Best and Not So Best Airline Loyalty Programmes
It all began, rather innocently enough, by erstwhile Texas International Airlines in 1979. The first frequent flyer programme was crude by modern standards but was a bona fide breakthrough in customer relations and retention. Suffice to say, it was a watershed moment for the world of commercial aviation and, indeed, the industry has not been the same since.
Fast-forward more than three decades and the worldwide accumulation of air miles stands at close to 20 trillion, which roughly corresponds to close to 1 trillion United States dollars. That is a lot of holidays and business trips.
Of course, everyone has a frequent flyer programme these days. The key is to separate the wheat from the chaff, a service we happily provide with a look at some of the best and not so best loyalty programmes in the commercial airline industry.
The flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates wins regular plaudits for Etihad Guest, a loyalty and frequent flyer programme which, while not part of any airline alliance, has partnership accords with the likes of Asiana Airlines, Pacific Airlines, Virgin Australia and American Airlines.
Where to stay: Fairmont Hotel Bab Al Bahr Hotel Abu Dhabi
American Airlines AAdvantage
American Airlines AAdvantage was the first major loyalty programme in the world and is the runaway leader with close to 70 million members. Above and beyond Oneworld, American Connection, and American Eagle partnerships, the carrier out of Fort Worth, Texas offers frequent flier alliances with the likes of Aer Lingus, El Al, Jet Blue and Kingfisher.
Where to stay: Grand Hyatt DFW
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is a perpetual shoo-in for “Best Frequent Flyer Programme” at the annual Business Traveller Asia-Pacific Travel Awards. Membership is free and the flag carrier of Hong Kong has more than 500 partners.
Where to stay: Hotel Panorama by Rhombus Hong Kong
The Not So Best
Delta Air Lines SkyMiles
Delta Air Lines Sky Miles consistently ranks last among global airlines when it comes to seat availability when customers try to redeem frequent flyer miles or reward points. Less importantly, Delta is also the only major legacy airline not to offer lounge access to middle tier elites at the 50,000 mile level. Happily, the carrier that operates from Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport has made promises to improve the state of SkyMiles for loyal customers.
Where to stay: Atlanta Airport Marriott Hotel Gateway
Air Canada Aeroplan
When it comes to sly, abstruse disclaimers, Air Canada Aeroplan takes the cake. In the mileage department, Aeroplan shows promise rewards-wise but the requirement to purchase a ticket every 12 months in order to keep points in play is a tough pill for some customers to swallow. You can accumulate all the points in the world but unless you book a flight every year, no dice. Still, the flag carrier of Canada, with headquarters in Montreal, has a 5.6 out of 10 average customer review on Skytrax – all in all fairly decent.
Where to stay: Intercontinental Hotel Montreal
Air France and KLM Flying Blue
Patrol the vast online frequent flyer community and Flying Blue is a persistent source of irritation among the jetset. The problem, it seems, is one of apparent stinginess and a recurrent inability to credit miles promptly without a customer submission. Air France and KLM both seem quick to pull the downgrade trigger as well, which many, rather understandably, find irksome.
Where to stay: Grand Hotel Amrath Amsterdam