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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)

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

  • Benilyn says:

    OT: Does the Etihad A320 business look a bit rubbish? I could upgrade via bid for my AUH to MLE leg, but looks a bit basic. Note: I rarely fly business, only experience is Qatar and that was impressive. So would save that cash for another day.

  • Anna says:

    OT – just tried to log in to my BA account and got a message that I’m locked out for 24 hours due to too many attempts (it was my first attempt for a few days) unless I reset the password. When I try to reset the password, I keep being taken back to the same page. This happens on my laptop and ipad. OH has no issues getting into his account. Any idea what could be going on?

    • Genghis says:

      Have you been using AwardWallet?

      • Anna says:

        I’ve just got a new phone, so all my apps have transferred over, including AwardWallet (though I haven’t actually used it for ages).

        • Anna says:

          Panic over! Looks like my old AND new phones were both logged into the BA app and BA’s IT wasn’t happy about it!

  • Cwyfan says:

    I ma trying to raise another issue but articles relating to it seem to be closed.

    My wife and I both read your article on Aer Lingus Avios and decided to buy 35,000 each.

    The vouchers we received were dated the 31 December expiry, but everytime we try to register them on our aerclub avios account prior to transfer it says that they are out of date.

    We have followed the instructions to the letter, and contacted both Groupon and AerClub about it, and each says the issue is with the other.

    Anybody else having problems,, or anybody willing to give advice or help please.

    Sorry to butt into the topic, but the clock is ticking on a potential financial loss for us about this.

    • Anna says:

      Are you within date to get a refund from Groupon? The offer will probably come up again so it may be better to get your money back this time before you lose the vouchers altogether.

      • Lady London says:

        Ask your credit card for a chargeback as you havent received what you paid for?

      • Rob says:

        Yes, I would go with a credit card chargeback or use the Groupon satisfaction guarantee, and rebuy when it comes around again.

  • Andy D says:

    OT: Anyone got there Marriot 50% Amex MR bonus yet?

    • stevenhp1987 says:

      No, but the promotion is still ongoing.

      By mid-January I’d expect, definitely in 2020, not this year.

    • Relaxo says:

      I got on Amex chat re: the transfer bonus & CS said it only applied to those who were targeted by email. Contrary to previous reports.

      • Freddy says:

        I asked on live chat on whether I’m eligible and was confirmed that I was despite not having an email. Screenshot the conversation so probably will file a complaint if they play games

  • Bobby Builder says:

    OT Can anyone help please? My mother got downgraded from Club to WTP on a flight back from Grenada. She’s aged 77 and was given a standby boarding pass at check in and had to wait 2 hours not knowing if she was getting on the flight before being offered WTP or nothing. As there were no flights out of Grenada on BA for a week and she did not want to stay on by herself she accepted. BA say they overbooked the flight and gave her a £200 voucher (for cash) and said they will refund the difference (not done yet). BA said they will not offer any other compensation. Does she have a case for more compensation given she was on the last flight home before Xmas so it was barndoor obvious that no one would fail to turn up and they kept her in limbo not knowing if she was going to get home at all. Thank you for any advice.

    • Shoestring says:

      yep sounds like an involuntary downgrade so your ma is entitled to 75% of the cost of that leg of the fare, minus some adjustments for taxes – BA often actually make the adjustments work out favourably so don’t worry about that aspect

      they won’t give in gracefully so your help may be needed

      the £200 voucher is irrelevant to compo for involuntary downgrade so say thanks to BA but, no, you want proper compo not £200 and it will be an ‘extra’ to any compo you get – BA must not deduct the £200 from any compo

      • Shoestring says:

        the bad news is: BA will calculate the cost of that leg as the cost of the lowest fare class available in Business & she will probably have paid more

        not to worry, given the £200

      • Lady London says:

        so @Bobby note the refund due to your mother is not just “the difference” between the two fares (cheeky b*******s BA for offering just that !!) but under EU261 she is entitled to be paid 75% of the value of her Business class ticket for that leg. She’s actually also legally supposed to be notified of her rights under EU261, as well, at the time this happens and it seems British Airways failed in that legal duty as well.

