How do Frequent Flyer Clubs Work?

These were invented to keep passengers loyal to a particular airline. The more you travel the more points you earn.

These points are normally exchangeable for free flights. However, taxes and other fees will still have to be paid. Short haul flights are included, but some clubs have a minimum distance to earn points, so check the small print carefully.

The airline will probably be a member of a group of airlines, so as long as you fly with another group member you’ll still earn points/miles. The three main groups are OneWorld, SkyTeam  and Star Alliance. If you join one airline per group you’ll be able to earn points on every flight.

Airlines also have partner schemes where you can earn points if you use a particular credit card, hire car company, hotels etc. It may work out cheaper to sign up for that airline credit card instead of flying to get your points to a certain level.

If you regularly fly a certain route, check out the clubs offered by each airline that flies it. Some are more generous than others for giving points and for exchanging them. For example, some airlines give the same rate even if you have a heavily discounted ticket, whereas BA will reduce the reward for cheap tickets. This is common amongst most airlines, where different fare classes give a different return.

The BA website states that an economy passenger is rewarded 1 mile for every mile flown. This is not strictly true, as further on the website states:

The amount you collect depends on the distance you fly, the cabin you fly in, the type of ticket you hold and your Executive Club Tier.
On flexible economy fares you will receive 1 BA Mile for every mile flown.
On discounted economy fares (non-flexible ticket), you will earn 25% of the actual miles flown.
Example
If you fly less than 500 miles, one way, on a flexible economy fare, you will earn a minimum of 500 BA Miles. On a discounted economy fare, this would be a reward of 125 BA Miles

When booking your flight, weigh up the pros and cons of increasing the cost of the ticket for the extra miles you will receive.  If you have a trip in mind for your free tickets, check how many points each airline needs for you to ‘earn’ it. You may find up to double the difference. However also think about the actual costs of your flights. It may not be worth the extra in ticket prices to quickly earn the free flight.

Only a certain number of seats are available for free flights on any given flight, so if you are unable to cash in your miles to fly your particular route and date, check for alternative airports. For example, fly from Gatwick instead of Heathrow, land at Baltimore instead of Washington Dulles International. You could also look at partner programmes to see if another airline will allow you to use your miles. If all else fails, demand in a polite way to speak to a supervisor at the airline’s booking call centre. They have discretionary powers to give you the ticket.

You could benefit from a new route and a connection. If for example Frankfurt Airport has a new route to China, you may be able to use your miles for this flight after paying for a connection from London to Frankfurt.

Remember, don’t waste your points on a cheap flight and check for any expiry dates. It is also very important that you are aware of the inactivity clause for your scheme. Not all airlines are the same, BA gives you up to 36 months, and Qantas only gives you 18 months.

Converting your points

If you are unhappy with your return on your current scheme, you could look at converting them to a new one. Websites such as www.insideflyer.com have a tool to show you what you would gain or lose by changing your miles/points from one scheme to another.

Also you may not be able to change directly from one airline to another. For example, 10,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles can be changed to Hilton HHonors at a ratio of 1:1, and then to BA Executive Club at a ratio of 10:1 giving you 1,000 miles.

Another option if you are going to fall foul of the inactivity clause, is donating your miles. You can check on various charity websites if they have a scheme in place.

Most importantly, do not dispose of any tickets or boarding cards until you have been credited your miles. A website to check out for American flights on offer is Award Grabber