Hey Big Speen­ders

Air­lines love to post eye-catch­ing deals but fre­quent fly­ers should stick to Flex fares if they want to jump tiers, col­lect bonus miles and se­cure their pre­mium sta­tus,

Business Traveller (Middle East) - - Front Page - re­ports Do­minic El­lis

Most as­pects of travel are straight­for­ward, but air­line loy­alty? It re­mains a web of miles, points, tiers, fares and up­grades, filling on­line fo­rums day af­ter day. I find it puz­zling for dif­fer­ent rea­sons; the in­box will al­ways be full of routes, open­ings and deals but I can go weeks with­out re­ceiv­ing any­thing on loy­alty.

The am­biva­lence may be partly at­trib­ut­able to car­ri­ers who, on the one hand, are keen to court pre­mium-spend­ing fre­quent fly­ers, while on the other, post­ing cheaper fares which will fill their cab­ins but do lit­tle for their yields – or your sta­tus.

Cor­po­rate bud­gets may be squeezed but busi­ness trav­ellers should stick to the fun­da­men­tals. They need to fly reg­u­larly on Flex fares which yield bonus miles and only by stick­ing to the higher fares will they jump tiers or main­tain their pre­mium sta­tus. To reach the top-tier Plat­inum with Emi­rates, for ex­am­ple, you need to rack up 150,000 miles which works out 24 sec­tors a year, or say, a flight ev­ery two weeks. Main­tain­ing your sta­tus is im­por­tant for all the add-on ben­e­fits that come from a pre­mium mem­ber­ship, from in­creased bag­gage al­lowances and lounge ac­cess to chauf­feur pick-ups, which all help make life on the road more en­joy­able and pro­duc­tive.

There are other ben­e­fits too. Along­side ticket flex­i­bil­ity, if you’re trav­el­ling in Emi­rates econ­omy on a Flex or Flex Plus fare you won’t have to pay for ad­vance seat reser­va­tion (fees were in­tro­duced on Econ­omy Spe­cial and Saver fares last Oc­to­ber). Flex also of­fers you the pos­si­bil­ity to up­grade be­fore the flight, whereas Saver you can only up­grade 48 hours be­fore (you can jump one cabin).

“Flex is very im­por­tant in two as­pects,” says Sky­wards’ Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent Dr. Ne­jib Ben Khed­her.“If you talk about an econ­omy ticket, flex gives you higher tier miles and if you’re sta­tus driven, it’s 2/2.5 times higher with the miles you earn.”

Un­cer­tainty has crept in with the way air­lines have re­cal­i­brated loy­alty in re­cent years. For­merly, you could rack up miles by tick­ing off time zones, even at the back of the plane, but in the new world or­der, it’s all about rev­enues. Con­se­quently, Emi­rates is look­ing into re­leas­ing more “per­son­alised rates” tak­ing into ac­count how much mem­bers spend with them, and it’s lit­tle won­der Plat­inums are so well courted – on av­er­age they spend 3.5 times the amount of Gold mem­bers.

“There is an as­pect of rev­enue which is cap­tured through the fare brand but to­mor­row even that base will not be that static – it will de­pend on the fare on that sec­tor and the yield. That’s some­thing we’re look­ing into. So hope­fully those buying the higher fares will get higher in­cen­tives. We’re do­ing a lot from a data sci­ence per­spec­tive, to un­der­stand mem­bers’ be­hav­iour bet­ter – so rather than push­ing out a pro­mo­tion by email, we’re

try­ing to make it much more tar­geted.”

Sky­wards is a com­plex op­er­a­tion, reach­ing 18 mil­lion mem­bers as it en­ters its 18th year, and adding around 220,000 mem­bers a month. While sil­ver is grow­ing about 8 per cent, and plat­inum 4 per cent (15,000 mem­bers), the over­whelm­ing num­ber are locked in blue.

Much like the air­line it serves, Sky­wards is an in­ter­na­tional busi­ness with UK, US, Australia, UAE and In­dia ac­count­ing for its top five mar­kets, and be­tween them they have more than a mil­lion mem­bers each.

Amer­ica’s po­si­tion is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing, given all the bans and lap­top re­stric­tions, with US busi­ness grow­ing by more than 25 per cent a year. But ex­change rates have been a thorn in its side. “Ex­change rates do hit our bot­tom line – we have a big base in the UK and seen the rev­enues drop there, but we’ve been able to keep our av­er­age rev­enue per mem­ber in the UAE.”


In line with wider dig­i­tal changes, up­grades have re­ceived an up­grade. Emi­rates in­tro­duced up­grade re­quests last April, and re­ceived 16,000 re­sponses from mem­bers and 32 per cent “in­di­cated pos­i­tively” – al­though only 43 per cent of took them up.

The sys­tem was en­hanced in Oc­to­ber, when ‘auto up­grades’ were in­tro­duced, al­low­ing up­grades to be pro­cessed and miles taken. The third el­e­ment, now in test­ing phase, dis­plays up­grades on emi­rates. com when they are avail­able, dur­ing the book­ing stage. Again, this won’t be sent to all and sundry, but tar­get­ing trav­ellers who may need a push to jump a tier, or stay in the ex­ist­ing one.

