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

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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)

  • Paul says:

    I frequently bang on about lack of competition and in my view BA are overly protected. They have fortress Heathrow, no competitor on domestics and this

    “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.“

    Rather than praise it means the barriers to entry are considerable. Where is an AA credit card, the ability to easily collect miles or transfer from Amex?
    The don’t exist as BAs tie up with Amex is all encompassing and the commercial agreements with IB AA AY and others keeps them out of the market.

    BAEC May be good but it is also hugely expensive. I take exception to the term you used that taxes are disproportionately high! They are not! They are the same as commercial tickets. BA fees and rip off charges on the other hand, are what allows the club to be as anti competitive as it is. Indeed they charge fees even when the operating carrier does not. those fees would not exist if there competition rather than the protected duopoly of Virgin and BA

    BAEC wins as it’s the only game in town. Remove the fees, allow others to enter the market and let it face genuine competition.

    • Doug M says:

      Fortress Heathrow is nonsense. The dominant airlines respectively at Munich, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam have a bigger share of flights than BA do at Heathrow.

      The other airline comment that pretends to praise BA could well just be delusion on the part of said airline(s). Pointing the finger at BAEC gives them an out. Virgin have spent so long telling people how great they are they made the mistake of believing it themselves.

      • Mr(s) Entitled says:

        Fortress LHR is not without some legitimacy. Yes, there may be other fortresses in existence, some may be bigger, but that doesn’t change what LHR is to BA.

        It would be like the Queen claiming Buckingham Palace isn’t a palace because Versailles is bigger. They can both be palaces.

        • Doug M says:

          That’s a poor analogy, because the use of fortress in this context is clearly to claim some advantage. I named three other large European Legacy carriers and pointed out their greater lock on home airports. That doesn’t mean BA don’t leverage LHR, it just means how is that unusual?

          • Mr(s) Entitled says:

            As you state, BA leverage LHR. They would be stupid not to. I was confused by your statement as to it being “nonsense”, which was, nonsense.

  • N says:

    OT – flying from BRS on nye, would i be OK getting to airport 90 mins before or less?

    • MrHandBaggageOnly says:

      In my opinion 90 minutes at BRS is more than enough time (so is 60 minutes, especially if you intend to head straight to the gate). The security area has been much improved over that last few years and is now one of my favourites. If you’re worried about queues there you could invest in a fast track pass (or just wait until the day and pay £5).

      P.S. Obviously you just need to make sure you leave enough time to get to the airport. Bristol city centre can get congested and the M5 can be a bit of a lottery, just depends on times and traffic flow.

  • marcw says:

    it’s not the BEST loyalty program. It’s the most POPULAR.
    -BA is not the only airline that has guaranteed reward seat availability. Don’t forget IB.

    What BAEC is unique for: GUARANTEED fees and surcharges when you redeem on BA, Finnair, Qatar Airways, American Airlines,… The last 3 airlines don’t charge fees and surcharges on their own program 🙂

    For short haul flights – RFS: that’s the best BAEC asset. There is nothing remotely similar in the world.

    Avios & Money is also an excellent asset when flying economy, which seems to be neglected somehow in the article.

    • Doug M says:

      So which is better?

      • marcw says:

        For short haul BAEC is good. For long haul its rubbish.

        • Doug M says:

          So who is better. It’s no good saying something is rubbish if you offer no alternate. Do you mean it’s not as good as you’d like, which is almost a commercial inevitability, or do you mean there are better alternatives?
          Living in London there’s no scheme that even comes close to BAEC for me.

          • marcw says:

            For long haul, pretty much any program that is zone based (for redemptions). AAdvantage is quite good and generous (170K rtrn in Business to Australia, including connections).

  • Doug M says:

    Nailed it. The purpose of a loyalty scheme is not to benefit you, it’s to retain your business against competitors. BAEC doesn’t have to be brilliant, it has to stop you switching to Virgin, and it’s done that.

    • Dev says:

      Completely agree.

      Have been Virgin Flying Club Gold for 12 years, but as a result of their decision to stop flying to Dubai in Q1 2019 and only reintroducing flights to Bombay (Mumbai) at the end of October (both cities represent 70% of my long haul travel), by when I had switched my business and personal travel to another couple of airlines, they downgraded me to Silver (I had enough flights from the beginning of 2019 to qualify for silver, it was not a case of a soft landing to this level). However, if they had really cared about customer loyalty, then I think they should have let me remain at the Gold level for another year, especially given my history flying frequently with Virgin Atlantic since 2000-2001.

      When I called them to discuss this, I was told that a status match to the other two airlines (I hold Gold status in their respective programmes) would be a possibility if I purchased a revenue ticket in the near future. It is unlikely that is enough motivation to do so at the moment.

