How Do Frequent Flyer Programs Work?

Frequent flyer programs are the loyalty schemes airlines offer to customers. They first started in the ‘80s but as they have grown, they have become almost indecipherably complex.

Here, our Travel Managers explain the basics of frequent flyer programmes, giving you insider tips on how to gain points faster, and qualify for elite status.

Earning points

There are lots of ways that members can earn points on frequent flyer programs. The most obvious way is to fly with the airline. Points are usually allocated based on the distance of the flight. As competition between programs has grown fiercer, more and more ways to earn have been created.

A popular way to earn points is to get an airline credit card. Bonuses are often awarded when certain amounts of spending are reached. There is also usually a large sign-up bonus.

Inflight purchases often earn customers extra points, but so can regular purchases at many high street shops. Many brands use airlines reward points to incentivise the purchase of their products. There’s a big online community based around sharing the best ways to earn points on purchases and identify good deals for flyers.

Redeeming points

Points essentially work like money. You earn the points by using the right credit card, buying the right products and services, and flying with the airline. When you’ve earned enough, you spend the points with the airline.

The points you earn can be used to buy flights and upgrades. For example, you could use your points to buy a ticket, or buy a ticket with money and then use your points to pay for an upgrade to first class.

Although points operate like cash, they are by no means as reliable in terms of getting the flights you want. This is because the airlines have been devaluing their points schemes in a number of ways. Often, the flights which can be purchased are restricted, or the number of reward program seats is limited. There are also ‘blackout dates’ where reward points simply aren’t accepted. This is usually around popular dates like school holidays.

Membership tiers

Earning a certain amount of points in a frequent flyer program can qualify you for an elite membership tier. The points you need are regular reward points, however.

Most airlines require a certain threshold of qualifying points to be earned. AA call these Elite Qualifying Miles. Virgin Atlantic and BA call them Tier Points. They usually can’t be bought or earned any faster than by simply flying with the airline. They ensure only truly frequent flyers gain elite benefits.

So what are the benefits of elite status? Elite flyers can expect:

  • complimentary upgrades,
  • premium lounge access,
  • free inflight perks,
  • reward point bonuses,
  • priority check-in,
  • extra luggage allowance, and
  • advanced access to tickets and upgrades.

Airline alliances

Airline alliances are integral to the modern travel industry. An alliance forms when two airlines ‘codeshare’. This is when many different airlines sell tickets for the same flight. The flight is then operated by one airline in the alliance.

The relevance for frequent flyer programs is that airline alliances allow you to rack up points with your airline despite flying on another airline’s plane. For example, BA and AA founded an alliance called OneWorld. You could fly from Chicago to New York on an AA plane, but if you booked the flight with BA, you would still gain points with their program.

Travelling with Simplexity gains you a level of premium access that exceeds even the best airline reward scheme. Our strong, longstanding relationships with the world’s premier luxury travel providers mean we can secure you the best flights, rooms and unique travel experiences all over the world.

Speak to us today to see what we can do for you. Call 0203 535 9290 or email

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