Expert insights

Spotlight on: airline loyalty schemes

4 December 2018

Frequent flyer schemes are designed to drive customer loyalty, but how do they compare? We take a look in our latest spotlight.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club offers the opportunity to earn Tier Points on the number of miles customers fly with the carrier. These can be spent on flights with Virgin Atlantic, Delta and others, and with partners including Virgin Holidays.

Tiers start at Red and proceed through Silver to Gold. You reach Silver with 400 points – earned from one flexible Upper Class return flight or four Economy Delight return flights, for example – giving you Premium check-in and free seat assignment in any cabin.

Gold offers Upper Class check-in, regardless of cabin choice, plus exclusive Clubhouse passes for the traveller and a guest, a complimentary spa treatment, and access to the Revivals lounge at Heathrow. Other touches include 2,000 bonus birthday miles for Gold travellers, cabin upgrade rewards and a guaranteed economy seat on any flight.

A new Virgin Group-wide loyalty programme launches next year. Flying Club will continue to be the programme for Virgin Atlantic customers, with the added benefit of being able to earn and spend miles through the new loyalty programme.

Lufthansa Miles & More

Lufthansa launched Miles & More in 1993. It's since been adopted by around 40 partner airlines, including Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and LOT Polish Airlines. With 25 million members, it's the largest traveller loyalty programme in Europe.

Passengers earn miles when they book or shop at around 300 Miles & More partner brands. A hotel through Miles & More can earn you at least 1,000 miles per night.

There are different ways to earn miles in the air, depending on whether the flight is booked with an agent or an airline (Lufthansa or a partner), and the carrier operating the flight. A Lufthansa return flight from Munich to Frankfurt, costing €290, attracts 1,160 award miles.

Once you've earned 10,000 miles you can spend them on a flight. A Business Class flight from Heathrow to Frankfurt would set you back between 25,000 and 50,000 miles.

A year's subscription to The Economist is 69,000 miles; luggage from 32,000 miles; and a current promotion allows you to rent a Porsche in Germany from 83,000 miles.

BA Executive Club

The BA Executive Club lets you collect both Avios rewards (known as ‘currency’) and Tier Points. The former are collected through flight, hotel and car hire, plus brands including John Lewis, Tesco Clubcard and Asos. They can be spent on flights with BA, Iberia and other Oneworld partner airlines, upgrades, hotel stays, experiences, car hire and wine.

Flights booked using Avios are known as reward flights, but you have to pay a cash amount to cover taxes, fees and carrier charges. A BA Business Class flight from Heathrow to JFK on what is considered low season in November and early December might cost 50,000 Avios points, plus £402.32. Or, for a minimum of 25,000 Avios points you'd pay £872.32, according to the BA website calculator on Wednesday 7 November.

Members can also collect Tier Points each time they fly, with the amount earned dependent on ticket type and class of fare. After the entry-level Blue tier, there are three tiers to climb: Bronze, Silver and Gold. All but the Blue offer priority boarding. Silver and Gold give opportunities for additional baggage allowance and lounge access. Gold gives you the use of BA First and other Oneworld First Class check-in desks. There's also a sliding scale of bonus Avios points earned on flights with BA, Iberia, American Airlines and Japan Airlines.

Unlike Avios, Tier Points can't be spent on rewards and they are reset to zero every year.

Emirates Skywards

Emirates Skywards gives travellers the opportunity to collect and spend miles with Emirates, flydubai and other partners. There are two types of Miles in the programme: Skywards Miles are earned through flights with Emirates, flydubai and other partner airlines as well as promotions and partner offers (such as American Express spending and car rental); Tier Miles are only collected when you fly with Emirates and flydubai.

Skywards Miles can be redeemed for a variety of rewards. The way they are calculated is dependent on route, fare type, class and tier. Rewards can include the full cost of a ticket, the partial cost of a ticket and upgrades.

Some other airlines allow you to earn or spend Skywards Miles, including easyJet, Malaysia Airlines and Qantas.

There are four tiers – Blue, Silver, Gold and Platinum – and you move up the tier two ways. Either collect the required amount of Tier Miles by flying with Emirates or flydubai, or complete the required number of Emirates or flydubai flights needed to reach the next level.

Benefits, dependent on tier, include complimentary seat selection and excess baggage allowances. Gold and Platinum members get guaranteed seats, even on fully booked flights.

American Airlines AAdvantage

AAdvantage, by American Airlines, gives passengers the opportunity to earn miles when flying with the carrier, any Oneworld airline and other partner airlines.

Oneworld carriers include BA, Iberia, Cathay Pacific and Finnair. Non-Oneworld partners include Etihad, Gulf Air, Fiji Airways and WestJet. Featured hotels include Marriott, The Ritz-Carlton, InterContinental and Hyatt.

Miles can be spent on flights to almost 1,000 worldwide destinations, upgrades, holidays, car rentals, hotels and other products.

You can also increase your mileage balance by purchasing extra AAdvantage bonus miles on eligible flights.

As an estimate, a one-way Business Class flight from London to most of the US would require 57,500 miles.

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