Whilst many travellers spend hours optimising their frequent flyer points earning potential, a great deal of those flying for business or pleasure often neglect to seek out the many rewards available. You might think you don’t fly enough to make joining a program worthwhile but consider that you can often earn and hold on to points for many years, saving them up until they’re worth cashing in, plus there’s no fee to join so you’ve nothing to lose if you’re flying with carriers that operate frequent flyer reward programs.
The rewards on offer can be as simple as a discount on a flight or a more generous included luggage allowance (increasingly valuable as airlines charge more and more to store luggage in the hold) all the way through to seat/class upgrades and entire long-haul journeys paid for. What’s more you don’t just have to take regular flights to earn your points, as many schemes will offer rewards for spend on credit cards or with other partner companies. This means that once you’re in the right programs that suit your needs those redeemable points can quickly add up.
Frequent Flyer Program Basics
Typically the most rewarding programs are those tied to more traditional flag carriers as opposed to no-frills airlines so it can often pay to do your homework for short haul trips where the likes of easyJet, Air Asia or WestJet might be competing with British Airways, Cathay Pacific or Delta. Bear in mind that the cheaper budget airlines tend to have less attractive airport slots (take off times) and often charge more than their full service counterparts for extras such as seat selection and baggage allowance.
Therefore if a budget airline serves a route you want but requires arriving at the airport at 4am whilst a rival offers the same route with a midday flight, you might need to consider the difference in cost to get to the airport at the different times. If you usually travel to the airport by public transport, flights that depart too early might not be served by trains or buses meaning your costs increase by needing a taxi or potentially even an extra overnight stay at an airport hotel before your flight.
If that extra cost eats into the saving you’ve made by choosing the low cost carrier, consider the potential value of earning (or redeeming) frequent flyer points with the more expensive flight, not to mention the benefits of a less stressful departure time and getting more sleep as a result! Though some low cost airlines do offer their own loyalty programs (AirAsia and Norwegian for example), the points aren’t usually interchangeable with other airlines and they will often have a fairly short shelf life so can’t be saved up for long to earn bigger and better rewards unless you’re a very regular flyer with them.
You should also pay attention to which airlines operate from your “home” airport, particularly those that might use it as a hub. After all, your points earning capacity is going to be influenced by how easy it is to use airlines you can earn rewards with. Don’t forget also that you often can tie your personal rewards program membership with a corporate account so that both you as an individual and your company earn when you’re flying for business travel. This is a no brainer for you and your employer.
Understanding Programs and Airline Alliances
As well as wanting to consider which airlines fly to and from destinations you might frequently visit, you should also pay attention to which alliances, if any, those airlines belong to. Airline alliances are groups of affiliated airlines who will often code-share flights and recognise frequent flyer status from schemes with other partners. So for instance if you have regularly been earning points with one airline, travelling with another airline in that same alliance could mean you receive priority treatment due to your existing points tier with the first airline. What’s more the different points schemes often overlap with alliance affiliated airlines so you can earn the same points across different airlines.
So who are the big alliances?
There are three major worldwide airline alliances and most major flag carriers belong to one of them with the notable exceptions of UAE giants Emirates and Etihad. Both of these airlines have their own loyalty programs however and don’t limit you to earning and redeeming with them alone.
This is the biggest worldwide airline alliance and is a great choice for those travelling to and from (or just across) North America with United and Air Canada both being members. It also includes China’s biggest airline, Air China, two of the biggest European airlines in Lufthansa and Scandinavian (SAS), India’s flag carrier Air India, premium tier Asian carrier Singapore and one of Traveltrust’s most recommended airlines for business class travel, Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA). Australasia/Oceania is served by regional heavyweight Air New Zealand and there are also several big players in Africa including EgyptAir, Ethiopian and South African Airways.
This alliance is anchored by Delta and Air France, with a strong European presence including AirEuropa, Alitalia and KLM, China’s second largest carrier China Eastern, Korean Air, Garuda Indonesia and Saudia among others. As of 2023 Virgin Atlantic will also become a SkyTeam member, ending their long stint without an alliance, one of the last major traditional carriers to join one.
SyTeam is strong across most of the world with the exception of Australia and New Zealand, and you can find a full list of SkyTeam partner airlines here.
The smallest of the three major alliances in terms of its number of partners, OneWorld nevertheless boasts some major advantages over its rivals. First up it’s the only alliance with two American carriers, in American Airlines and Alaska Airlines (recently voted airline with the best frequent flyer program), plus it has the best presence in the Middle East with Qatar and Royal Jordanian among its members. Asia is also well served by the always excellent Cathay Pacific, Japan’s second biggest carrier Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and SriLankan. Furthermore OneWorld also includes Australia’s flag carrier Qantas along with major European carriers BA and Iberia.
Optimising Your Earning
Once you’ve determined which airlines, airports and alliances best fit your needs you should be sure to enrol on the most appropriate partner frequent flyer programs. Thereafter it’s a case of seeking flights with the airlines you’ll earn most from and also keeping an eye out for partner deals with hotel bookings, credit card spend or even shopping and dining with selected brands all helping to add to your points balance.
If you’d like support maximising your frequent flyer scheme points earning capacity as a business, Traveltrust can help. Get in touch with us to find out more.