Best frequent flyer programs in 2019: Are they still worth it?

PHOTO: Pixabay

The significant advantage of a frequent flyer programme is obviously the miles. With these programs, frequent flyers receive perks such as free flights, upgrades and other travel-related perks.

Luckily, there is no limit on how many programs you can join. But to get as many frequent flyer miles as you possibly can, it doesn't make sense to enrol in every single airline's programme.

When selecting an frequent flyer programme, go for the airline that has the most flights out of Singapore or the one that serves the destinations you are likely to visit more often.

FLY OFTEN, SAVE BIG

When choosing the best airline rewards programme for you, there are three factors you should take into consideration:

- How easy (or not) it is to earn a flight with your miles and rewards.

- Whether you get extra perks other than flights.

- Whether blackout dates apply to the programme.

- How soon do the miles expire.

- And, how easy it is to achieve a higher status (silver, gold, elite, etc.).

WHY ARE FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMS STILL RELEVANT?

According to PWC reports, roughly 7 per cent of flights are paid for with points or miles which tells us that there are plenty of travellers benefiting from these alliances.

Others have an opposing view and say that these loyalty programs only bring real benefits for the airlines itself, not for the consumer.

Even if you are new at this, a great place to start is to have a general idea of where you want to go, or how you want to get there.

ARE YOU A FREQUENT FLYER?

If you often fly (8 or more times per year), it makes sense to try to obtain elite status with your preferred frequent flyer programme to get free access to the lounges and other airline perks.

INFREQUENT FLYER?

Travelling once to three times per year? Choose and focus on one frequent flyer programme in a large alliance that has other partners in the region, and earn miles through all sorts of various, non-flying ways. You'll have better chances to get your free ticket quicker.

It is tough for occasional travellers to get upgrades. - Elite status, with its access to upgrades, is the primary goal of real frequent travellers. But occasional travellers don't usually fly enough to earn elite status, and might not spend enough to make it via spending to earn miles.

Still, if you want to give it a chance, what would be the best options if you fly from Singapore? Let's look at the options available.

WHICH FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMME TO CHOOSE IN SEA?

Photo: Unsplash

STAR ALLIANCE

Star Alliance is one of the world's largest global alliances with 27 member airlines and serving airports in 192 countries. Among its partner airlines, we find All Nippon Airways (ANA), United Airlines, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, and of course, Singapore Airlines.

Star Alliance main hubs in Asia are Singapore, Taipei, Bangkok and more. For us living in Singapore, it is useful to be part of at least one Star Alliance frequent flyer programme.

Star Alliance has two premium levels, Silver and Gold, based on a traveller's status in a member's frequent flyer programme that most its members and regional airlines recognise. The membership is based on the frequent flyer programs of each individual airlines.

ONE WORLD

Oneworld was originally launched by five member airlines - American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Qantas and Canadian International (which withdrew from the alliance as the airline merged into Air Canada). Today, the alliance has grown to 13 member airlines and around 30 affiliate airlines.

One World doesn't have much action in SEA, so unless you often travel to Japan or to the EU and the US, it might not be the most obvious choice for you.

SKYTEAM

Skyteam has around 20 airline members, including Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, Czech Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Garuda Indonesia, KLM, Korean Air, Middle East Airlines, Saudia and Vietnam Airlines. The perks included with SkyTeam include priority reservation waitlisting, booking, and boarding.

If you travel regularly to and within China, know that among SkyTeam's members are China Eastern and Xiamen Airlines Co.

Also with Skyteam, Korean Air is an excellent choice from anywhere in the world. Yes, even if you travel to Europe, Australia or the US. The airline offers arguably some of the best rates in the entire SkyTeam alliance for using points towards more comfortable flights.

ASIA MILES

Also worth mentioning is Asia Miles. Asia Miles is Cathay Pacific's frequent flyer programme that allows you to redeem flights on Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon and over 20 partner airlines. Asia Miles is a good choice if you like travelling to Hong Kong, China and Japan. Apart from Cathay Airlines, Asia Miles can also be used on the other airlines in the OneWorld alliance.

You can earn Asia Miles with your regular spending through credit cards and redeem flights for free.

Note: Don't confuse Asia Miles with the other Cathay Pacific loyalty programme, Marco Polo Club (see table below). This is a different Cathay membership programme, and it has a US$100 enrolment fee. Its flight redemptions are still done through Asia Miles.

TOP PROGRAMS FOR EACH ALLIANCE

Let's look at the top programs for each big alliance.

BEST ONEWORLD FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMS

OneWorld offers good prestige cabin redemption options, but relatively fewer destinations.

HIGHLIGHTED AIRLINES:

- BRITISH AIRWAYS has the option to create a household account that allows up to 7 members who share the same permanent address.

