Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Who won ‘Best Airline or Rail Loyalty Scheme’ at the 2019 Head for Points Awards?

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

Over Christmas and New Year, we are unveiling the winners of the inaugural Head for Points Travel & Loyalty Awards.  Today is Day 3, with the announcement of your choice for “Best Airline or Rail Loyalty Scheme”.

The Head for Points Travel & Loyalty Awards 2019 are a great opportunity to recognise the cream of the crop when it comes to UK premium business and leisure travel. A lot of the areas we are covering, such as airport lounges and travel credit cards, are ignored by other awards because they are too niche – but for our readers, they are very important and appreciated.

Over 4,500 HFP readers voted over three weeks in November. There were 12 categories in total. As well as giving an award to each category winner, we are also giving out a number of ‘Editor’s Choice’ awards for products and services which we personally admire.

Each winner will receive a trophy which we will be presenting at a special dinner in January.

What is the best frequent flyer scheme?

Today we are announcing the winner of ‘Best Airline or Rail Loyalty Scheme’. And the winner is:

British Airways Executive Club

…. which beat our other shortlisted schemes, which were Club Eurostar, Virgin Flying Club, Emirates Skywards, Miles & More and Flying Blue.

(We should also give an honourable mention to American Airlines AAdvantage and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, which got the highest number of ‘write in’ entries on the form.  American has some unique benefits for oneworld flyers – you can redeem on Etihad, and you can redeem on AA transatlantic flights without paying any charges.  Alaska Mileage Plan is a very niche scheme but has some interesting earning and redeeming partners, including BA.)

But back to BAEC ….

British Airways Executive Club status cards

We often push for improvements at the Executive Club, but the truth is that it is already an excellent loyalty scheme for most people when you compare it with programs from around the world.  Ironically, BA has an excellent example of a poor loyalty scheme in On Business, the SME scheme, although that is due to be substantially changed in 2020.  The Executive Club is so good, in fact, that Lufthansa is now copying bits of its model for Miles & More!

We’re obviously not happy about the disproportionately high taxes and fees on some redemption tickets.  However, the fact is that with both BA’s route network and the ability to redeem on some of the best airlines around the world, collecting Avios with British Airways Executive Club is a very attractive proposition.

It is worth remembering that the majority of Head for Points readers – 80% of them – are based in the UK, with 80% of those in the South East.  If you don’t live in the UK, you need to remember that the appeal of the Executive Club is enhanced by three things:

the wide number of UK Avios-earning partners to help you earn more quickly

the well-priced European redemptions (I don’t think any other scheme has so cheap ‘Europe to Europe’ pricing) and of course

the amazing value that comes from the British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher

What is the best frequent flyer scheme?

Here are a few other things to admire about British Airways Executive Club:

no other major airline offers GUARANTEED reward seat availability on every single flight it operates

you have access to an impressive route network for British Airways redemptions

you can redeem across the entire oneworld alliance, plus Aer Lingus, Vueling (via Iberia), Alaska etc

you can redeem for Business Class seats domestically and in Europe.  Club Europe seating could be better, of course, but few other airlines even attempt short-haul business class these days.

there is no sign of a move to revenue-based redemptions, which have gutted the value in many American frequent flyer schemes, and no certainty that there will be a full move to revenue-based earning or minimum spend thresholds for status

you can earn elite status very easily if you are smart – two returns per year in World Traveller Plus will get you a Bronze card, whilst just one return trip to Asia in Business Class on Qatar Airways would get you 90% of a Silver card.  Even someone who only travels short-haul for leisure could earn Silver with four weekend breaks in Club Europe on the longer routes which earn 160 tier points return.

any level of elite status gets you free seat selection (only seven days before departure for Bronze, admittedly) and priority boarding

Silver status gets you access to BA’s (and oneworld’s) lounge network, which is currently seeing a high level of investment.  You can’t argue with the new Business / Silver lounge at Gatwick, and we would happily take the Terminal 5 lounges over the equivalents of most other European airlines. 

Gold status offers genuinely useful benefits, including access to the First Wing for speeding through Terminal 5, additional Economy Avios redemption availability and the ability to book ‘any seat, any flight’ for double Avios

What is the best frequent flyer scheme?

It is interesting that the biggest gripes with Avios of late have been due to changes made by key partners (the tightening up of American Express bonuses, the gutting of Tesco Clubcard) rather than Avios itself.

