Can someone explain airline-loyalty programmes to me?
August 3, 2005 2:46 AM   Subscribe

Airmiles, full-fare, goldmember elite worldclass club, Y-C-B and Z class tickets, Award flights, etc - even as a frequent flyer, I have no clue what these all mean, how I get them, and how I can use them to get an upgrade.

I fly (economy) about three times a year from Amsterdam to the United States, and about 8 times to other European destinations. I just buy the cheapest ticket with the least stop-overs.

Recently it dawned on me, that some people who fly a lot less than I do, were spending airmiles they earned, or loyalty points they gained, on either free goodies or, -what I am more interested in- on flight upgrades.

I have never in fact gotten any miles or points from anyone; because I didn't ask?

Can anyone explain to me how this whole business of flyer-programs and other (semi-)freebies operates and what I could do to take advantage of it? Transatlantic flights would be so much better without thrombosis.
posted by Grensgeval to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The secret to mileage programs is always fly airlines in the same program family. Unfortunately, this directly conflicts with a mandate to get the best ticket price.

Unfortunately, the goal you've set out -- business class seats on trans-Atlantic flights -- is the single hardest goal to achieve in the universe of frequent flier benefits, because the airlines do very selling those seats for cold hard cash. There are high mileage requirements, tight capacity controls, and high cash outlays required (you have to buy a more expensive seat than you might otherwise get, on the same plane, and on some carriers pay hundreds of dollars in cash on top of that.)

Most of the ardent frequent fliers I know suck it up and fly coach to Europe when on leisure travel, and use the miles and status accumulated to get upgrade credits for the domestic travel, for which their employers will only buy coach seats.
posted by MattD at 3:13 AM on August 3, 2005

You should sign up for the frequent flyer programs, because even occasional travel can add up to free tickets or upgrades. To the extent that you can consolidate your travel on a single airline or its partners, the faster you can accrue benefits. Take a look at your travel paterns and see whether there's a single airline that can meet most of your needs, and then try to fly it exclusively as long as the price is right.

Each airline is a little different, and so strategy for maximizing freebies can depend both on what airline you choose as well as your travel patterns. Since you fly out of Amsterdam, I'd guess that KLM/Air France might be a good choice.

"Miles" are the currency you can use to upgrade yourself. On KLM, for example, I think it costs 25,000 miles to upgrade to business class transatlantic. So if you fly three times a year across the Atlantic on KLM, you can probably earn enough miles to trade in for an upgrade on one of the three trips. Of course, there are catches: upgrades may not be available on some very cheap promotional fares, and the number of upgrades per flight is limited, so they might run out before you can use your miles.

If you flew KLM/Air France across the Atlantic three times a year, there is a very good chance you would qualify for "Silver" elite benefits, which require 25,000 miles of travel per year on the airline. (Silver is the lowest elite level, the next level is Gold, requiring 40,000 miles.) At KLM, Silver provides modest benefits, including priority check-in, priority boarding (on some flights), an increased baggage allowance, and preference on wait-lists. It also provides a 50% mileage bonus, giving you more miles which you can use to upgrade more frequently. For example. on a flight from AMS to DTW, you would earn about 6000 miles instead of the 4000 miles actually travelled. (Although when it comes to qualifying for elite status, only the actual miles count, not the bonus miles.)

That's the general idea, although it can certainly get more complicated. FlyerTalk is the best website for mileage junkies.
posted by blue mustard at 4:59 AM on August 3, 2005

Unfortunately, the goal you've set out -- business class seats on trans-Atlantic flights -- is the single hardest goal to achieve in the universe of frequent flier benefits, because the airlines do very selling those seats for cold hard cash.

Nah, getting from the U.S. to Australia in a premium class is even more difficult. And first-class is even more difficult than business.

There are plenty of programs where it is common to use miles/points for transatlantic upgrades. I agree with blue mustard, Flyertalk, Flyertalk, Flyertalk.
posted by grouse at 5:56 AM on August 3, 2005

Your best bet is FlyerTalk (try the forums)
posted by dagny at 7:25 AM on August 3, 2005

FT has been mentioned twice already. Well, aren't I clever.
posted by dagny at 7:26 AM on August 3, 2005

Here's a quick anecdote about FF Miles:

I do a small, irregular amount of business travel. I flew 2-3 times in Jan/Feb, and nothing until July, where I kicked off 4 trips in six weeks.

I've signed up for the FF programs on nearly every airline in existence and accum a small number of miles through the year. It will never be enough to amount to anything, so when Delta sent me a flyer offering to cash in my miles on free magazine subscriptions, I jumped.

Now I get four mags that I didn't before, just for filling out paperwork.
posted by unixrat at 8:50 AM on August 3, 2005

It is hard to accumulate the points you would need for an upgrade in you are an infrequent flyer, but there are other ways to earn miles. Consider getting a credit card which gives you frequent flyer miles, or reward points which you can exhange for miles at a number of different airlines. In North America, Amex and Citigroup come to mind, but I'm sure you can find others. Alternatively, figure out which ailine you fly most often, and check if there is a credit card with which they co-brand (all the major US airlines do this).
posted by darsh at 11:43 AM on August 3, 2005

Keep in mind that you can move flyer miles around through the "network" of providers, and sometimes there's crossover. A friend of mine uses Amtrak a lot - never as a passenger but as a sort of clearinghouse to effectively move miles from one set of airlines to another, even though they don't deal with each other directly. (I'm with you though, I've never kept track of it before because there's so. much. to. keep track of.)
posted by whatzit at 11:57 AM on August 3, 2005

Put EVERYTHING you buy on a credit card that connects to the airline that you would use most frequently. If you do all your groceries, pay your bills, every little Starbucks purchase, bar tabs, it all adds up really fast. Anything that gives you the option of credit card, use it. You'll need to restructure how your monthly bill system works (one big bill instead of lots of smaller ones) and you have to remember to use less cash. But, family of four to England last year for free via five years of visa bills. Not bad.
posted by johngumbo at 8:19 PM on August 3, 2005

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