Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Some interesting insights into how people use their frequent flyer miles

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

I am spending three days this week at the Loyalty 2017 conference in London and will be giving a talk on Wednesday.

Yesterday a representative from trade group IATA presented some results from their regular survey of frequent flyer programme members.  What is interesting about this is that it includes members of many different schemes, not just one specific programme.

These were the results to the question:  “How have you used your miles over the last 12 months?”.  The total is over 100% due to the ability to select multiple answers.

  • 37% – flight in my usual travel class
  • 29% – have not used my miles in the last 12 months
  • 28% – class upgrade
  • 17% – flight in a higher class
  • 13% – flight on a partner airline in my usual class
  • 7% – shopping
  • 6% – flight on a partner airline in a higher class
  • 6% – did not use before they expired
  • 4% – hotel stay
  • 4% – transferred miles to another programme
  • 4% – paid for excess luggage
  • 3% – leisure reward
  • 2% – car rental
  • 2% – donated miles to charity

There are a few interesting points here.  One is that, despite the efforts of airline programmes to introduce non-flying redemptions, the vast majority of members still redeem for flights.

As flight redemptions are likely to be more expensive than the other types of reward listed, the percentage of miles redeemed for tickets will be even higher.

I am surprised that more people did not redeem for a higher cabin reward, but that is presumably down to a) higher cabin rewards being more expensive and b) the fact that travellers who usually fly economy won’t be earning that many miles and would find it harder to get enough for a higher cabin redemption.  Those who regularly fly in First or Business would also not be able to redeem for a ‘higher than usual’ cabin!

IATA

Here is a second set of figures given in answer to the question:  “What are your top ideas to enchance frequent flyer programmes?”.  It wasn’t clear if respondents were given a shortlist or could write in an answer.

  • 44% – last minute upgrade for lower amount than usual
  • 19% – last minute offers for flight bookings at lower amounts than usual
  • 13% – allow a combination of cash and miles to purchase flights
  • 10% – able to book a seat when no reward seats are available
  • 6% – auction upgrades for miles
  • 5% – converting points into cash
  • 3% – able to spend miles on ancillary charges such as excess luggage
  • 1% – spending in medical facilities (I have no idea what this means – I can only imagine IATA surveyed people globally)

I’m not sure that the first two make economic sense.  Allowing last minute bookings for miles at all risks losing hugely profitable last minute cash bookings from the business market.  Letting those seats go for miles at a discount, whether via upgrades or a direct booking, seems odd.

Of the next five ideas, it is interesting to note that Avios / British Airways offers three of them to one degree or another.  Gold members can force open seats for double Avios for a Gold Priority Reward (I used that last week for our Salzburg ski flights and I met others who had done the same) and you can now use points for buy on board food.  ‘Part Pay With Avios‘ is also now well established.

We will have to wait a while before we can use our Avios for ‘spending in medical facilities’ however …..

Comments (77)

  • Richard Thomas says:

    only slightly OT: Rob, I wonder whether you have ever considered doing a survey of how readers of the site use their miles? Possibly it’s quite different from the IATA survey results.

  • Simmo says:

    OT/ not seem this mentioned, not sure if its targeted?

    IHG

    “Combining Points & Cash allows you to reach Reward Nights without the wait. As a Spire Elite member, you’ll save 15% on Points & Cash bookings* made now until March 30th, 2017 and all stays before April 30th, 2017.”

    via a search it seems:
    5% for club
    10% for Gold
    12% for Platinum
    15% for Spire

    • Simmo says:

      Thinking this is better than the buy 100% bonus? (that has just ended)

      Buy points = 20,000 = $250 (last week $125?)
      50,000 point property, 30,000 + $106.25 (as Spire)

    • Peter K says:

      This was mentioned in the comments yesterday.

  • RussellH says:

    Re:- last minute upgrade for lower amount than usual

    Not exactly last minute, but Miles+More have been doing this for years. 50% discount on miles required is potentially available from 15 days before departure. Obviously not always an option though, you just have to check.

    They also have a range of bargains each month. Until this year there seemed always to be some flights available to Germany for only 10 000 miles, and you could pay the taxes with miles too.

  • Daz says:

    When did IATA become a trade group? I understand they write the rules for a large number of airlines and cargo carriers.

    Last time I had dealings with IATA it was doing Dangerous Goods consigning; I used their book for UN numbers and specifications for DG notes and Airway bills, all that interesting stuff!! Hhhmmmm.

  • Pol says:

    Just been denied EU compensation for a flight delayed 12 hours because they say it was weather and outside their control. The weather delay was on an earlier flight that had a knock on effect and because of this they couldn’t get a departure slot for my flight before the crew timed out. Also worth noting the plane that I was supposed to be on was due to land at Manchester but had to divert to Liverpool because they’d missed their landing slot and didn’t have enough fuel to circle. Worth perusing?

    • Ahop says:

      Definitely case law to suggest weather in another location is not an excuse. I think the case suggested that airlines should be aware of such risks and thus have planes on standby where necessary.

    • Anna says:

      Not sure about the weather issue, but my recent research suggests that they would have been obliged to get you to Manchester regardless of eligibility for compensation. We were diverted from Lanzarote to Fuerteventura due to high winds last year; we weren’t eligible for compensation for our (very late) arrival at our original destination, but Ryanair did have to get us to there, albeit they took the cheapest and most drawn-out option involving a bus and a ferry!

      • Pol says:

        We were in Manchester waiting for a flight to Amsterdam. The plane we were supposed to be in was incoming from Geneva but left there late. They then missed their landing slot at Manchester because of this. There was fog at Manchester so although planes were landing and taking off there were reduced landing slots and the plane didn’t have enough fuel to wait for the next landing slot, after missing its original slot so diverted to Liverpool. Hence by the time the plane landed at Manchester the crew were out of ours and our flight was delayed until the next morning. We did get to Amsterdam the next day.

  • Darren says:

    Its interesting to see how people earn a higher numbers of Avios, I assume this is primarily with business flights or card churning.

    As a leisure traveller with no employer funded points booster (or self employed for that matter) I rely on the drip drip of Tesco and Amex spend with CC churn to give a lower turnover than some in this addictive hobby.

    Is it possible to achieve Gold status as a Leisure traveller, so that flight based avios earnings would be more productive? If so I need a tutorial (I’m sure there will be one somewhere).

    Also where am I missing out to achieve that ‘easy’ 500K points per annum?

    • Alan says:

      See the FT thread on TP runs if you would like Gold as a leisure traveller 🙂

      • Darren says:

        Thanks Alan, I have glanced at these and thought it was a lot of hassle/fun for the end result but maybe I’m missing a trick.

        • Alan says:

          Personally I found it worth it. My year reset and having been abroad for a year I was getting a soft landing to Silver. Business/First trip to Hawaii for a holiday then San Francisco in Club a few weeks later, voila back to Gold for over 2 years. Sure I took a less direct route to maximise TPs, but between lounges and in-flight dining/drinks it wasn’t much of a hardship. Even went to see a show on Broadway and used the Hilton VISA voucher for an overnight stay at Tiers Square en route to SFO 😉