Frequently flyer clubs are still worth joining, even if you don't fly frequently...
An Air Mauritius Airbus A340 arriving at at it's home airport; a popular destination for freebie flights. Photo My Bathroom Wall
Airline frequent flyer schemes get a pretty bad press these days, largely as they have got less generous and more pernickety over the years. But the fundamental point is that you can still get something for nothing, and when the prize is flights and upgrades, they remain worth joining.
Even if you rarely take a flight or always buy the cheapest tickets, you should enrol now. Choosing which scheme is best for you and figuring out how to make the most of the points is fiendishly complicated - I know as I've joined more than a dozen of the clubs in order to figure it out.
Distilled from my experience, here are 10 points to help you get the most from frequent flyer schemes…
1: Concentrate on one club to maximise your collecting speed. Airlines are grouped into alliances – where you can earn and spend across all members of one alliance by being in a single club - so join a club from each of the biggest two alliances – Star and OneWorld - so that you’ll be covered for most of your flying, whichever airline you choose.
2: Get an affiliated credit card to earn points whenever you spend, and look out for enrolment bonuses, which can be up to 20,000 points - providing you use the card in the months after getting it.
3: Double dip to get twice the points on purchases. Over half of all frequent flyer points are earned on the ground, by shopping with airline ‘partner’ shops or spending on an affiliated credit card. For example, link a Woolworths Everyday Rewards card to your Qantas frequent flyer club and earn Qantas points from both the Qantas credit card and the Woolworth’s Everyday Rewards on each purchase.
4: Pool family spending so that other family members’ flying and spending go into one pot, helping the points to accumulate faster. You can pool points in the schemes of Virgin Australia, British Airways, Japan Airlines and others. Qantas allows transfers between family members up to four times a year.
5: Booking strategy: think of booking flights with points just as you would with cash. That means, try to book early, avoid holiday periods and, if you can, stretch a weekend break to miss flying out on Friday and back on Sunday – the busiest days. And if you don’t have enough points for a flight, there is usually the option to spend fewer points to get an upgrade, or on hotels, hire cars, and also general online shopping with many high street brands.
6: Ask about partner airline flights – many schemes only show their own airline flights on the Website booking page. Call the scheme reservations centre and the agent will give you more options on other alliance member airlines. It doesn’t cost more points to change planes en route to your destination, and looking at other airlines can mean getting seats even when direct flights are already booked up.
7: Rather than spending points on short flights where everyday fares are kept low with competition from budget airlines, save them for trips further afield where you’ll save more. And whichever airline scheme you are in, open jaw trips generally don’t cost extra points, so you can fly, say, into Auckland and back from Christchurch.
8: Find which schemes are best. Figuring out how the schemes differ is a mammoth chore, but webflyer.com has done it for you. It rates different clubs across lots of criteria and gives points out of 10 for club member rating and ‘our rating’. The Freddie Awards (freddieawards.com) are member generated and give a good idea as to the current best clubs: Virgin’s Velocity scheme came top in all five award categories in the Middle East & Asia/Oceania region.
9: Don’t forget budget airline schemes. If you fly budget airlines overseas you needn’t miss out either, as some have frequent flyer programmes too. They are generally admirably simple and easy to use. Budget airlines with schemes include Air Asia, Air Baltic, Cebu Pacific, Norwegian, Southwest and Vueling.
10: It’s no nest egg. If you have a stash of points, don’t view them as you would with money and save them for your retirement. The generosity of the schemes is likely to keep reducing over time. So if you have a wodge of points saved up, do yourself a favour – spend them!