The recent improvements at British Airways, including Club Suite (winner of ‘Best New Business Class Seat 2019’ as we announced yesterday) and the new Do&Co catering at Heathrow, are also improving the value you get from Avios.  You are now getting a far better product for the same number of points.

If you’re not convinced about the power of British Airways Executive Club, you should come along to the meetings I have with other airlines.  They are frustrated beyond belief that they offer (in their opinion) a superior product and service but that the strength of BAEC stops people moving.   There is no higher praise for a loyalty scheme than that.

(Don’t get the wrong idea, BAEC.  We’re not getting soft.  It is Christmas time, however.  We will return to holding you to account in the New Year.)

We look forward to presenting Niall Rooney, who runs British Airways Executive Club, with the award at our winner’s dinner on 13th January.

Join us on Saturday as we start to announce some of the more niche awards, beginning with airport lounges.

Comments (171)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • John says:

    Another obvious one.

    “They are frustrated beyond belief that they offer (in their opinion) a superior product and service but that the strength of BAEC stops people moving.”

    I wonder which airlines said that (or which departments of which airlines). If oneworld, then they need to start being more enthusiastic about the alliance – as I am still surprised by the proportion of people who think if you are flying BA you can only visit the BA lounge (e.g. in LHR T3), or who think they need to join QRPC when they book a bargain QR flight.

    It doesn’t help that there has been no replacement of the British Star Alliance member either….

  • Alex W says:

    Once Virgin Flying Club can be earned/redeemed on AF/KLM, there is a real opportunity for Virgin to challenge BA. If the pricing is right, it’s goodbye to BA for me.

    • memesweeper says:

      Virgin don’t even need a great European network to make me shift my attentions away from BAEC, just radically lower carrier surcharges than BA, and a four + two (or similar predictable) guaranteed seat release system.

      BAEC is a good scheme, no doubt, and I enjoy and want to keep my status benefits. But even with the 241s the taxes/fees/charges mean I no longer focus on collecting Avios — spending them is too expensive now. I’m not the only person I know who no longer bothers with Avios (earned outside of collecting them through flying) for similar reasons. Having these attitudes developing isn’t good for BA in the long run, and is one that Virgin could exploit.

      • The Savage Squirrel says:

        This is very true – if the beancounters at Virgin stopped thinking they should have redemptions as high as they can get away with – i.e. the same level as BA – and instead put some clear, er, red, water between them in terms of redemption fees, this would surely be a major marketing tool and attractive feature to get people to switch – particularly the type of flyer who earned all their points “free” from flying regularly on business – surely the customer they want to attract the most! This would work even if they nudged up the number of points needed for redemptions to compensate.

    • TripRep says:

      VS need to get their finger out and launch Virgin Connect first so we can finally have seamless domestic connections using miles to rival BA network.

    • Rob says:

      Literally only a few weeks now ….

    • Lady London says:

      Me too. But only because my routes are a good fit for KL and AF in Europe but also the US.

  • Tony says:

    Miles & More? This program is a joke. Hard 3 year expiry unless you hold their co-brand credit card. Ludicrous surcharges. Devaluation after devaluation. No way to buy/transfer MR/Marriott points to top up. The list goes on.

    • Czechoslovakia says:

      M&M might not be perfect, but I think it fulfills its purpose as a loyalty scheme for the *A airlines better than BAEC does for BA. I have 350k LH miles, 300k of which earned in the air. 250k Avios, of which only 9k earned on paid BA ticket stock, and then most of that on AA metal. My LH miles don’t expire as I have FTL status. And I only use them for premium long haul redemptions. Almost all my cash goes to LH group. I’ll only fly BA when it’s a redemption. Even then, most of the Avios redemptions went on Qatar! I have no loyalty to BA, but like free stuff. Based near MAN, BA has no loyalty to me, either. PPB knocks spots off ON business too.

      • Lady London says:

        Who are you flying out of MAN? Is LH Group flying out of there?

        • Kip says:

          Lufthansa, Swiss, Brussels Airlines all fly several times a day from MAN. Along with KLM, it’s the default short-haul option from MAN for non-LCC.

          • Czechoslovakia says:

            I actually prefer Austrian out of MAN, but P class fares earn nowt in PPB for some reason. So LX or LH it is. LX wins mostly due to be able to nab 1A on the A220, without charge (looking at you BA), and 1C is blocked as it’s 2×3 (again, BA, looking at you!). Plus LX/OS/LH around a third cheaper than BA, and without the T3 to T5 LHR dash. Priority luggage works without LHR too.