An Emi­rates spokesper­son said: “It’s early days but we have al­ready seen a good num­ber of mem­bers specif­i­cally choos­ing flights on which there is up­grade avail­abil­ity ver­sus other avail­able flights on the same day.”

One as­pect which never changes is how im­por­tant up­grades are to fre­quent fly­ers, ac­count­ing for 31 per cent of re­demp­tions, com­pared with 25 per cent on cash plus miles and 16 per cent on flights. Most pas­sen­gers ac­tively look for up­grades when plan­ning trips, with around 6075 per cent book­ing up­grades ahead of the 48-hour travel win­dow. Dr. Ne­jib said of­fer­ing the ser­vice through mo­biles is “in the pipe­line”.


Last sum­mer Emi­rates in­tro­duced cash plus miles, ap­peal­ing to the many mem­bers who haven’t enough points for flights (seven mil­lion mem­bers had less than 40,000 miles). For the air­line, it pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity to en­gage with pas­sen­gers who haven’t been on board for a while – 28 per cent who took up cash + miles were “in­ac­tive” in the past year (as­ton­ish­ingly, it is es­ti­mated pas­sen­gers glob­ally are sit­ting on 9.7 tril­lion un­used miles).

More­over, with 83 per cent take up from the Blue tier, it gives Emi­rates the chance to show­case pre­mium cab­ins to a new seg­ment of trav­ellers. “We want the per­son who has never flown busi­ness to give them a taste so we can cap­ture them later on,” said Dr. Ne­jib.

The ser­vice also ex­tends to pas­sen­gers be­fore they get on board, with Dubai Duty Free ac­cept­ing cash plus miles for pur­chases.


This sum­mer Sky­wards will reach the 100 part­ners mile­stone and while the bulk of part­ners cover con­ven­tional travel (15 air­lines, 54 ho­tel and travel part­ners), life­style is among the fastest grow­ing (cur­rently 12).“You can ex­pect to see more em­pha­sis on life­style part­ners in the com­ing months,” said Dr. Ne­jib. The air­line con­tin­ues to push its global reach and a tie-up with Rock­et­miles,

an on­line travel book­ing plat­form (sis­ter to book­ing. com) pro­vides ac­cess to 400,000 prop­er­ties glob­ally. “It’s friendly in terms of search, it’s been a soft launch but we’ve seen a lot of ac­tiv­ity as peo­ple see a good use of their miles in terms of re­demp­tion and earn­ing.”


There are plenty of ways to spend your miles be­yond up­grades. Treat your­self or a client to a ‘money can’t buy’VIP ex­pe­ri­ence.“Miles are re­ally be­com­ing a cur­rency which you can buy prod­ucts or ex­pe­ri­ences,” said Dr. Ne­jib.“For F1 events, we had an auc­tion up to 300,000 miles so peo­ple do have miles to burn.” Redeem­ing 4,500 miles at Dubai Duty Free will save you AED75. More than 500 prod­ucts are avail­able on the Emi­rates High Street store and its de­liv­ery net­work now stands at 80 mar­kets with Tai­wan and Ar­gentina re­cently join­ing.


Earn Sky­wards miles when rent­ing a Hertz car (hertz.com/emi­ratessky­wards). Look out for the 15 air­lines part­ners listed on the web­site – most al­low earn and burn, though easyJet al­lows re­demp­tions at 7,500 miles but no earn­ing.


Qan­tas has un­veiled de­tails of its new miles-earn­ing credit card. Users will be able to earn two Qan­tas Points per A$1 (US$0.7) spent with Qan­tas us­ing the Citi-is­sued Qan­tas Premier Master­card. This in­cludes flights, Qan­tas Club mem­ber­ship and the Qan­tas Store. Over­seas pur­chases earn 1.5 points per dol­lar spent, and el­i­gi­ble pur­chases in Australia earn one point. Points earn­ing is un­capped, and a bonus of 60,000 points is ac­crued upon spend­ing A$3,000 (US$2,240) within the first 90 days af­ter the card is ap­proved. Ad­di­tional ben­e­fits at­tached to the card in­clude two com­pli­men­tary lounge in­vi­ta­tions each an­niver­sary year, com­pli­men­tary travel in­sur­ance and up to 20 per­cent off se­lect do­mes­tic com­pan­ion fares once per year for book­ings made through the Qan­tas Premier Concierge.


Fly­dubai’s Open pro­gramme, launched last Oc­to­ber, of­fers in­stant re­demp­tions, no black­outs and cash plus miles. The rev­enue-based pro­gramme fea­tures Open and Gold tiers with one point per dol­lar spent

Sky­wards’ Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent Dr. Ne­jib Ben Khed­her

Be­low: Fly­dubai’s Open co-branded credit card with Dubai Is­lamic Bank pro­vides up to three points per dol­lar spent

Above: Qan­tas Premier Master­card

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