Rewards, air miles, gold clubs, silver clubs, blue clubs, miles boosters — airline loyalty schemes can be bamboozling.
And all this lingo is before you have even thought about what they’re really worth.
In the UK, schemes offered by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have the largest take-up — redeemable across a host of airlines, plus shops, hotels and hire car companies.
Rewards, air miles, gold clubs, silver clubs, blue clubs, miles boosters – airline loyalty schemes can be bamboozling
These market leaders have plenty of quirks — but newcomers to such loyalty schemes should not be dissuaded.
‘They are easy to join and just earning points on everyday purchases at a supermarket could lead to free flights,’ says Nicky Kelvin, at The Points Guy UK (thepointsguy.co.uk), a website devoted to all things loyalty points.
Here’s our beginner’s guide:
THE BIG ONE: AVIOS AND BRITISH AIRWAYS
With the Avios scheme, flyers collect points earned on BA flights as well as those with Iberia and Aer Lingus
Under the Avios scheme, you collect points earned on British Airways flights as well as with Iberia and Aer Lingus. They are redeemable for any flights with Oneworld — an alliance of 13 airlines including American, Cathay Pacific, Finnair and Qatar. Non-airline partners include Avis, John Lewis, M&S, Sainsbury’s and Argos.
How does it work? Points are earned at a rate starting at 25 per cent of miles flown on economy tickets. Rates increase depending on which cabin a passenger is in (economy to first class), as well as frequent flyer membership tiers (which range from blue to gold). From London to New York, blue members (the lowest frequent flyer tier) would earn 865 points in economy, while a gold member in first class would earn 13,832.
What are they worth? Flights paid for with Avios points start from 4,000 points one-way (to Amsterdam or Paris), with long haul from 13,000. Points can be used in combination with cash.
Pros: Household accounts for families, points never expire, range of partners.
Cons: High taxes on long-haul flights (can be upwards of £300 on some economy flights), cannot use to upgrade the cheapest economy tickets and non-airline partner redemptions can be bad value.
THE CHALLENGER: VIRGIN ATLANTIC FLYING CLUB
Miles earned with Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club can be used on airlines such as Air France, KLM and Delta
Flying Club miles are earned with Virgin Atlantic and can be used on airlines including Air France, KLM, Delta and Singapore Airlines. Non-airline partners include Hertz, Hilton, Marriott, Eurostar and Mastercard. Under its ‘Virgin Red’ section, Flying Club points can be used to buy anything from theatre tickets to Greggs’ sausage rolls.
How does it work? Points are earned starting at a rate of 25 per cent of miles flown. For example, a flight of 1,000 miles would earn 250 points. Rates increase depending on which cabin a passenger is in (economy to first class), as well as frequent flyer membership tiers (from red to gold). London to New York red members earn 865 points in economy while a gold member in first class earn 13,832.
What are they worth? Flights with Flying Club points start from 18,000 return for London to Tel Aviv, plus £208 in taxes. London to Barbados return from 20,000, plus £305 in taxes.
Pros: Points never expire. There are good partner options for long-haul travel. A ‘Miles Booster’ scheme lets passengers buy extra points on top of a regular ticket price.
Cons: There are prohibitively high taxes on some routes (£672 on a London to New York return) and Virgin’s network is more limited than BA’s.
BEST FOR PACKAGE HOLS: JET2 TRAVEL CLUB
Jet2’s Travel Club allows members to take advantage of holiday discounts and more
Travel Club benefits include holiday discounts, flight discounts, early notifications on news and offers and deals on Travel Essentials (holiday extras).
How does it work? Join online to view exclusive offers.
What are they worth? Flight offers can be from £35 one-way.
Pros: Be the first to know about cheapest tickets and holidays.
Cons: Competition is likely to be high.
NO FRILLS: WIZZ AIR PRIVILEGE PASS
To obtain a Wizz Air Privilege Pass, customers must pay an annual membership fee of £171
An annual membership fee of £171 gives customers free seat selection, priority boarding, and an extra trolley bag for carry-on. It is not to be confused with Wizz Priority and Flex, which allows online flight changes without the fee and refund in credit vouchers if there is a cancellation. How does it work? Sign up online and then benefits will apply to each booking.
What are they worth? Wizz Priority offers the same benefits (aside from seat selection) and is £21 per flight at the airport.
Pros: Avoids surprise extra charges.
Cons: Not worth the membership fee unless flying frequently.
BUDGET BONANZA: EASYJET FLIGHT CLUB
Only frequent flyers are invited to join easyJet’s Flight Club, which offers a range of perks
EasyJet Flight Club is invitation only, offered to frequent flyers, and allows free flight and name change plus other benefits. There is also EasyJet Plus, £215 per year, with perks such as extra baggage allowances, speedy boarding and fast track security.
How does it work? Customers who find a cheaper equivalent flight with another airline will be refunded the difference and given a voucher worth 10 per cent of that amount. For EasyJet flights, customers will receive a credit voucher of the difference.
What are they worth? Savings can be significant with flights from £29.99 one-way.
Pros: Good savings and because it’s invitation only there are proper deals.
Cons: It’s invitation only.
WHAT ABOUT MY CREDIT CARD?
The fastest way to build up points without flying is through a credit card
Credit cards are the fastest way to accrue points without flying.
Nicky Kelvin recommends the American Express Membership Rewards scheme, as points can be easily used to book flights or hotels. Customers can see how many points they have by going to americanexpress.com and then travel can be booked directly using points through the American Express website at travel.americanexpress.co.uk.
Airline partners include Virgin, BA, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines and Air France-KLM. Hotel transfer partners include Hilton, Marriott and Radisson.
Virgin Atlantic also has a dedicated Mastercard with similar benefits. And it should be noted that British Airways has an American Express card that earns Avios rather than Membership Rewards points.