End of runway for world's favourite airline perk as value of BA points plummets

Cost-cutting of regular fares means 'free' loyalty flights can cost more than just buying a ticket

First, the glamour, joy and excitement of aviation evaporated. Now the cherished perks of travelling executives, frequent-flyer points, could go too.

On some trips from the UK it now costs more in taxes, fees and charges to get a "free" flight than to buy a ticket on the open market.

Frequent flyers using accumulated miles to fly from London to Amsterdam and back could find the passenger in the next seat with an ordinary ticket has paid £11 less for the same trip.

Business travellers have long grumbled about the diminishing value of free tickets for loyal passengers. Things have now reached a stage at which mileage can have a negative value.

Research by The Independent reveals frequent travellers on Air France/KLM's Flying Blue scheme are charged £110 plus 20,000 miles for a Heathrow-Amsterdam round trip – available for £99 to normal paying passengers.

A KLM spokeswoman said the £110 plus 20,000 miles cost was "available to frequent travellers throughout the year, even at peak time. The £99 offer...is much more restricted in availability".

Meanwhile, for some short-haul trips from Gatwick, BA Miles can be worthless. Members of the British Airways Executive Club seeking a "free" economy flight to Amsterdam and back must pay 9,000 BA Miles plus £77.80 in taxes, fees and charges – the same as the cash fare on many dates this winter.

A member paying half the cost in miles and topping up the rest with cash will spend £45 more than someone buying an ordinary ticket at the lowest price. One reason is a fall in fares. After two decades as the biggest carrier at the Sussex airport, BA ceded its position to easyJet in 2008. The rivals – also the UK's two largest airlines – now compete on a wide range of routes.

To win back business from easyJet, BA has just cut its prices for European flights from Gatwick.

BA said: "Tickets available for Executive Club members to use in return for their miles differ to the lowest published fares in that they are fully flexible, allowing customers to make changes to bookings free of charge."

KLM and BA run sophisticated "yield management" systems aimed at filling planes and maximising earnings.

Seats sold publicly at the lowest fares must typically be bought well in advance, with limited availability on peak departures. The KLM spokeswoman said: "The majority of our passengers burn their miles on long-haul flights or when they need to fly at peak times."

She rejected the suggestion Flying Blue members should be warned cheaper fares might be publicly available and insisted: "Frequent travellers receive regular communication... [and] are aware promotional offers can at times be more competitive."

Many members of BA's Executive Club redeem points for Club World or First Class long-haul flights as that is where BA Miles are most valuable.

British Airways also owns Airmiles, a retail-reward programme that currently offers completely free flights. Amid much controversy, the scheme switches next month to a new currency, Avios, and starts imposing taxes, fees and charges. Previously free flights to New York will soon cost over £300 in addition to points spent.

Timeline: Loyalty in the skies

1981 American Airlines launches "Aadvantage", the first miles-for-free-flights scheme.

1988 Airmiles, a "retail reward scheme" offering free flights is introduced by British Airways.

1990 Virgin Atlantic launches Virgin Freeway, claiming to be "the UK's first automated frequent-flyer programme".

1991 Pan Am collapses, taking billions of "Worldpass Miles" with it.

1995 Tesco Clubcard launches. Benefits include Airmiles.

1996 easyJet unveils its first and only frequent-flyer offer: passengers paying the top fare between Aberdeen and Luton get a free bottle of whisky, which turned out to be a half-bottle.

1998 FlyerTalk becomes the first online forum for collectors of miles. One popular feature is "Mileage Runs", where travellers make journeys specifically to earn points: see www.bit.ly/MileageRuns.

2003 Redeeming Airmiles for low-cost flights ends when Go is taken over by easyJet.

2007 The Independent reveals distortions in the Airmiles map of Europe: points are worth 16 times more flying to Hungary compared with the Scottish islands.

2009 George Clooney stars in Up in the Air, the film featuring a frequent-flyer who reaches 10 million miles.

October 2011 EasyJet starts giving away free tickets, but only to business passengers whose flights are late.

November 2011 Airmiles and BA Miles to be replaced by a new currency called "Avios".

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor