The bad faith of airlines with award tickets

This is a question our readers often ask us: “If I pay for a ticket with my miles, will I earn miles?”. A question that many frequent travelers will find ingenuous on the part of neophytes, but you will see that it raises interesting questions and is therefore not so uninteresting.

In this article we are going to remind you how the mileage acquisition mechanisms work in airline loyalty programs, the award tickets system, why you don’t earn miles on award tickets and, most importantly, why this is totally abnormal.

Award Miles and Status Miles

A quick reminder to start. When you fly you earn two types of miles or points on your loyalty program.

First of all “status” miles. They allow you to acquire and maintain a status in the loyalty program.

Then award miles. They allow you to buy tickets.

Sometimes you earn both at the same speed or not, sometimes the mechanism and acquisition scales are different, sometimes you may or may not feel like they are the same thing, but in the end that’s how it works.

But to understand the rest, it is important to keep in mind the different nature of the two types of miles because they do not reward the same thing and do not represent the same thing.

Status miles reward loyalty. They do not allow you to buy anything and depend on the number of flights you make, their length, your travel class. They are therefore generally totally decorrelated from the price paid.

Award miles are totally correlated to the price you paid for your ticket. This is logical and it is essential to understand it in order to be able to answer our initial question. Many people complained about the latest reform of Flying Blue with the adoption of a totally revenue-based system that drastically reduced the acquisition of miles compared to “before”.

We understand them but we find that the system, copied from the vast majority of loyalty programs on the market, was very sound. Both for the airline and for the customer.

Let me explain.

Award miles are used to purchase tickets, are a debt owed by the company to its customers, are a financial reality and therefore reward spending money with the airline. If there is no link and proportionality between the earning of award miles and the price of tickets the system is not viable for the airline. And since it is not sustainable it is accompanied by frequent devaluations of the value of miles.

By the way, Flying Blue has very wisely adopted radically different names for the two. XPs allows you to acquire a status, miles to buy tickets. The confusion between the two is no longer possible.

So flying earns status miles that reward loyalty based on the number of flights and spending money earns award miles to purchase tickets, based on the amount spent.

You don’t earn miles with an award ticket

When you use your award miles to purchase an airline ticket, it is called an “award ticket”. And to answer the original question if you fly with an award ticket you will not earn miles.

And in view of the explanations we have just given, this is totally logical. Earning award miles allows you to purchase a ticket tomorrow, so it must correspond to an expense on your part and a revenue for the airline. If it gives you award miles without spending any money on your side it makes no economic sense: it creates a debt that is not backed by any revenue.

So it’s totally logical! Well, not at all.

This made sense in days gone by when bonus miles and status were intertwined, but it makes no sense today.

An award ticket should earn status miles!

Again, status miles reward loyalty and have no financial reward, unlike award miles which are tied to spending.

It makes sense not to earn award miles on an award ticket because there are no expenses, but there is absolutely no reason not to earn status miles!

They don’t cost the airline anything and not allowing them to be earned on an award ticket doesn’t correspond to any economic logic, just penny-pinching.

And that’s a bad calculation for the company.

And that’s a miscalculation from the airline.

It is easy to understand the logic behind this practice.

1°) When the confusion between bonus miles and status was greater, we gave nothing, so let’s not change anything.

2°) We don’t give award miles, we might as well not give status miles, it’s easier to manage.

3°) The more complicated it is for people to reach a status, the lower the cost of applying the benefits of the status and the less the program is devalued.

But this is a miscalculation.

Indeed, the challenge for the companies is to ensure that customers spend their award miles in order to reduce the debt they represent. This is the reason why their validity is limited in time or why the redemption rates are regularly devalued.

What if a passenger has enough award miles to purchase an award ticket but not enough status miles to maintain their status? Well, he won’t spend his miles to secure his status! This is the reason why some passengers end up with a stock of award miles that despair the airlines not because of lack of will to spend them but because of lack of opportunity!

The example to follow: the hotel industry

This system is all the more difficult to understand because you don’t have to go far to find the opposite example: I’m talking about the hotel industry.

The system works in exactly the same way but perhaps in a much more transparent and understandable way. The number of nights spent allows you to obtain a status, the money spent earns points that allow you to pay for your stays.

But when I pay for a stay with my points I still earn nights that allow me to acquire/maintain my status. It’s as simple as that.

This is why I frequently use my points on my hotel loyalty programs without jeopardizing my status (and financially it suits the hoteliers or at least their financiers) while I continue to increase my mileage balance on the airline side, which is not a good thing for the concerned airlines.

Bottom line

When you fly with an award ticket you do not earn award miles or status miles. This is understandable for the former, totally illogical for the latter and is a real penny-pincher that does not improve customer perception of loyalty programs.

It is all the more incomprehensible that the hotel industry does exactly the opposite.

And you, do you find it logical or unfair not to earn status miles on your award tickets?

Photo : plane in the air de stockphoto mania via Shutterstock

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrin
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.

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