Frequent flyer program

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A Frequent Flyer Program is a service offered by many airlines to reward customer loyalty. Typically, airline customers enrolled in the program accrue points corresponding to the distance flown on that airline. Accrued points (also known as frequent flyer miles) can be redeemed for free air travel and other products or services, as well as allowing passengers to have increased benefits - such as airport lounge access, or priority bookings.

With the introduction of airline alliances and code-share flights, frequent flyer programs are often extended to allow benefits to be used across partner airlines.

Contents

Points accrual

The primary method of obtaining points in a frequent flyer program is to fly with the associated airline. Most systems reward travellers with a specific number of points based on the distance travelled (such as 1 point per mile flown), although systems vary. In Europe, for example, a number of airlines offer a fixed number of points per flight regardless of the distance. The calculation method can become complicated, with additional points given for flying first or business class, and often less points given when flying on discounted tickets.

Many programs allow points to be obtained not just through flying, but by staying at participating hotels, or renting a vehicle from a participating company. Other methods include credit cards that offer points for charges made to the card, and systems which allow restaurant diners to earn miles by eating at participating restaurants.

Programs differ on the expiry of points - some expire after a fixed time, and others expire if the account is inactive for an extended period (for example, three years.)

Customer Status

Many frequent flyer programs identify travellers who fly more than a few times per year by awarding them different status levels, which in turn give a number of benefits that can not otherwise be purchased.

Status levels vary from scheme to scheme, but benefits can include:

  • Access to business and first class lounges with an economy ticket
  • Access to other airline's lounges
  • Increased mileage accumulation (such as doubled or trebled)
  • Reserving an unoccupied adjacent seat
  • The ability to reserve specific seats, such as exit-row seats with more legroom
  • Free or discounted upgrades a higher travel class
  • Priority in waitlisting or flying standby
  • Preference in not being bumped if a flight is oversold

Some programs even permit Úlite members to reserve space on sold-out flights, giving members the ability of bumping regular passengers.

Customer status is based on the number of miles actually flown with the airline, and points accrued through other methods such as credit cards purchase are not considered. Some airlines will recognise a customer's status with a competing airline, and grant them the same benefits.

Some airlines offer accelerated admission to their Úlite programs through special promotions, such as flying 25,000 miles within one month and attains a top-tier membership normally reserved for passengers flying 100,000 miles per year.

Bankruptcy

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, some airlines have faced financial difficulties and there is concern frequent flyer's points could be wiped-out in a bankruptcy court proceeding. Historically, some programs have been bought out (such as TWA's acquisition by American Airlines), whilst others (such as Ansett Australia) have lost all benefits and points with no compensation.

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