You’ve probably seen someone on board of your flight getting a special treatment or being called out by name. Big chance you just met one of the elite members of the airline’s frequent flyer program. In this article; a quick explanation.

What is a frequent flyer program?

A frequent flyer program is a program offered by almost all airlines (even the tiny ones have it) and is designed to reward customers that are loyal to the airline. Based on the name you could say its a program for the people that fly often. But, you only make it to the top level if you stick with the airline and hit their target (hence the name “loyalty program).

The frequent flyer programs main aim is to reward, and airlines do this in all kinds of forms, based the level that flyers have; the more loyal they are, the more benefits they receive. While loyalty programs have become famous through the airlines, hotels and car-rental companies have introduced their own programs, often linked with airlines.

How do you get these levels?

It differs per program how to advance through the levels but the main thing is; flying! The more you fly the more points or miles someone will receive. Every of the, in general, 4 levels will require different amounts of points or miles to be achieved. Usually, the points or miles rewarded are based on the distance flown, but also by the cabin class and sometimes even on the fare class that was booked (more on that later).

Flying in Business Class often gets 200% of the miles one should receive, therefore speeding up the process of climbing the chain. Discounted fares sometimes only get you 20%, severely limiting your collection speed.

Often passengers also receive “award miles”. These hold no status value but can be exchanged for a lot of services, free flights and other products.

You can earn miles on many partner airlines (such as with oneworld)

The four different levels in frequent flyer programs*

No tier – This is where everyone once started; you are just a regular flyer just like the rest trying to collect valuable miles or points.
Lower tier –
 This level is the first level one can achieve and is often awarded after roughly 15 to 20 single flights. At most airlines, holders of this status will receive some small discounts on seat selection, suitcase check-in prices and receive priority boarding.
Middle tier- This is often where the elite status will bring in some real comforts; holders of this status receive priority check-in (at the business class area), security and border controls and boarding. They can often check-in an extra suitcase for free. They receive a bonus % on award miles. Have the guarantee to fly on flights booked within 48 hours in advance and get lounge access. Lounges are the bread and butter; free food, drinks, newspapers, magazines, showers, spa’s and loads more. All included and for free. (That’s why I never complain about being delayed)
Top tier – This is usually the highest; platinum, diamond and other posh names accompany this status. You receive all the benefits mentioned for the middle tier. As an extra they will be addressed by name on board, receive complimentary upgrades and can use the first class facilities. They also get an even higher award mile bonus.
Secret level – I mentioned 4 levels but in reality, bigger airlines often have a “secret level” that’s not published.These are usually given to a select group of flyers that make up the absolute top or are given to CEO’s, politicians and other important people. These flyers are provided with all the amenities a first class flyer would receive; car services, VIP services and other luxury services.

Why do people want this status?

Status is extremely helpful for flyers that make a lot of flights; it decreases stress to an absolute minimum, makes sure flyers are taken care off and gives them loads of presents in exchange for their business.

Good to know about this topic:

  • Status is temporary if you don’t make the threshold you often lose the status the next year
  • Airline partners (Through alliances) often recognise the status of their partners.
  • Airline-branded credit cards are very useful and may get you status quicker.
  • Car rental and hotel companies often match their programs with those of the airline (Flying Blue Elite+ members get Elite+ benefits at Avis and Hertz).
  • The most prestigious status even gets limousine service to and from the airplane.

*- The benefits differ per airline and program so it’s hard to exactly define.

6 thoughts on “Frequent Flyer Status…. This is how it works”

  1. Which are the best frequent flyer programs? Does it payoff flying with the same airline even if we see cheaper flights?

  2. Hello Carlos,
    Good question. The best frequent flyer program really depends on your situation, travel profile and home base.
    It does pay-off if you manage to get one of the levels mentioned above; being a gold member does get you a lot of “soft benefits”.
    You won’t get cheaper flights but if you save enough award miles you can then exchange them for a cheaper ticket (Most frequent flyers fly on business expenses and collect their award miles and spend them on private trips ;-))

    I can tell you now; if you finally get the Frequent Flyer disease, your travel expenses will be higher (https://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/the-madness-of-airline-elite-status)

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