance, I have no status with AA. And I don’t like crediting to them because of the revenue based system. So would it be more advantageous to credit my flights for instance to JAL, since it is a pretty lucrative program and their miles aren’t easy to come by?

  14. Agree completely. No thanks to AA but definitely their OW international partners carry more than their share.
    The lounges, baggage allowance, …huge difference.

  15. I don’t share the sentiment that Skyteam Elite+ is, generally, uncompetitive. This goes especially for DL status which offers some extra perks with their partner airlines.

    1.) The limitations with regards to lounge access can mostly be fixed via a credit card (yeah, the ones you’re pitching in other blog entries).

    2.) I find the seat reservation perks are best with some specific Skyteam status’. Yeah, OW has got some sweet spots, too (e.g., as a BA elite, I get free access to AA’s MCE even when booking BE). But, in practice, I find I get access to the best seats through my DL PM. I feel *G is the worst of the bunch when booking the cheapest fares (e.g., no advance seat reservation at all when book LH or LX in eco light short-haul).

    3.) Some excellent lounges are available to DL elites, e.g., the VS clubhouses. Or, in the AF lounges, there’s free champagne in the evenings even if you’re on a pure Schengen itinerary.

    4.) Skyteam elites get better baggage perks than Star Alliance elites. For instance, as a Gold, if I book certain light or BE fares, I get no extra baggage allowance.

    5.) Sky Priority seems to work reasonably well with regards to fast track security. Not sure if this is merely an artefact of the airports I’m frequenting, but I seem to have more issues with *G and OWS. E.g., when LA was still OW, it was a constant issue that they don’t pay for fast-lane security, I was always denied in MAD among other places. There are issues with Star Alliance, too. Most *A carriers other than SAS don’t pay for fast track in certain airports in Scandinavia (assuming *G status and eco ticket).

    6.) Lounge access with *G is getting more and more of an issue with recent restrictions on contract lounge access (I’m talking about UA and LH).

  16. It really all depends on where you live and how valuable a status can be. I live in Zürich
    and even if I would love to use my Emerald status, I find it very difficult to fly through Helsinki or London to any destination in Europe. I think Skyteam Elite Plus is the most useful one because of the amazing lounges in both Amsterdam and Paris (Always using the non-shengen lounges), fares tend to be a lot cheaper than BA and I even have a suitcase on every economy ticket.

    If I am in the US, why would I go out of my way to fly AA with unfriendly service if I can also fly Delta / Jetblue?

    So then the only real use of Emerald status is in Asia. However, the cost to acquire Emerald status did not justify the few times a year I could access a First lounge.

  17. Just qualified for Emerald status for the first time, via BA Gold. Not much happening now, as you say, but because of BA’s status extension, I’ve got it until Dec 2022, which leaves plenty of time for things to get back to (relatively) normal. Already planning my 2022 trips!

  18. Who else misses the wonderful Pier First and Wing First Cabanas? Love thei Aesop Amenities as well.
    What about the sushi at Narita First class lounge?
    Oneworld carriers from East Asia are truly the best for Emerald members.

  19. “Unfortunately, American no longer provides OneWorld Emeralds free Main Cabin Extra seats.”
    – Max, November 20, 2020 at 7:24 pm

    Actually, they do! They took this benefit away a couple months ago, but they reinstated it just 2 weeks later. So don’t worry, MCE seats for Oneworld Emeralds are here to stay.

  20. The claim that Skyteam Elite Plus is uncompetitive is fanciful at best.

    Oneworld is the least convenient alliance for anyone doing serious international travel- only the reluctant participation of QR stops it from being a complete joke. It offers few realistic options for travel within Europe, within Africa, or most any itinerary involving Central and South America. BA and IB shorthaul are below average in both classes of service. I couldn’t care less about all those F lounges that I wouldn’t get to use because they are in hubs that I don’t fly through.