      No wonder then that I did not give Virgin Flying Club my vote.

  • Nick_C says:

    “Club Europe seating could be better, of course, but few other airlines even attempt short-haul business class these days.”

    LCCs aside, is that true? I’m aware of other European carriers who offer short haul business class. TAP for example.

    CE seating could certainty be better. In fact it couldn’t really be any worse. The only point of CE is when redemptions are not available in economy. CE gives you cramped uncomfortable seating with no leg room. No considerate person would attempt to recline the CE seat. Your choice of meal is unlikely to be available. There is no pre take off service. And on my last flight I was sitting on the plane for 50 minutes before I was offered a drink. And I had back ache for two days after the flight.

    But dreadful short haul business class is a European phenomenon. Domestic First in the US is generally worth paying for with wide comfortable seats. And when I flew from HKG to TYO this month on JAL (a scheduled 4 hours, which BA would consider short haul) I enjoyed a very wide comfortable angle flat seat, and the food and service was better than BA First.

    BA is a pretty poor airline with an excellent loyalty scheme. The scheme is easy to understand. Avios are easy to collect. And domestic redemptions in Asia and the US are great value. On that basis, I think they deserve the award.

    I used to collect AAdvantage miles, but found their scheme incomprehensible.

    • Doug M says:

      This is an interesting one. Have any of the main Euro airlines ever offered a proper business class. If you criticise CE, or compare unfavourably with US or Asian business class you’re always told the market is different in Europe. But is it, there’s no real choice I’m aware of that has ever allowed this to be tested.

  • BJ says:

    Slightly OT: Missed out on the pair of off peak CW award seats to BKK for 15/12/20 when they were released at midnight. Was it an HFP reader that beat me to them? Would feel a bit happier if it was, and curious to know if you went via web or call centre?

    • Lady London says:

      Is it just possible there could have been a glitsch at this time of the year and they were not released but might be tonight?

      • BJ says:

        I think they were there but for some reason when I clicked continue it took me back to start costing valuable time. Second effort it went all the way through to payment so I was still hoping but got the dreaded message after paying. I’ll book at the higher price over next few days hopefully, and will set up RFF in hope of saving 15k avios for £70 at a later date.

  • Lady London says:

    Maybe an award to an airline from a set of readers based in London is actually more valuable than an award from a set of US-based readers.

    In London we have both huge business and leisure travel markets at every level. We do host foreign longhaul airlines as well as our own. We also host a plethora of short haul airlines based all over Europe as well as a decent mostly thriving set of LCC’s.

    Yes the Americans do let in foreign longhaul airlines but their big 3 (Delta, AA, UA) keep a tight hold on the US market and limit foreign entrants. Witness their blockage of Qatar Airways. QR could seriously dent the US airlines’ Business Class business on many routes out of the US and have been pretty much successfully blocked there by the US carriers and their pet legislators.

    Short haul in the US does not have the volume of choices we have from London either.

    Crossroads places around the world like HKG and SIN would also prob have a more open market than the US.

    So to win an award from a knowledgeable experienced readership based in London is actually worth more than an award from a US based one.

    I’ll go back to being horrible in the New Year. Well done British Aitways and well done Rob for stating so well why they’re winning.

    • Doug M says:

      US hardly alone. You only have to look as far as Germany to a see a country determined to lock down it’s airline choices.

      • Lady London says:

        Correct. I have been astounded by the anti-competitive rulings of German local and federal entities – and the way they seem to divvy up the State making a decision but Federal clearly behind it or v.v.

      • BJ says:

        And you just need to look at Thai Airways to see a good reason for doing so. Thai always had its problems but they have exploded since AOT threw the barn doors open to the ME3.

  • Oli says:

    OT – sorry no bits: amex referral bonuses, is anyone else not seeing their points post in the usual timeframe, my wife’s cards arrived last Thursday (19/12), referred from my Platinum card, referral points still not posted

    • BJ says:

      Multiple reports of this in last couple of months. I’ve held back referrals in the hope it’ll be fixed but I’m surprised it has dragged on so long.

    • Matthew says:

      Still waiting for mine too. Making me want to cancel plat and forget referring for a while.
      People are being quoted the 10 weeks in the T&C but it worries me which year they will count towards the 90,000 cap.

      • Rob says:

        Will be the year they hit. Amex IT is not that sophisticated.

        • Matthew says:

          Ok thanks for info Rob. Are your experiencing the same delay with referrals you have made too?

          • Rob says:

            I’m at my limits so can’t tell. Last ones I did personally were for Plat Bus in November.

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