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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)

  • Mikeact says:

    Like a lot of ‘award ratings’ , this is of course only a small snapshot of people voting, albeit 4500 of readership on here, so obviously bias has to come into it.
    For me , the so called ‘ good old days of flying ‘ have long since gone. All we ask gererally is ,please, just get us there safely, whatever the airline. If the bed happens to be good, and the food prety good too, then fine, but I certainty wouldn’t be bothered to complain if our favourite champagne is not available .

    • BJ says:

      +1 ; safety, reliability, schedules, flight duration and punctuality all trump products and services for me. It never ceases to amaze me how small difference in products and services between carriers get blown up out of all proportion in relation to their significance to our comfort and wellbeing. Regardless of which longhaul business cabin I have flew (well over 20 of them) I have never devoted much energy to appraising them, I have just always considered myself fortunate and grateful that I was passing all those long hours away in comfort and not in econony. It is not all that long ago since recliner seats were the norm on my twice monthly flights to California on United but I never once complained to settle into one given the alternative. Despite the limitations of all surveys and the small sample size of this one, I find myself curious to know what HFP readers think. I was hoping for some surprises but I imagine it will ultimately be the usual hype-driven outcome as opposed to knowledgeable insight and appraisal. For example, it is easy to see why BAEC won this category but a more inforned decision might have seen the likes of Alaska MP come out top … but vefore anybody asks, I voted for BAEC too 🙂

      • Rob says:

        Not sure what the minimum number of votes for ‘statistical significance’ would be, assuming an average short list of 6, but 500 would have been more than enough, no need for 4,500.

        In an attempt to teach this to Rhys, we looked at the numbers a couple of hours after voting opened. Virtually nothing had changed 3 weeks later when it closed.

  • Harry T says:

    Sort of OT but BAEC related:
    Trying to redeem my first 241 for a first class redemption to either Cape Town or Hong Kong for my 30th birthday in January 2021.

    I understand that BA doesn’t guarantee any first class redemption seats. What is the best way to go about grabbing some on these routes? Ring at 355?

    I’ve subscribed to Reward Flight Finder but even then the availability is non existent. I’m also open to any suggestions for routes to redeem on for the best first class experience – any suggestions?

    • Lady London says:

      Set up alerts. I believe you can do this on several bits of software including Google Flights (feeding your demand into the machine that is Google for it to be sold on but it seems that’s the price these days,)

      Make sure whichever machine(s) you choose actually cover the airlines you need. Some don’t cover al.

    • BJ says:

      Absolutely zero chance at 355 Harry 🙂

      • Anna says:

        Not necessarily, I got 3 x F seats to Miami at T-355 for next Easter. I was expecting 2 x J at best but the first redemption seats to appear were 3 x F which just goes to show you can’t presume anything in this game!

        • Shoestring says:

          yep not in the same league but T-355 a year ago, 6 Economy RFS seats popped up for us as well so I nabbed 5 – not unheard of for there to be 6 or 8/9 Economy award seats available at some stage but I certainly never saw it at T-355

          and this was ‘perfect peak hols Saturday’ flying out before Xmas, the day after state schools break up

        • BJ says:

          Except Harry didn’t say -355. Going East, Tokyo is probably easiest to find F. Pops up on HKG too but need to keep watching.

          • meta says:

            Yes, the last two times I got F to Haneda without a problem at T-355. One time they even released 4 F tickets at T-355!

          • Harry T says:

            @BJ I get the joke! Looking at Reward Flight Finder, Tokyo does look a lot more feasible than Hong Kong – thank you.

    • Peter K says:

      Cape Town is notoriously hard to get any premium redemption on, let alone in First.
      Hong Kong is more likely due to the trouble there putting people off from going (on the short term say least), but BA will hope they can sell the first seats for next year okay.

      It literally will be a hope for the best but plan for the worst situation. Book club, set up alerts, pounce if they become available by ringing BA to change the flights.

      • Harry T says:

        @Peter K
        Thanks – reckon it’s worth trying for First to Johannesburg instead and then getting a cheap regional flight to Cape Town?

        • Rob says:

          Or Durban. You can use Avios for a Comair connection but it will be on a separate ticket if on a 241 (Comair isn’t allowed on a 241).

      • Lady London says:

        If you do HKG CX would be nice to choose. Although availability showings on CX do seem to get messed with a lot of BA (Flyertalk comments previously that I’ve not kept up with).

        Personally there are so many ways to go to HKG I would try to get Capetown as it’s the rarer commodity. I think QR is doing it too and something nice might pop up for cash esp ex-EU as an alternative. I think there were nice deals on LH surprisingly recently too.

        • Polly says:

          Harry,
          Qatar sale might be worth waiting for, if you don’t get F. Always great planes and a real treat. As l said before, closest thing to BA F in the skies…good luck.

    • Genghis says:

      Remember at t-355 there’s only guarantee of 2J seats. There’s never guarantee anytime for F.

    • Anna says:

      If your priority is the F experience, there is usually good availability to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I would think from either of those it would be fairly easy to get a connecting flight to Hong Kong or Cape Town. Save some Avios as well.

      LL is right about setting up alerts (RFF is very useful) as there’s no guarantee when F flights will be released.

      • Shoestring says:

        I’ll get kicked off HFP and have to hang my head in shame for a few seconds – but F was never an aspiration for me – Business is a good enough trade off between cost and quality/ delivery/ product AFAIAC

        only speaking personally of course but I’d rather spend the difference on something else! 🙂

        and obsequious people looking after your needs is all very well but can get sort of irritating

        • Genghis says:

          On the whole service has relaxed somewhat in BA F. Thankfully. Although last year HND-LHR in F there was a young girl trying to be posh asking, “Can I get you some hydration, Mr Genghis?”