    While Star Alliance has the best coverage by far, it has been devaluing status by removing lounge access (TP, UA, LH are currently doing it) and luggage benefits from elites. Skyteam seems to offer a more consistent experience nowadays, and E+ is the status I would recommend someone to pursue if they were starting from scratch (I am keeping *G for the time being, but may reassess after the pandemic goes away).

  21. Samo – what about Iberia? No love for them?? And EI will be joining OW soonish even if only as a OW connect member.

    Not sure what you mean by “eccentric positions”. No airline and alliance has a perfect footprint. Depends where you need to to and from.

    There are plenty of routes with Star and Sky Team where there are no direct flights and you need to connect via a hub.

    It’s ridiculous to suggest that OW has a poor footprint in Europe.

  22. @ChrisC

    He probably means OneWorld’s European hubs are located in unusual and inconvenient positions (for intra-European flying); “eccentric” was clearly a polite euphemism.

    Of course no airline and alliance has a perfect footprint, and indeed it depends on where one needs to fly to-and-from; fortunately, ‘Samo’ specified by saying “intra-Europe” flying. It’s inconvenient to fly a variety of intra-European itineraries when having to connect through hubs on the periphery (HEL, LHR, MAD, DUB). It nearly always results in back-tracking. Obviously this is less likely when connecting through a hub on the interior of the continent.

    No, it is not ridiculous to suggest that OneWorld has a poor footprint in Europe.

  23. @BL, in saying, ‘ “eccentric” was clearly a polite euphemism’ you’re probably correct, but there is another definition of eccentric, used mainly in a technical sense, of ‘not placed centrally’ which fits the location of OW hubs precisely. I love it when people accidentally use a word that is a perfect fit, even though not in a way they intended.

    Whatever meaning of eccentric you use, the OW hubs are not ideal for a lot of intra-European travel. Regardless of the relative merits of the alliances’ top elite tier benefits, few people will use the most inconvenient alliance (or carrier) just to be able to take advantage of its elite benefits. OW works for me, but as a QF platinum status holder (for now) I would say that. ‘Best transfer city in Europe’ is not a question I think I’ll need to consider any time soon.

  24. “The best x” articles are great for driving traffic, but as the comments make clear, the best alliance elite status to have is the one on the route you’re flying. And with only three alliances, the route makes the difference.
    Of course, there are interesting details. Take the guy flying out of ZRH. True AF/KL has a great network in Europe, but LX is in house, and, combined with LH, OS and such, *A seems the natural choice. Why is this person changing planes?
    Well, it’s considerably cheaper for one, and for two, if you fly intra-Europe a lot, the quickest way to status is sectors flown. Third, SkyTeam doesn’t deal with ultra-elite lounges. So, AF can have their La Première lounge, but your elite card gets you just that one lounge. And if it’s not the contract lounge in ZRH, those lounges are pretty nice.
    With *A, that person would need to fly over twice as much and spend three times the amount, and would then get access to the Business Class lounge, which by definition has to be worse than the Senator lounge.
    As for US travel, yeah, you’re not getting in the SkyLounge on a domestic flight, but, on the other hand, you don’t have to fly AA either.

  25. @Jack
    I just called American Airlines to ask about MCE seats for OW Emeralds and they explained that these seats are only available without a fee to OW Sapphire and Emeralds with status on British Airways, Iberia, Finnair or Japan Airlines. I’m a OWE through QR. Not fair!

  26. It’s all subjective. For a fair unbiased opinion, consult a globe trotter who lives in a non-hub city, a polyglot with holding multiple passports, and a resident in a country where the flag carrier is not a member of any alliance, in a country without a flag carrier or a country where principal carriers from each alliance. That way, the flyer is at the mercy of infrequent flights, outsourced ground staff, and inconsistent policy enforcements.

    How about a Korean ex-pat residing in Accra? Or an American gymnast training in Kiev. I’d be interested in hearing their viewpoint for their best elite program.

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