A guide to frequent flyer schemes and how to save money with them

Frequent Flyers

Flights are an expensive yet unavoidable expense when it comes to travelling. But I’m here to tell you about a genius travel hack most people in the UK don’t utilise enough; frequent flyer programmes! With frequent flyer points you can enjoy discounted flights, free upgrades, luxury perks and sometimes even free flights. This guide will break down how and why you should start collecting frequent flyer points!

What are frequent flyer schemes and reasons to earn miles

Frequent flyer programs are loyalty programs offered by airlines or airline groups. The benefit of offering loyalty points for the airline is obvious, you’re more likely to stay loyal to them and they get more of your business and take it away from their competitors!

In exchange for your repeat business, they offer you points to spend on rewards. The specific rewards depend on the frequent flyer loyalty program you are signed up to, but they can include:

  • Discounts on flights
  • Free flights
  • Free upgrades e.g. economy to business class
  • Free checked baggage
  • Free seat selection and upgrades
  • Early boarding
  • Fast-track through security
  • Access to airport lounges
  • Hotel stays, car hire, etc.

Being on a loyalty program also means you will have priority for last-minute, surprise travel upgrades that you won’t even have to spend any points on.

You may have noticed that free or discounted hotel stays are also one of the rewards you might be able to unlock. Some airlines have other travel companies and brands as partners so you can spend your points with them too. 

Plus, the most popular airline loyalty schemes are 100% free to join so you really don’t have anything to lose!

Source: John McArthur / Unsplash.

UK Frequent Flyer Loyalty Programmes

One of the main reasons why a lot of people in the UK haven’t joined a frequent flyer programme is because they don’t fly with one airline more than any others. We’re very lucky in the UK to have lots of airlines to choose from so many of us will opt for whichever flight is most convenient or the best value.

You’re probably the same, as long as it’s a good deal then you’re happy to fly with RyanAir, British Airways, or whoever! 

But if you sign up to dozens of loyalty schemes and try to gain points with them all, it will take you a long time to get any benefits. The smart thing to do would be to choose a loyalty scheme within an airline alliance group that includes a collection of airlines you fly with regularly.

The three main airline alliance groups are Oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam. 

  • Oneworld: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Fiji Airways/Oneworld Connect, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, Royal Air Maroc, S7 Airlines, SriLankan Airlines
  • SkyTeam: Aeroflot, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Aeroméxico, Air Europa, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, Czech Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Garuda Indonesia, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, MEA, Saudia, TAROM, Vietnam Airlines, Xiamen Air
  • Star Alliance: Aegean, Air Canada, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, CopaAirlines, Croatia Airlines, EgyptAir, Ethiopian, Eva Air, Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, SAS, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Swiss, Air Portugal, Thai, Turkish Airlines, United

So, let’s say you sign up to British Airways’s Executive Club. You would be able to enter your membership number when you book a Finnair flight and earn points. 

There are some airlines, like Virgin Atlantic, that aren’t in an airline alliance. But, they do have partners like Delta, Air France and KLM. So, there will be fewer airlines for you to gain points with but if they cover destinations that you fly to a lot, it could be a more lucrative programme for you.

And if you’re a Brit who loves their cheap and cheerful European holidays in the sun with budget airlines, there are a couple of frequent flyer options for you too.

  • British Airways Executive Club

    British Airways fly from 23 UK airports to around 70 other countries. By joining their Executive Club scheme for free, you can earn Avios points to spend with British Airways and any other airline in the Oneworld alliance as well as partner hotels and car hire companies.

    Just some of their partner companies include Hyatt, Marriott, Best Western and Hilton Hotels. 

    You can book your flights using Avios points almost one year in advance and they have low change and cancellation fees. British Airways also offers you the opportunity to pool and share your points with up to six people in your household which might mean you can earn rewards quicker. 

    Avios points have a different monetary value depending on the flights you earn and spend them on. For example, they are worth 38p when spending them on an economy flight but 89p on a first class flight. Other airlines - like Vueling and Iberia - also use the Avios points system as currency with their frequent flyer programmes. Their points carry different values, but you can transfer your Avios points between these programmes too.

    You can also earn Tier points with British Airways on every booking. You can’t spend these points, but the more you get, the higher you climb through the Executive Club’s membership ranks from blue to bronze, silver and gold. The higher your tier level, the more exclusive rewards you are entitled to!

