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How it is to be ‘elite’

We already spoke about elite perks in the previous post.  Now let’s get into some more detail about what these elite perks mean to you and to your traveling experience.

Most airline programs offer 3 or 4 elite levels.  This harmony is mostly enforced because they’re part of an alliance and need to align their elite levels to their partner airlines.  If you’re elite on one airline in an alliance you’re treated accordingly when you travel on the other airlines in the alliance.
Hotel programs most of the time have the same number of levels.  We will cover hotel programs in more detail in the next post and will focus on airline programs in this post.

There’s only one way to achieve elite status on the airline programs.  You have to fly!  Each airline has some specific requirements to achieve status.  They’re all based on a minimum number of flights or points (sometimes called level or status miles). Here are some examples how to achieve the first status level:

– British Airways Executive Club requires 300 tier points or 25 flights.
– Flying Blue (Air France & KLM) 25000 level miles (30000 if you live in France+Monaco) or 15 flights.
– Miles&More (Lufthansa and partners) requires 35000 status miles

It pays to compare programs in the same alliance.  Aegean (Star Alliance) requires 16000 miles to achieve Gold Status (2nd elite level).  Miles&More, also member of Star Alliance, requires 100,000 miles to reach the same Gold Level.

Note that level or status miles should not be confused with the miles you earn for redemption towards free flights.  In many cases you will earn both but this is not always the case. eg. Flying Air Malta will earn you redeemable miles with Lufthansa but these will not count towards status.  Most of the time flying airlines within an alliance will earn you level or status, others won’t. (exception is Korean Air that is part of Skyteam but does not earn Medaillon Qualification Miles or MQM on Delta)

British Airways is slightly different from Miles&More and Flying Blue.  British Airways is more generous and grants 100% redeemable miles on the most discount economy tickets. (Miles&More and Flying Blue only 25% or 50%).  They’re not as generous with their points towards elite status.  To see how many tier points you would earn you can use their calculator on their website.

Some airlines offer shortcuts to elite status.  They may match your status if you’ve earned status on another carrier or they may offer you status for flying a lower amount of miles in a short time span.  Contact me for the exact details of your carrier of choice.

Now you know how to become elite we should still cover the benefits for you.

Benefits vary with each airline but generally include:

– a bonus on the number of  redeemable miles you earn. (25% to 50%)
– privileges of checking-in at the business counter even if you’re traveling in economy class

Sometimes you may get a higher baggage allowance or priority tags for your bags so you should get them faster at the baggage claim.  (although my experience is that the priority tags don’t really affect the speed your baggage is delivered)  Those airlines that offer seat selection for a fee (like British Airways) will generally offer them for free some days in advance to elites.  This gives you the opportunity to pick those better seats before everybody else can.

These are just a few perks.  I’ve listed those that I enjoy most.  As I mentioned the list varies by airline.  I will compare some programs in detail in a next post.

The Lufthansa First Class lounge at Frankfurt ...

The Lufthansa First Class lounge at Frankfurt International Airport, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Access to airline lounges is also a nice perk which is most often offered as of the second elite level.  (Aegean Miles&Bonus is an exception where this is a benefit in the first and only elite level).  I enjoy lounge access a lot.  You get to escape the crowd at the airport and relax in quiet area reserved for elites.  Some drinks and snacks are complimentary.

As already mentioned, detailed comparisons of the benefits of the programs will follow.  I hope this post could already give you some idea what elite status is about!Contact me and I will be happy to help you with your questions.

How to pick your frequent flyer program

If you want to rank up the rewards for all those hours you’ve spend inside those metal birds you better sign up for the right rewards program.  In comes the question: which reward program is right for you.

To make this choice you need to consider a few points:
– What do you want to achieve by joining a program?
– What routes do you fly on?
– What kind of tickets do you fly on?
– How often do you fly?

Let’s start with the latest point: How often do you fly?
It’s important to know that the miles you accumulate will expire after a while.  (One exception to this rule is Delta.)  With most other airlines you need to have activity more or less every 18 months.  It varies by Airline so best is to check with the airline of your choice.  Other programs however have rolling periods.  For example Lufthansa Miles&More has a rolling period of 3 years.  Even with activity, miles older than 3 years will expire.  Needless to say that this kind of rolling expiration window is steeling all your miles before you can use them if you’re not a frequent traveler.
Delta or another program where miles never expire might be an option but off course this very flexible expiration policy has created a growth of the number of miles in the system and has drastically reduced upgrade possibilities.  If you want to use your miles for free flights Delta will probably disappoint you.

