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".

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Life and Style
Gap announced its same-store sales were down 6 per cent in August, and 3 per cent in September
fashionAlexander Fury explains where Gap is going wrong
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
News
Rainbow List
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Cronenberg: 'Ageing is part of life. There is a beauty to it; you just have to find a way to grasp that beauty'
arts + ents
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

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?