        • Alex Sm says:

          BA F is long known as “the best business class” in the industry, so no wonder. Our 2018 241 flight to Singapore was good but no wow factor at all

      • Harry T says:

        @Anna
        We are trying to extract as much value out of our 241 as possible by going as long haul as feasibly possible, but you make an excellent point about being pragmatic with route choice.

        • Polly says:

          Even if you get J to Asia, it’s a great use of a 241. We have given up chasing KUL in F now for Nov, and have got 241 in J. Good seats chosen too. It’s still the best value out there using the BAPP 241 at least getting to Asia. Whether in J or F. F, of course great if you can get it.
          Those who make it inF to oz really strike gold..

    • Mikeact says:

      Would you mind trying for different dates as it’s cutting right across the dates we want. Thanks. !!!

  • Benilyn says:

    OT: Any ideas when HSBC premier credit card will post in December, hoping to get one more 25% bonus boost on transfer.

  • Genghis says:

    OT. I’m looking for a travel stroller / push chair for a 9 month old. Any recommendations? Thanks all.

    • Mr. AC says:

      BabyZen YoYo is the ‘default’ choice since it can be folded up in a way that it fits into an overhead bin. Guarantees you have a stroller as soon as you step off the aircraft. The ones that go into the hold can take a long time to be extracted or go straight to the oversized luggage area depending on the airport.
      However, it’s pretty flimsy.

    • BJ says:

      Fathercare!

    • SimonF says:

      Assuming you mean an airport/craft-friendly buggy, I too would highly recommend the BabyZen YoYo+. I’ve used it ~20 times on flights. /v light & durable ad can be taken on board (fits in overhead compartments)

      • Shoestring says:

        we always managed without any kind of pushchair at airports & that’s with 3 of them born in a 4 year run! plenty of LH travel when they were younger. so they’re not absolutely necessary to buy or bring with you, obvs parental choice being the important factor

        I don’t think it made our journeys any more difficult, to a significant extent & we probably reduced hassle carrying even more stuff, on the flipside

        • Genghis says:

          Thanks all. To clarify by “travel” I meant to take whilst travelling, not necessarily zipping around airports / aircraft. We’ve a big uppababy thing but would prefer something smaller that can fit into rental car easily. Don’t wanna spend too much. Thinking Joie tourist.

          • Shoestring says:

            yep we just didn’t really do push chairs

            rucksack baby carrier, pouch baby carriers – we carried the younger tots – or just made them walk

            we had a flash pram, the lie down ones with a hood etc – just never got used more than a few times

          • Tom H says:

            As per the others get the YoYo, we ditched our Bugaboo completely for it. You can push it onto the plane, no questions asked.

          • Crafty says:

            We decided to go low end for our “non Uppababy” and spent about £70 in Toys R Us on a lightish but robust thing, unbranded. Don’t regret it in the slightest, it’s carried my daughter around the world. Battered and dirty now but it works!

          • Genghis says:

            Thanks everyone.

          • JamesW says:

            Have a look at the Quinny Zapp, the only pushchair that managed to outlast our kids!
            Also light and folds easily

          • Pid says:

            We have the Joie and found it great for travelling.

    • Tilly says:

      Having just tried out a number of pushchairs/prams last week we’ve narrowed it down to two for being lightweight and easy to maneuver which we would be happy to take on our travels. One is the Yoyo and the other the Bugaboo Bee5. My SIL swore by the Bugaboo for travelling. If you and your OH are tall then the Yoyo is good but if petite like me then the Bugaboo is better as the handlebar height is adjustable. You can’t adjust the handlebar on the Yoyo.

  • DaveL says:

    OT – Anyone seeing their 40% Tesco – BAEC transfer bonuses post still for members of the old shell scheme? I haven’t had a bonus since Sept 12th despite having converted a few thousand more clubcard point to BAEC. Had understood that promo still running. Thanks.

    • Peter K says:

      Now you mention it, I’ve not had for my last lot of Tesco points converted. Will have to chase.

      • Liz says:

        Our 4th batch posted on 5/12 from a 28/10 transfer date. Still waiting on a bonus from 16/11

  • Rich says:

    OT: Any experience of easyJet Flexi Fares?

    Can your free flight change be to another airport in the city, or must it be the same? Particularly interested in changing MXP-LTN to MXP-LGW. easyJet CS were vague and inconclusive.

  • SimonF says:

    OT – AlanC / John, any suggestions r.e. DT Glasgow (as per comments in yesterday’s article)?

  • Boi says:

    OT: can you actually be in a club room without club access at intercontinental hotels? Just been told we will need to pay €54/night supplement for club access.
    We are staying using ambassador certificate and upgraded to a club room.

    • Rob says:

      Yes. Cunning con they pull with Ambassador upgrades. You get Club floor (so an identical room to the one you booked, potentially with an added coffee machine) but they block lounge access. Happened to me in Abu Dhabi a couple of years ago.

      • Genghis says:

        From experience, most hotels are like this though some do actually give you the club access with the club room.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      They only chain I know where a club room upgrade means you are guaranteed club access is if you are Hilton Gold. All the rest it’s completely up to the hotel.

      IHG actually make it clear that club room upgrades don’t include club access and some hotels now use this as a means to deny by saying it’s the programme not us doing it.

      • Boi says:

        Thanks all. Personally I have done better with Hilton. I will continue with them.

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