Almost every airline has either their own loyalty program or belongs to an alliance of airlines. Travelers should ask themselves if it’s worthwhile to join based on the frequency and type of travel purchased. Cost is either complimentary or minimal and the joining process is simple. There are benefits to be had, but they can require patience and perseverance to profit from them.

Credit Accrual

All membership programs have the same basic premise, i.e. credit is accrued when airfare is purchased. Sometimes credits only accrue from certain airfares. Sale and promotional fares are often exempt from accruing credits. However, cheaper fares may still count towards status tiers.

Business travelers do well to join loyalty programs because membership costs are minimal, and the frequency of travel quickly attracts reward credits. Whilst leisure travelers may not travel as often, it’s still worthwhile to join. A return longhaul trip between New Zealand and Europe often accrues enough points to be redeemed on a return shorthaul trip between New Zealand and Australia. And if the credits don’t expire, there’s no harm in having a healthy deposit in the credit bank to be used at a later date.

Credit Redemption

Credits are redeemed on upgrades and other forms of travel. If travel is predominantly on one airline, it’s logical to join their program because points accumulate by frequent travel. Members are also more likely to get upgraded than non-members.

Alternatively, it’s useful to think about how the points will be utilized. For example, if one usually flies to Singapore on Singapore airlines but is planning a family holiday to Thailand at the end of the year, it may be more beneficial to join the Thai Airlines program, Royal Orchid Plus. It will be easier to redeem points to a particular destination on that country’s flag carrier.

Once points are accrued, the traveler can redeem them for himself. Whether the credits can be used for friends and family varies from program to program. Most programs have different tiers determined by number of points accrued. The highest tiers have more flexibility in regards to how points can be redeemed. For example, Air New Zealand jade members can only use their air dollars for themselves. However, gold elite members can gift dollars to family members residing at the same address.

Redeeming credits for any form of travel should be requested as far in advance as possible. Months in advance wouldn’t be too soon. Most airlines only have a handful of upgrade or award seats on any given flight. Successfully procuring seats on preferred dates and flights requires advance planning, flexibility with dates, perseverance, and a lot of patience.

Range of Loyalty Programs

Individual airlines often have their own loyalty programs but can also be part of a larger airline network e.g. Singapore airlines loyalty program, KrisFlyer, is part of the Star Alliance, a group of 27 partner airlines.

Some of the largest loyalty programs are:

  • Lufthansa Miles and More
  • American Airlines AAdvantage
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • United Airlines Mileage Plus
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • KLM Flying Blue
  • Air New Zealand Airpoints

Airline Membership Application

Most airline loyalty programs are free to join. A couple of exceptions are Air New Zealand Airpoints and Qantas Frequent Flyer, both costing NZD50. The easiest way to join is online although application forms are also available at check-in.

Applications can take up to six weeks to process. Ideally, it’s best to join prior to travel so that the membership details can be inserted into the booking prior to departure, facilitating capture of all sectors. Some loyalty programs allow retrospective claiming of points if membership is applied for within a certain period after travel. However, one needs to have kept their original boarding passes and copies of their electronic tickets.

Benefits of Loyalty Outweigh the Costs

It’s almost impossible to get something for nothing these days. So when the opportunity to get a return on money presents itself as an airline loyalty program that yields upgrades and free travel, it’s definitely one worth taking advantage of.

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