Airline Loyalty Programmes, Your Passport To Bliss

Flight cardsHow many times have you found yourself wishing you can upgrade to a business class seat,  gain priority boarding or spend a day at the spa or other luxury locations. OMOLOLA ITAYEMI writes about airline loyalty programmes and what opportunities avail their members
With the constant hike in airline fares from cost of aviation fuel to multiple taxes resulting from aviation logistics, passengers are leaning more towards cost-efficient ways of travelling. And one of such is airline loyalty programme, which offer frequent flyers an opportunity to redeem their frequency of travel for perks from the airline. These perks range from discounted flights to upgrades and with some airlines the possibilities of what your accrued air miles can earn for you is endless. The catch however is you can only benefit from most loyalty programmes if you travel frequently.
Airline loyalty schemes reward frequent flyers with a range of benefits, the most valuable of which are free flights, others include services with airlines partners, upgrades and priority check-in. Members who buy flights with the airline are rewarded with points; these points can be collected and redeemed for free flights, companion tickets or seating class upgrades.
Loyalty programmes usually have different levels, membership of which may be awarded based on achieving certain mileage thresholds or other customer value-related targets. The higher your level is, the more perks you stand to enjoy
The airlines are not resting on their oars with the increasing number of partners acquired with each passing day because your choice of partners can make or break your loyalty programme, remember your passenger will view your partners through your eyes. Many passengers who have had a bad experience with partners automatically transfer it to the airline and will be wary of flying such airline in the future.
These partners range from hotels to rental cars to entertainment outlets. The list is exhaustive and no area of life is spared, a climb up the highest mountain or a day at an exotic spa, these days there is nothing a loyalty programme cannot offer. With each airline, the possibility a frequent flyer enjoys depends on what the airline has to offer.
Bliss or Nightmare
But as exotic as some of these offers are, travellers are complaining about redeeming their miles. While some travellers are very ignorant about these loyalty programs, some others are just plain wary about them seeing them as just another dubious schemes dangled by business organisations in a bid to keep clients committed to their business.
Kunle Dada, a frequent flyer on South African Airline (SAA) Voyager and Emirates Skywards believes these two airlines have got it right in this aspect. The business man who shuttles between South Africa, Nigeria and United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the past fifteen years speaks from experience as he enjoys the superior mile class on both. He says, ‘’they fantastic voyage miles scheme for frequent flyers. Apart from discounted and free ticket offers, they give benefits relating to hotel accommodation and car rentals which I enjoy.
But Fatue, an IT specialist and business man does not share similar sentiments as Mr Dada, a frequent flyer on the Lagos-London route, he has over time racked up quite a number of air miles as he shuttles both way and not been able to redeem any. He however agrees that his inability to go through the process of redeeming them could have been one of the problems.
He also mentioned the old and ambiguous process of having to include your ID number when buying your tickets as opposed to now when the ticketing system automatically picks it up. ‘’I have never used my Air miles. I accumulated a lot on Virgin Atlantic, didn’t use them and was taken away from me. I have started stacking them up again,’’ he said enthusiastically.
Mrs Kemi Salami, a frequent flyer on Air France Flying Blue sees it as a noble scheme, ‘’Ability to redeem miles smoothly and what I stand to benefit is key with me when I’m purchasing ticket for air travel except in times of emergencies. Partners are key in this regard because you can enjoy a whole range of perks from lifestyle to fashion to adventure. I have sampled gourmet food in the most exclusive restaurants, gone on fantasy trips and even gone on intellectual exploration from redeeming my miles. Its opens up a world of opportunities beyond upgrades or priority check-in which a lot of people think that’s what they are all about. If you redeem your miles constantly, you’ll realize what you’ve paid for that class of ticket actually reduces.’’
Myths associated with Air miles:
Air miles do expire. There is this myth associated with air miles that they last forever, however that is not the case. Most airlines offer three year period for miles and will expire if not used within that period.
Air miles automatically translate into a ticket. Depending on the amount of miles you have accrued traveling, your miles might not automatically give you a ticket. With some airlines, cash needs to be exchanged to get the full value of the ticket intended. For others, you might need to find a date or time for the ticket you intend to use.
Airlines work with seasons and redeeming miles for tickets to a great extent depends on what season you intend to travel. Trading miles for flight ticket is better during low season, where passengers have a better chance of getting seats.
Being on the flight automatically translates into miles being recorded; with some airlines your membership number has to be quoted when your ticket is being booked for miles to be recorded when travelling. With others, reverse is the case, once ticket has been paid for, system automatically adds membership number and miles accrued to passenger once flight has been completed.
They are not transferable – while miles accrued to you is in your air-account, your miles can be used to redeem tickets and other benefits to someone other than you.
Mastering it
Evan Konwiser,  Co-founder of airfare-prediction site – FlightCaster who knows his way around the friendly skies and, by extension, their airline loyalty programs offer these helpful points.
1) Never ever fly without earning miles. Even if you’re on a new airline or you’ve n ever flown before, you may as well sign-up. You never know when those miles come in handy down the road if you fly them again (or not). It’s just too easy not to.
2) Only belong to one program per major alliance. This way you can consolidate miles. Since you can earn and redeem on any carrier within an alliance, there’s no need to have points across programs. However, it’s always best to keep your points in the carrier you fly the most. Then you can use those points for upgrades and some other perks that might only be available to members of that program.
3) Pick a “dominant” program for you to focus on. Usually that will be the program of the airline you fly the most. Sign-up for all the alerts for this program so you know when there are mile specials and bonus point opportunities. Get a credit card of this program also so you can get the quick hit of 25k or 30k miles when you make your first purchase, and use it for purchasing tickets on that airline when you usually get 3-5x miles per dollar.
4) Go for Elite. That is the whole goal of airline loyalty. Yes, getting lots of miles is good also. But it’s true they are hard to use, and while you can make good use of them to get magazines, upgrades, and travel—loyalty programs can offer so much more. But they don’t offer anything until you have status. Elite status gives you the ultimate travel experience. Talk about taking so many of the hassle points out of the travel experience!”
Doubra Oluwatominiyi, CEO AntsHill Concierge, a Lagos-based concierge company which specialities include air-miles management believes most airlines can be hesitant to offer members ‘free flights’ using their air miles because it still costs the airline money to carry a ‘free’ passenger. A former Service Centre Administrator of eagleflier (defunct Air Nigeria’s frequent flier programme), Doubra says, ‘airlines reward points are usually offered in the form of frequent flyer miles – although the number of miles awarded doesn’t always relate accurately to physical miles flown. An ideal Loyalty programme should also involve partnerships between the airlines and other travel-related companies (eg car hire, hotels and lifestyle e,g Spas, Salons, High profile shops), with whom their miles can also be earned and redeemed and better yet if they are in outstation locations, members can use their miles without spending money.’’
Speaking on, ‘’the number of miles earned for a purchased flight usually depends upon the distance and class of travel. With some airlines, promotional classes of ticket may not qualify for any miles. Loyalty programmes usually have different levels, membership of which may be awarded based on achieving certain mileage thresholds or other customer value-related targets.’’
To make the scheme work for you as a customer, it’s always best to read through programme’s manual which come in a welcome pack upon registration. Most customers are always too busy, hence miss out on fantastic rewards offers and only remember their miles when they are short of cash, in tight situations and need a bailout. The customer gets upset when he is reminded of the terms and conditions he did not know about because he did not have core knowledge about his membership.
In all, it is important to know that a member can enjoy other exciting benefits aside from free tickets.

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