  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

    Virgin Atlantic flies out of four major UK airports to 18 countries and you can join their Flying Club for free. You can spend these points on flights, upgrades, their hotels, train and other airline partners or you can even give someone points as a gift.

    Some of their non-airline partners include Yotel, Marriott, Hyatt and IHG Hotels. And you could book your entire holiday through Virgin Holidays using your points.

    20,000 Flying Club points are worth around £240. And if you are short of a few points, you have the option of buying more so you meet the points threshold of a flight. This could be really handy if you have almost enough to buy a flight that you really want to take ASAP! 

  • EasyJet Plus

    EasyJet is the only major budget UK airline to currently have a frequent flyer programme but others are predicted to follow suit.

    It’s a paid membership (£215 annual fee) but you get several benefits from day one. You get speedy boarding, a dedicated bag drop, fast track security at most UK airports, an additional free cabin bag and the best seats on the plane. They will even give you a credit voucher if you book a flight and it drops in price. 

    So, you cannot earn points to spend on flights with EasyJet Plus but if you fly with them often and always pay for the additional extras it could be worth it. They are the seventh largest airline in the world, departing from 16 UK airports including three London ones, so they cover lots of flight routes. Iit shouldn’t be too difficult to recoup the cost of the annual fee if you fly with EasyJet at least once a month.

  • Wizz Discount Club

    If EasyJet’s frequent flyer programme is too rich for your palette, you can start with one of the cheapest budget airline frequent flyer points systems out there. Wizzair’s Discount Club is only €29.99 for one member and one chosen companion for the year. 

    Wizzair departs from 10 UK airports and flies to over 120 airports around the world, so you have the potential to make some serious savings if you really are a frequent flyer.

    For this price, members get at least £10 off each flight and at least £5 off checked luggage as well as other deals and offers. Considering it’s such a cheap European airline, you could make back the cost of the membership on one flight!

Credit cards and earning frequent flyer points

There are two main ways to earn airline miles to spend on flights: purchase flights through an airline’s frequent flyer programme or apply for a credit card that is affiliated with an airline.

If you want to optimize your ability to earn miles, you should do both! 

You cannot earn points on flights that you are booking using points (but wouldn’t that be brilliant!) which is why having an airline credit card is a great idea too. 

You can earn points with your everyday spending and then turn those points into cheap flights. Credit cards often have bonus rewards, such as extra points if you spend a certain amount in three months. If you have any big expenses coming up that you could put on a credit card (such as a new TV, your Christmas presents or a new sofa) then it’s 100% worth applying for a credit card that’s going to offer you a lot of points. 

British Airways have two credit cards: the British Airways American Express and the British Airways American Express Premium Plus. The regular version offers one Avios point with every £1 you spend, and the premium version offers one and a half points for every £1 you spend. Both offer Avios points as a sign-up bonus and it’s worth keeping an eye on this bonus because it will sometimes rise for a limited period!

Virgin Atlantic offers the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ credit card. Unlike British Airways who offer around 1,000 - 3,000 Avios points as a sign-up bonus, Virgin Atlantic offers a whopping 30,000 points. You can also earn three points for every £1 you spend on Virgin Holidays and one point for every £1 you spend elsewhere.

How to Earn Miles with frequent flyer loyalty programmes

Departure board
Source: Ross Parmly / Unsplash.
  1. Research the best programme for you.

  2. Sign up to the programme.

  3. Apply for a credit card if there’s one linked to the programme.

  4. Book flights using your credit card.

  5. Direct as many payments as possible to your credit card.

  6. Collect points.

  7. Spend your points on rewards.

Frequent Flyer FAQs

How Do Frequent Flyer Points Work?

When you sign up to an airline’s frequent flyer program, you get a certain number of points for every mile you travel or pound you spend. So, if you book a flight as a frequent flyer, they will reward you with points to use on another booking.

Or, if you use a credit card affiliated with a frequent flyer program, you can also get points to use on a future flight. You should be aware that you cannot use points to pay for taxes or fuel surcharges which is why you often get the best use of your points on long haul flights.

When Were Frequent Flyer Points Invented?

Do Frequent Flyers Get Discounts?

Do Frequent Flyer Points Expire?

What Are the Best Frequent Flyer Programmes?

About the Author

Monica is a travel writer based in Wales and runs The Travel Hack, a blog sharing tips and advice to get out and explore the world.

Check out The Travel Hack.