Gary Noakes looks at the advantages of signing up to airline loyalty programmes tailored to small companies

Anyone who travels regularly will be aware of the benefits of frequent flyer programmes, but what may be less well known is that airlines also have schemes to secure the loyalty of small businesses.

Carriers have been working harder to attract small and medium enterprises (SMEs) for the past year or so, since corporate travellers were grounded or sent to the back of the aircraft as a result of the recession. In the teeth of the downturn during 2009, British Airways joined forces with UK Trade and Investment and British American Business and gave away 5,000 return flights to SMEs in a bid to boost the sector. Cynics would say such offers only come along when the corporate travellers stay away, but to others they are proof that airlines do indeed value smaller companies.

Being able to take advantage of an airline SME scheme is relatively easy. The European Commission’s definition of an SME is a company  with fewer than 250 employees, an annual turnover of less than e50 million and with no more than 25 per cent of its capital or voting rights owned by one party.

But airlines apply their own, simpler, criteria. BA sets the bar at a minimum of two travelling employees for a firm to join its On Business SME programme, while others, such as Star Alliance’s Company Plus scheme, allow sole traders to join. The upper limit is also down to the airline with, for example, Emirates putting a top number of 80 staff per company on its Business Rewards scheme.