- JAPAN AIRLINES' elite benefits can be useful if you regularly fly Japan Airlines and/or Oneworld Alliance flights. Japan Airlines awards its most frequent travellers with bonus miles and no blackout dates for award tickets. If Japan Airlines status sounds appealing, try to earn the Premier and possibly the Diamond tier. Unlike some frequent flyer programs, Japan Airlines doesn't offer an option to earn elite status through credit card spend.

BEST STAR ALLIANCE FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMS

Star Alliance has a broader selection of airlines and destinations.

HIGHLIGHTED AIRLINES:

- ASIANA - With Asiana Club is easier to get and keep Gold status. It helps that this programme has Marriott/SPG group of hotels as a partner. Asiana offers a Family Mileage Plan for up to 8 family members including spouse, children, parents, paternal/maternal grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, son in law, daughter in law, and parents of the spouse.

This programme is also known for giving lifetime Star Alliance Gold membership at 500,000 miles. The other status is valid for two years which is more generous than most programmes.

- ANA permits to share family accounts for 2 to 8 members who reside outside of Japan. The eligible members can be a spouse, partner or relatives. One useful perk if you fly ANA is that they give you upgrade points which can be used for flight upgrades, separately from miles. ANA's Mileage Club has an easy to use booking engine for redemptions, but not many other exclusive perks.

- AEGEAN allows its Silver and Gold elite members to activate a joint account and add up to 5 members. It is also one of the easiest airlines to get Gold status with. You need only 24000 miles over a 12-month period.

- TURKISH AIRLINES makes family membership available to Elite members. These Family miles could be pooled with a spouse and unmarried children under 25.

- AIR NEW ZEALAND offers an attractive points programme which applies mostly to New Zealand residents.

- SINGAPORE AIRLINES' Krisflyer is an obvious choice for us in Singapore. One of the main benefits is certain redemption on Singapore flights which is unavailable to non-members. This frequent flyer programme allows members to enjoy perks such as bonus miles, priority check-in, boarding and baggage handling, and lounge access.

You can earn bonus miles by flying with Singapore Airlines, SilkAir, Scoot, Star Alliance and other partner airlines. But redeeming them for flights has become a little more difficult since this April because the carrier has announced that it would be devaluating KrisFlyer specifically for its Star Alliance partner awards. Now, KrisFlyer members will need more miles to redeem flights on Star Alliance partner airlines in first and business class cabins.

BEST SKYTEAM FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMS

SkyTeam alliance has guaranteed economy seats available for elite members.

HIGHLIGHTED AIRLINES:

- DELTA, SKYMILES Program offer miles without expiration and seasonal promo awards from the USA to Australia. They don't offer family miles.

- AIR FRANCE/KLM with its Flying Blue Program that offers regular promo awards.

- VIRGIN AUSTRALIA has a family pooling for up to six family members.

- ETIHAD offers family membership account with up to eight family guests.

- EMIRATES offers a family option with up to eight family members, including domestic helper.

- JETBLUE'S offers also include family pooling with up to two adults and five children.

Photo: Shopback

IN SUMMARY,

Cathay Pacific's Asia Miles programme and Singapore Airlines' KrisFlyer are two of the most popular frequent flyer programmes in Southeast Asia.

With Star Alliance, KrisFlyer is the obvious choice for most frequent flyers in Singaporeans, but it is always a wise choice to prospect what are the other options available.

Asia Miles and Skyteam are also relevant for Asian travellers.

FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMS IN THIS DAY AND AGE

Photo: Unsplash

Airline miles cost an average of 61 per cent more than they're worth when purchased rather than earned through flying. And, as consumers, we can expect loyalty programs to become less and less generous. Airlines seem to keep moving towards a service that is stripped of any additional offerings model.

Some airlines still offer loyalty members a free checked bag, but that isn't the norm anymore.

BEST TIPS TO MAXIMISE YOUR MILES EARNINGS

1. To really maximise earnings, consider signing up for the airline's partner credit cards if any. You can earn more miles on the ground via a credit card than by flying, these days. Building loyalty with a specific airline by spending more with its brand will put you in the best position to earn free flights, upgrades and other perks.

2. You can earn extra miles and points for things you already do, with little or no additional effort. Search and sign up for free dining rewards programs where you'll earn points/miles just for eating at some of your regular restaurants and cafes.

3. Already a member of a couple frequent flyer programs? Try to get a status match. Some airlines would entice you to switch over to their programme if they recognise you as a high-value consumer and match your status of the previous programme.

No matter how generous an airline's rewards programme is, make sure it travels to the places you want to go - or partner with other airlines that do. There is no point in accumulating miles that you never be able to use.

This article was first published in Shopback