        The amount the 75% is calculated off, could be calculated by various reasonable ways you might choose to put into your claim including
        – the actual cost paid for that leg
        – what that leg would have cost for someone to buy on the day or the flight, or so (often the most expensive fare in that class on that flight) [It has not been unknown for BA to downgrade someone and take their seat for that price thus reasonable as a “value” for the flight]
        – if paid by avios, the number of avios paid times 1.6pence, plus all taxes and charges

        Just in case there are any quirks in the actual fares on the date in question, wait and see the exact amount British Airways are proffering as compensation and meanwhile do your own figures to see what you think she’s due. It’s just possible – but highly, highly, unlikely – that they might offer more than you would calculate yourself so it’s best to see what they offer first – assuming they will communicate with you which is not a guarantee once you return home, enter your claim on the website and start the process to get her what she’s due.

        the duty of care part of EU261 is separate to and independent of any compensation due such as the above (and it is compensation not a “refund”) and would have covered her accommodation, transport to and from the accommodation, plus all meals /refreshments (non-alcoholic) at appropriate times of the day(s) whilst she was waiting for BA to provide a replacement journey on their own aircraft of someone else’s in “comparable conditions” (interpreted as =same class of travel in previous cases).

        Costs of duty of care is always payable to the passenger if needed regardless of the cause of the passenger not being carried as booked even if the significant schedule change or cancellation is notified more than two weeks ahead. Of course duty of care might not be needed if the passenger accepts a downgrade or if a suitable replacement flight is provided quickly enough by the airline for it not to be required. The text of the legislation is quite readable as to the various percentages and time limits.

        Compensation is only paid if the airline’s fault so you can imagine the “discussions” on that (and the changing nature of excuses from ones that did admit fault, to ones that would exempt the airline from fault !) In your case, being told you’re being offloaded from the flight and then only being offered a downgrade on the day of travel, the airline is fully responsible for compensation.

    • Anna says:

      Her rights are enshrined in EU law (I think part of the 261/2004) and there are articles on HFap and other sites about pax being downgraded both on Avios and cash flights.

      • Anna says:

        I had a delay earlier which clearly merited compo but BA refused to pay out so I used the CEDR mediation service and they were excellent- BA caved and paid our €1200 very soon after I lodged the case.

        • Anna says:

          If there’s any way of finding out what BA were charging for seats on that flight, apparently people have submitted claims based on that amount which is usually going to be significantly higher than it was at the time the original journey was booked.

          • Lady London says:

            Would using the Wayback Machine on the BA website to get the price tickets were selling at just before the flight? normally that would be the highest.

      • Bobby Builder says:

        Thanks so much. So given that BA customer services have said they will not give any more compensation (but will do a refund which hopefully will be 75% as Shoestring has kindly informed me) should I go to CEDR to ask for fair compensation? Or write to Alex Cruz?

        • Anna says:

          You need evidence of BA’s responses and full details of your mother’s case together with the exact amount of money you want from BA. They will also want evidence like the boarding card to show which cabin she flew in. Did Rob once write an article about using CEDR and MCOL?

        • Shoestring says:

          first, exhaust your several possibilities at getting Customer Services to pay up

          don’t accept the first (say) 3 or 4 refusals, just repeat your case and insist on proper compo (they are masters of BS as 95% of people walk away)

          I would then go to MCOL, you can go alternatively to CEDR first and MCOL after if you choose

          • Jill (Kinkell) says:

            I got BS from BA regarding flight cancellation as a knock on effect of the September strike. I must have had 4/5 email responses all stating no compo as it was extraordinary circumstances. Filed with CEDR and hey presto ! BA apologised profusely, said they would ensure their CS staff were more knowledgeable. Yeah! But I was almost worn down. Comp. goes towards our next 241.

          • Lady London says:

            I thought if you go to any reconciliation service (such as CEDR presumably is) then you have to sign upfront that you lose your rights to go to court if you don’t like the outcome of the reconciliation?

            Based on reports of CEDR giving some very odd and apparently incorrect decisions over time, despite Anna’s good luck with them personally I’d head straight for mcol after I’ve recorded the details of 3 refusals by BA. Why waste time?

          • Shoestring says:

            well I stand to be corrected but I understood you can do CEDR first then MCOL after if you choose

          • Lady London says:

            Practically speaking even though BA said they would “refund” I would start getting their answers from them that they will be paying out the 75% asap. Even where BA has agreed previously (which doesnt happen often so far as we can tell) that they will refund, reports are that this can take months and months, and much chasing, and may not happen at all if the person gives up while all this is (not) going on over time. Apparently the EU261 legislation says they have to pay out within 2 weeks IIRC. So you could give them, say, 8 weeks and 3 refusals by them (or at least not paying or not responding) and then send something headed Letter before Action giving them 2 weeks to pay out then do a moneyclaimonline dot gov dot uk.

            If it’s too much hassle someone like Bott & Co would handle it all for a chunk of the payout.

            Go get ’em cowboy for all the stress British Airways caused her.

