Historically, it was worthwhile to stay loyal to one airline because you’d get extra benefits, bonus air miles, the potential to get upgraded to first class and more.
However, as airlines have cut their perks and more companies have entered into the rewards business to cash in and collect data on current and future customers, the frequent-flyer programmes have lost their appeal.
Some airlines haven’t done themselves any favours by introducing layers of complexity, where travellers have to crunch the numbers to establish how they can get a discount.
Then there’s the competition from “no-frills” airlines, which have attracted customers away from the traditional carriers by offering cheaper flights, particularly when it comes to domestic trips.
However, airlines maintain that they still offer good deals.
Karlene Barkley, sales and marketing manager at Cathay Pacific Southern Africa, says:
“Complex as it is to understand the airlines’ loyalty programme, when you need to use another airline to get to your final destination, remaining in the same alliance group will help you accumulate more mileage than if you use multiple individual airlines.
“Furthermore, when travelling across different continents, you may utilise the network that the alliance group provides in combination to save both time and money by having one ticket that will take you around the world.”
While there may still be some advantages to frequent-flyer programmes, there are also plenty of reasons you should sever the ties with your preferred airline. Here’s why:
1. BEING UPGRADED IS BECOMING MORE DIFFICULT
One reason to ditch that elite status is because statistics show that people are getting upgraded less often.
According to one report, US airline Delta published some statistics showing this trend.
It revealed that, in 2011, only 31% of people paid something to sit in first class, while, in 2015, that number rose to 57%.
Delta expects this to climb to 70% next year.
The reality is that airlines want to make money by selling first-class tickets and, for those who struggle to do so, simply install fewer seats – making your potential upgrade even less likely.
2. YOU CAN GET A BETTER DEAL ONLINE
The internet turns everyone with access to it into an amateur travel agent, with the likes of Travelstart making it easier to compare flights and find the cheapest seats.
Sonya Schoeman, editor of Getaway magazine, says she doesn’t belong to any particular airline alliance.
“These days, the practical way people travel is to look for the lowest cost,” she says.
Lyle Scritten, PR and outreach strategist at Travelstart, says:
“As for airline loyalty, in my opinion, it has been thrown under the bus, with ever more local travellers opting to go for the cheaper, more viable option.
“If your loyalty doesn’t reside with any of the local airlines and you are on the lookout for cheap flights, give Travelstart a go.
“With Travelstart, you can choose to fly out with one airline and return with another.”
3. FREQUENT-FLYER PROGRAMMES HAVE BECOME LESS USER-FRIENDLY
The concept used to be easy: if you fly, you earn free miles. But for City Press’ personal finance editor, Maya Fisher-French, the experience has become more frustrating and complex: “I’ve given up on them as I can’t use them for when I want to book my flights.
“The flights that suit me are rarely available and, when you want to upgrade, you find that this option is not available or the ticket you booked doesn’t make you eligible for the upgrade.”
Also, some airlines are now only giving you points based on the amount you spend rather than the distance you fly, and are even introducing revenue-based mileage earning, making it more difficult to earn points.
4. YOU CAN GET DISCOUNTS THROUGH OTHER REWARD SCHEMES
You don’t have to rely on your frequent-flyer programme to get discounts on flights because there are other companies that have stepped in to offer travel discounts.
With Discovery Vitality, you can get up to 35% off local flights offered by Kulula and British Airways.
If you want to get discounts on international flights, Discovery also enables you get up to 35% off British Airways, Emirates and Quantas tickets.
“I prefer to get discounts through Momentum Multiply with Mango,” says Fisher-French.
5. CREDIT CARDS ENABLE YOU TO GET MILES TOO
Banks and other financial institutions are offering customers the ability to earn rewards that you can convert into air miles.
There are more advantages to earning discounts this way because you get other perks through your bank cards, not only air miles.
Provided you pay your bills on time and manage your spending responsibly, you are able to build up a good credit profile in the process.
It’s important to weigh up the costs of owning those particular bank cards versus other cheaper options.
It makes sense to get cards that enable you to earn air miles if you are a frequent traveller.
If you don’t use your credit card a lot or travel occasionally, you may benefit from getting a more basic, cheaper credit card.