Being part of any Frequent Flyer Program (FFP), can be an exercise in frustration. There are a host of issue one can face:
Not having enough miles for a free ticket; or
Having very few miles in various accounts that just can’t be clubbed together; or
There is no availability; or
The tax and surcharge are as much as the cash ticket; or
Not getting the perks that come with status, like lounge access, extra luggage; or
Not being able to figure out how the program works!
And this is not by accident. Most FFP’s are designed to provide free tickets and benefits, but not necessarily in a manner most beneficial to its customer. The system is designed to provide the least possible value for each mile in the account.
But once you figure out the system, frequent flyer miles can be a lucrative way to see a lot of the world for free.
Think of FFP miles as a currency. The key few things to remember is that just like each currency has its own value, different types of miles have different values – this is an important aspect of the program. Investing in miles with higher intrinsic value would be difference between travelling to one city a year and multiple cities a year. The other thing to remember is that just like currencies devalue over time, miles devalue over time too - albeit at a much faster rate. So collect miles, but don’t forget to use them timely too.
In order to take advantage of the FFP’s one must begin by deciding what is the benefit they are aiming for. If being treated well, getting upgrade vouchers, extra luggage allowance and lounge access is the primary goal, these can be achieved through status with the airline. Unfortunately, those only come through flying with a specific airline and a lot of flying at that too. Airlines reserve status for customers who contribute to their bottom line. So unless you are a frequent flyer, in the truest sense of the term, flying at least 1-2 flights a week, or flying business class on international routes often, status is a distant dream. There are credit card companies that provide status, but those are far and few in between and not worth the annual fee and other riders that come with the credit card.
If one does fly often, it pays to collect the miles with the airlines that provides the fastest route to status. Or the miles that have the most value. Many airlines in the world are part of alliances like Star Alliance, OneWorld or Sky Team, so one doesn’t necessarily have to collect miles with the airlines they fly with. This is where it gets a little complicated and requires a clear idea of what the end goal is. Understanding airlines alliances and tie ups are a topic that merit a post in their own right. And the value of miles is a topic that requires deep dwelling over several posts.
The other benefit of Frequent Flyer Program is being able to collect miles and spend them for free tickets. And that is not necessarily aligned to how much you actually fly. Frequent flyer programs are free to join, so technically one can be enrolled in all the FFP’s in the world. Once enrolled in the program, collect the miles that are required for free travel. And the avenues to collect free miles are many:
1. Actual flying with the airline- Collect miles are every flight taken. Enroll in the program and quote your membership number for each flight. No exceptions.
2. Flying with partner airlines- Let’s say your airline of choice for collecting miles is Jet Airways’ FFP. Now, when you fly an airline that is a partner airline of Jet Airways, quote your Jet Airways frequent flier number on the booking. You can see the list of the partner airlines on their website. So, if you are flying Etihad Airways, it is possible to collect the miles for that flight on Jet Airways and vice versa, because Jet Airways and Etihad Airways are partners. You might think that Jet would give you fewer miles for a journey taken on Etihad airways, than Etihad Airways, but that’s ok. It’s better to have your miles collected in one program than have yourself spread thin over various program. Having a few miles in many different accounts has no value.
3. Hotel stays – Just like partner airlines, airlines tie up with hotels too and you can collect miles for your stays too. You do have to consider though if you want to collect hotel points instead and redeem those for free
hotel rooms, because those are just as money saving as airline miles. But if you think you don’t have use for free hotel stays, by all means, collect airline miles.
4. Retail shopping – Airlines love tie ups, so they go ahead and tie up with other retailers too. American Airlines, United, etc. have their own shopping portals, that you can use to earn miles. Just for shopping something, that you would have purchased anyway, through their portal. Same holds true for other airlines too.
5. Credit Card 1 – This is the golden pot of airline miles. Almost all airlines have tie ups with credit card companies and if offer huge sign up bonus, spend bonus, etc. that directly convert directly to miles on your chose FFP. You can earn enough miles for free tickets every year, without taking a single flight. Now combine this with the three avenues mentioned above and you earn miles for each spend, twice over.
6. Credit Card 2 – In case you are not keen on getting a credit card with a specific airline or you want flexibility to be able to fly any airline, there are credit cards that allow you to earn credit card points and then use them to offset any travel expenses you may have. American Express in US is one example. Citi Premier miles card, which is available in many countries like UAE, India, etc. is also another way to earn miles and retain the flexibility to fly any airlines, including Low Cost Airlines that do not have a mileage program. The added advantage is credit cards provide free lounge access. If you fly even once a month, this can be really beneficial.
7. Spend bonus, flight bonus – Airlines and credit cards, both often offer bonus for specific spends, spends on specific website or merchants, taking specific flights. While this may sound like a lot of work, in reality, it’s a small fraction of the time investment you need to make to reap the rewards. And the credit card spend requires the minutest of changes to your spending habit to get a bunch load of miles. Not to mention, you would contribute to the cashless economy movement. The world is going to be cashless, might as well get used to it.
While the FFP world and the myriad requirement look daunting at first, a little bit of planning can take you a long way – and for free. Invest a little time in the right program and the returns will help you see the world.