        • Lady London says:

          Hey Shoestring would Bobby’s mother have been within her rights to just say no I dont want to change class, that is not comparable conditions, I want you to provide me my rights under duty of care until you can put me on a flight in the Business class which I booked?

          I would have been sorely, sorely tempted.

          Is it my imagination or is British Airways picking on single elderly people a lot, when they choose who to offload or downgrade from a flight? There are too many reports of elderly people travelling alone who seem to be made a victim by BA. Am I imagining this?

          As previously stated by Rob ‘below the line’, British Airways apparently got sick of the value of an avios ticket they’d downgraded someone from, being accepted by the courts as 1.6 pence per avios paid for that ticket, and having to pay out cash to people on 2-4-1’s they were previously picking on to offload or downgrade, at 75% of that calculated todal value. BA had thought apparently that the free 2-4-1 ticket would be valued at zero as it had cost zero, so compensation would not be payable for 1 of the 2-4-1 tickets. So apparently they were picking on people travelling on 2-4-1’s. Luckily there was a series of court judgments when the courts accepted 1.6p as the value BA sells avios for, as the value base for compensation.

          So has British Airways switched from picking on people travelling on 2-4-1’s to offload or downgrade, to now picking on the elderly?

          • Shoestring says:

            yes: I think (for an EU airline) you can insist on being carried in the fare class you contractually paid for, as long as that is reasonable – and the airline owes you duty of care until it can fly you to the destination or otherwise find you a ticket

          • Lady London says:

            So would have been one week’s hotel, transport to and from hotel and 7 days * 3 meals a day plus refreshments, plus 75% of the value of the ticket (hopefully the value of the last ticket sold in Business onto that flight) as compensation?

            British Airways doesn’t know how lucky they are. £200 is getting off lightly in exchange for that duty of care. Is this why they’re picking on old ladies to offload or downgrade?

            Funnily enough I had an offer of EU261 duty of care hotel etc., from an airline 2 weeks ago. It was caused by the French air strike. I declined to take it up and paid for an extra night myself until they could fly me – as regardless of the legislation I don’t think it’s fair that the airline should have to pick up costs if I can cover them myself.

          • Lady London says:

            *not for an unrelated strike that’s not the airline’s fault, at least 🙂

          • Shoestring says:

            as long as the costs were reasonable

            if it’s only 1 flight a week, & an alternative flight in a lower class were offered…obvs with the compo legislation in place…

          • Anna says:

            Also Bobby, is your mum Grenadian (or other non-UK citizen)? I have seen one or two anecdotal reports where it has been suggested that BA prefer to offload/downgrade foreign nationals who are less likely to be aware of their rights than UK passengers.

  • Boi says:

    OT: Harry did you see an article today that if you don’t drink alcohol for a year you save enough money for an all inclusive 7 night holiday to Jamaica? Your wife will thank you for that! Ha haa

    • Shoestring says:

      got a link? I would do that – to get to the rum capital of the world on a freebie!

      • Lady London says:

        you are incorrigible

        • Shoestring says:

          just did 4 months hard time & it wasn’t a biggy

          stop-nuary, stop-bruary, stop-arch? I reckon I’m up for it

          after too much hard drinking in my life I confess day 2 wasn’t much fun Sept/ last time of abstinence

          when you get a problem: man up & get through it

  • Shoestring says:

    Wolves vs Man City

    on in 4 mins – live – on Amazon Prime throughout the UK/ EU/ EEA

  • Bill says:

    Im currently chasing TAP for a 261/2004 delay claim. They’ve so far simply ignored me. Next week will be 60 days so I plan to write a letter before action and send to them at Heathrow. If they ignore that I’ll go down the mcol route. He delay was late inbound arrival. Unfortunately I didn’t ask the reason for the delay of the inbound flight. Does anyone have any comments about my plans or situation?

    • Lady London says:

      The reason might be one that would exempt them from compensation so I really hope you can find out the reason for delay. I know Expertflyer has the reason for 48hrs after the flight. Hopefully someone here can help you if you can post which flight number, the route and which day? Possibly over on Flyertalk might help too.

      I remember reading somewhere TAP are supposed to be absolutely hopeless and don’t communicate on such claims so if the reason why is one that does not exempt the airline from compensating you it looks like you will have to go the full way to mcol. Good luck,

    • Anna says:

      There’s an online tool you can put your flight details into and it will tell you if you have a case or not.

    • memesweeper says:

      If you launch ADR or MCOL — which costs you nothing — they will have to state the reasons for the delay. They may put spurious or irrelevant factors in, as EasyJet have just done on my current claim. Make your own decisions and do some research into the merits of their counter arguments and proceed accordingly.

      ADR before TAP gives you two chances to win.

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