      • riku2 says:

        I think the new status points scheme for M&M puts it way behind BAEC especially if you fly premium economy. You would have to take many more flights with LH to earn gold (senator) status than with BA.

        • Czechoslovakia says:

          Depends really. I’ve been an FTL for years. Under the new scheme I’ll just about reach Gold with the same no. of flights.

    • Rob says:

      Correct. Some sweet spots (Middle East is massively cheaper than Avios) though, and availability during U.K. school hols is good as German schools take different weeks. Even in Summer German schools return early August.

      • RussellH says:

        **Some** Länder’s Schools go back in August. But so do all Scottish State Schhols.

    • Alex Sm says:

      For *A you’d be much better with UA (miles never expire!) or A3 (much easier to get to Gold quickly)

  • NigelthePensioner says:

    Maybe it should have been the award for “least worst” reward scheme? Whilst this result (BAEC) doesn’t surprise me in the least, I wonder if any scheme actually warrants a reward?
    Yes BA put 2 economy and 2 Club seats on every flight, but as all HfP readers know, using your 241 is best redeemed against F seats (v similar taxes to F) and only a few more Avios. Availability of F seats is unpredictable at best and may never appear – until you have booked your F seats in a seat sale and cannot refund them! We tend to use the 241’s for Middle Eastern F trips TBH, with the occasional Far East trip should we strike lucky.
    Avios can also be used against other alliance airlines – yes, but at a price!
    Do you really want to use Avios for European flights which are short and cheap anyway, when you could be earning even more Avios that you cannot use!!
    Overall, its all a bit of a lottery and I for one get sick of constantly checking via a VPN for availability despite also using Reward Seat Searcher (sic) in case its silence means it’s not working!

    • NigelthePensioner says:

      similar taxes to J, of course I meant!

    • Rob says:

      F is coming off a lot of BA routes in the next few years so enjoy it whilst you can, unless heading to a ‘top 10’ global capital.

  • startupflyer says:

    The BA limitations on upgrades to travel agent bookings (cash or a avios) is hugely frustrating. If BA could fix this it really would be a great program.

  • Kip says:

    I haven’t seriously collected Avios for a couple of years now and would only really look to use them on intra-Asia flights where they are still excellent value. That said, BAEC is a very good scheme and I can understand why it keeps people with BA. The fixed end date isn’t unique to BA but it’s a good feature – schemes that count down immediately after you earn status irritate me tbh. My only gripe is that RFS only really works from London as it costs double from other airports to fly short-haul.

    • Polly says:

      Using avios plus plus on MAS intra Asia in Nov, costing peanuts to Kota K and Penang. And up and down to Bali last year and next month. If plans change you can cancel easily and rebook elsewhere.
      But taking the train up country, in Malaysia, yes BJ, finally doing this trip later this year.
      But, if a good QR sale comes along, we may well cancel the 241.can take the pressure off collecting avios for a bit.

  • Munch says:

    OT Looking to book a one way flight on Air India from Male to Goa, the price is £250. I have plenty of Virgin miles and Amex points. How can I check the cost of a reward flight and how do I make the booking. I would prefer to use my Virgin miles if possible.

    • Lady London says:

      For Virgin on other than mainstream routes you have to call them. Most of the time as another poster said you get an OK agent.

    • Andrew M says:

      Air India is in Star Alliance so you need to use miles from a Star Alliance partner to book flights with them. Singapore Airlines is a Membership Rewards partner so you could transfer your points to their Krisflyer scheme and book an Air India flight there. You have to be a member of the Krisflyer scheme to search for availability on the Singapore Airlines site but you could use the United Airlines site first to check whether the flights you need are available as Star Alliance partner resumptions. The award charts on the Singapore Airlines website will tell you how many Krisflyer points you need.

      You can’t use Virgin points to travel on Air India,

  • The Savage Squirrel says:

    As we’re talking positives for BA here – the way the family account works is far superior to most other FF schemes where, unless they do a very unusual amount of flying, children are unlikely to accrue enough miles to ever do anything useful.

    • memesweeper says:

      +1 — useful feature well implemented

    • Polly says:

      Yes, family account swings it for us. The QR scheme was hopeless for this. Cost a fortune transferring miles between us. BAEC was a godsend when we switched over in 2012.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.