Question 2: what tickets do you fly on?
It makes a difference if you’re often travelling for work or you’re mostly travelling for leisure.  Ticket prices vary a lot for the same route and tend to be the cheapest long up front.  Companies book tickets just a few weeks up front.  We book our holidays most often a few months upfront.  It’s not very visible on most European Airline sites but this makes a big difference when it comes to accumulating airline miles.  The more expensive your ticket, determined by the travel class you book, the more miles you will accumulate.  This not only varies between First/Business/Economy but actually looks at the single-letter travel class you have booked.  Very often this is not shown during the booking process or you need to search it in a pop-up screen.  These are some examples of Flying Blue.

ScreenHunter_04 May. 10 16.12ScreenHunter_06 May. 10 16.22

What should you do if your travel solely for leisure, book the cheapast fares and are not happy with a mere 25% of the flown distance in miles?
You can always look to switch to other carriers like British Airways that almost always offers 100% miles, even for deep discount economy.  (the cheapest economy tickets)
Or you could choose to instead credit this flight you would take with Air France to Delta’s Skymiles program.  As you can see Delta is much more generous and offers 100% miles on tickets that would give 25% or 50% with Flying Blue.    This means the Frequent Flyer Program you join must not necessarily be the one of the company you most often fly!

ScreenHunter_07 May. 10 16.23

Question 3 : What routes do you fly on?

Now consider the locations you most often go to and see which carrier is well situated to bring you there without too much hassle.    Picking the best frequent flyer program of all is of no much use if it would mean your journey would be double of what it was before.  You should look in term of alliances rather than solely focusing on carriers only.  As we’ve shown in the previous question you can earn and redeem miles on all carriers within an alliance and sometimes it’s even better to post the miles you’ve earned to another carrier than the one you’ve flown.

Last of them all: What do you want to achieve?
Most of us are accumulating miles to get free flights in return.  If you’re here for the free flights as well check this post I’ve made before to see which carrier is best.
If you would rather score upgrades another program might be better of you.
Lastly, you could as well be in the game for the Elite Perks.  If so you might have to pick yet another program.

To choose the program best for you is of course a personal thing and these questions will help you in making the best choice.  I will gladly help you in making the best choice.  Just contact me if you want.

Codeshares and alliances for dummies – Part 2

Let’s now have a look at alliances.

An airlines alliance is an agreement between airlines to cooperate on a substantial level.  There exist 3 major alliances.  Ordered by size these are Star Alliance, the biggest of the three, Skyteam and Oneworld.  Not all airlines want to be part of an alliance.  Figures of March 2013 show that nonaligned carriers transport almost as many passengers as the 3 alliances combined.


SkyTeam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As is the case with codeshares, alliances aim to enlarge the network of the airlines.  Airlines will typically engage in codeshares with their alliance partners.  Codeshares will however be limited to their most important routes.  All others will not be codeshared and will remain the full responsibility of the operating carrier.

Some airlines choose not to be part of an alliance to save costs.  Being a member of an alliance means you have to align your reservation systems with those of your alliance partners.  You will also need to align your frequent flyer program to be consistent with that of your alliance partners.  To enjoy optimal benefits you should also (re) schedule your flights to ensure good connections with your alliance partners.  The cost to become a member should not be underestimated and may exceed the benefits for some airlines.

Airlines that form an alliance are at the same time partners and competitors.  Quite recently this was painfully clear when Qantas preferred to codeshare with Emirates instead of British Airways on their kangaroo route .  This is why not every airline is welcome in an alliance.  An airline that wants to join an alliance needs to be approved by its members and needs to be sponsored by one of the existing members of the alliance.

In my previous post I used the flights DL141, AF3658 & KL6141 as an example.  All three are basically the same flight between Brussels and New York.  Air France, KLM & Delta are partners in Skyteam and they arranged a codeshare for this flight.  As I live in Brussels and I’m a member of Delta’s Skymiles program I can pick any of these 3 flights, whichever airlines offers the best price at that time.

Now imagine I would want to fly to Amsterdam.  KLM offers a flight from Brussels to Amsterdam but Delta does not codeshare this flight.  As both carriers are in the Skyteam alliance I will still be able to earn miles on this flight.   Delta offers 500 miles minimum or 100pct of miles for flights on KLM.  At least as important are the elite benefits.  Once you have achieved elites status with any of the airlines in an alliance you will enjoy these elite benefits across all other airlines within the alliance.

I will explain Elite levels in more details in a separate post.  Important for this post is that you should know that you can earn elite status based on the number of flights or miles you travel with a certain airline.  For this matter airlines treat their alliance partner equal to themselves.  The first elite level on Delta requires 25000 miles. Travelling 5000 miles on Delta and 20000 on KLM would grant me this Elite level as well.  (as long as I credit all miles to my Skymiles account)  Sometimes you can earn miles as well with partners outside the alliance but these do not add up to elite status.  (eg. Delta offers base miles for flights with Jet Airways but no medallion qualification miles)

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