The ultimate guide to air miles (and how to score upgrades)

  • Siddhartha Jain
  • Updated: Sep 19, 2015 10:28 IST

Remember Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) from Up in the Air (2009)? He travelled all across the USA, and had a bit of a personal ambition — to become only the seventh person to have 10 million frequent flyer miles (with American Airlines) to his credit.

Well, it’s not just the stuff of movies. Frequent Flyer Programmes (FFPs) do have their benefits. From lounge access (and with it, free cocktails and/or champagne) and free flights to those magic words — “you’ve been upgraded” — it’s all possible, provided you go about it the right way.

Rule one: Register
Signing up with every new airline you fly with is worth it. The potential savings range from two to 10 per cent of the cost for subsequent flights. Quote your frequent flyer number when you book under your name. Also, most airlines allow you to collect miles for flights you may have taken over the past six months. Some of the better frequent flyer programmes (FFPs) in India include Jet Airways’ Jet Privilege (JP), Air India’s (AI)Flying Returns (FR) and AirAsia’s BIG loyalty program (BIG).

Know the alliances
Most major airlines belong to one of the three large alliances: Star Alliance (AI, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, and 24 others), Oneworld (British Airways, Qantas, Sri Lankan Airlines and 12 others), and SkyTeam (Delta, KLM and 18 others). Why should you care? Because miles can be transferred between allied airlines, hotels and travel partners. For example, one can fly Kenyan Airways to Botswana and transfer the miles to your FR account.

Earn miles without spending
Yes, there are ways to do it. Consider the TripAdvisor-Jet Airways promotional tie-up where you receive 2,287 JP miles each month for writing reviews of hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions. HolidayIQ and Air India have a similar tie-up. Tip: add photos to your review to earn double the miles per review.

Get the right card
For every flight booking, you could double the miles by using a co-branded credit or debit card. For instance, if you’re a loyal customer of Jet Airways, consider ICICI Bank’s Sapphiro Credit Card or HDFC Bank’s World Debit Card. If you do not have an allegiance, the Citibank PremierMiles Credit Card is a good bet. Use these cards to earn miles every time you spend on dining, shopping or movie tickets. These cards also offer up to 10,000 miles as a sign-on bonus (that’s a return ticket to Goa).

Multiply your miles
Look out for tie-ups between airlines, credit card providers, travel booking websites and/or m-wallets. You stand a chance to triple the miles acquired on a single flight booking. For example, booking a Jet Airways flight using a Citibank PremierMiles Credit Card on Goibibo will earn you miles on all three programmes.

Lean season offers
Airlines often run offers, especially during the lean season, for its FFP members to earn double or even triple miles on certain routes. Subscribe to the FFP’s newsletter to be in the know.

Remain loyal to climb up
FFPs have multi-level programs with the benefits per rupee spent increasing as you move up. For instance, Air India has four levels — base, silver edge club, golden edge club, and maharajah club. At silver, gold, and maharajah levels, a member can earn 15%, 25%, and 30% bonus miles respectively per rupee spent.

Score lounge access and upgrades
It pays to have gathered an impressive number of miles. More miles means more benefits. For example, at higher tiers of silver, gold, and maharajah, FR members receive one, two, and three upgrade vouchers respectively per year. Also, higher tier members are given free access to airport lounges in India and abroad.

When your family flies, it counts
Earn miles when your parents, spouse or children fly. JP and Emirates allow consolidation of all family members’ miles under a common pool. Register for a separate account for each member and apply for family registration. You can then use miles which may otherwise expire, and sidestep the prohibitive mile transfer fee.

Keep track of the expiry date
Most miles have an expiry date — usually between three to five years. Sign up on websites like AwardWallet, MilesBlaster, or TripIt, which keep track of all your FFPs.

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