Victoria Fox is CEO of marketing agency LIDA
For regular business travellers, frequent flyer rewards have long been a perk of the job, something that makes those 0400 flights a little more bearable.
But with airlines devaluing the spending power of air miles – and imposing complicated restrictions on redemption – many of the business travellers I speak to are fast losing faith in the frequent flyer programmes we all used to champion.
There’s no longer a stereotypical “business traveller”, and we’re becoming increasingly difficult to categorise – we tag leisure travel on to business trips and we fly economy or with low-cost airlines for short-haul.
As a result, business class cabins on certain routes are just as likely to be filled with “leisure travellers” as they are “business travellers”.
Those airlines that are doing it well are beginning to move to what we call “me-shaped loyalty”. This is an approach that recognises and rewards individual business travellers on their terms, whether in personal or professional modes.
To choose the best rewards programme for you, you need to best match your everyday lifestyle with the earning and spending mechanics of these new-look reward schemes.
Here are my top picks of the best frequent flyer programmes on offer for the European business traveller.
1. The best for “earning and burning” points quickly
If you’re a value-conscious flyer looking to use points for European trips, then both Norwegian Reward and Air Berlin Topbonus are for you.
With Norwegian Reward you can earn up to 20 per cent of your ticket fare back in “Cash Points” per flight and put this credit to full or partial payment of flight tickets, as well as using it to pay for all those extra niggles – additional baggage, seat reservations and ticket changes.
And currently, every twelve round trips booked as a Norwegian Reward member will earn you a free long-haul return ticket to a destination of your choice. A great perk if you’re a weekly commuter to Europe.
Air Berlin Topbonus is a traditional miles scheme, but with a high earning potential for business travellers, with members earning double the number of miles flown on all business class tickets.
The entry-level threshold for reward flights is low (one-way tickets start from 7,500 miles) and the scheme regularly runs “Topdeal” promotions, where fares can be snapped up from as little as 3000 miles.
Another key bonus is the companion certificate, which allows you to use your miles to book a second ticket at just 50 per cent of the mileage value.
2. The best for rewarding family leisure travel
If you’re using your business travel to boost rewards flights for your family, then the Lufthansa Miles & More programme is an excellent choice.
A key benefit of the scheme is that children aged between two and eleven fly at a reduced fare – at 75 per cent of the normal number of miles – making it a great option for business travellers with young families.
Another advantage is that the Lufthansa group comprises not just Lufthansa but also Brussels Airlines, Swiss and Austrian Airlines, significantly increasing the earning potential for European travellers.
3. The best to “double-dip” and earn on the ground
With more than half of all miles now being earned on the ground – on credit cards linked to airline programmes – make sure you’ve chosen the card that allows you and your family to optimise your earning potential.
The American Express card associated with British Airways Executive Club is one of the top-rated cards in the UK. Earning one Avios for every £1 spent and up to three Avios for every £1 spent on British Airways flights and holidays with the Premium Plus card, it can quickly help turn your receipts into trips.
If you’re expected to pay for your business expenses upfront while travelling for work then this is the card that you shouldn’t leave home without. The extra Avios will soon rack up and an annual spend of just £10,000 can bag you a free companion flight.
If you travel regularly to the Middle East, then Etihad Guest also offers co-branded American Express and Visa cards that will help you earn miles faster.
Be savvy about when you take the card out and you can earn double Etihad Guest miles for business class flights and triple miles on all first class flights in your first three months. Ideal, if youve got a big business trip to the Middle East coming up.
The fact that it is an unbelievable product only adds to the attraction.
4. The best kept secret for European travellers
Not an obvious choice, but it is American Airlines AAdvantage that is currently rivaling the major European loyalty schemes.
As you can collect miles with any Oneworld alliance partner, including Iberia, BA and Finnair, European business travellers also benefit from its advantages.
The key difference is that you earn more miles on business and first class travel (up to 50 per cent more) than with most other European frequent flyer programmes, allowing you to reach elite status quicker. You can also earn up to eight system-wide upgrades per year and earn and spend miles with over 1,000 retail and leisure partners worldwide.
But importantly, top tier Platinum and Executive Platinum members also earn an additional 100 per cent bonus across all partner airlines, making it much easier to qualify for elite status again in your next anniversary year – something that has often proved a headache with other airline programmes, especially if your business travel tends to peak and trough.
I’ve pointed you towards the best of the current programmes to help you get the most from the time you spend in the air with work.
The next few years will see interesting developments and you should definitely be on the look out for airlines that start to tailor their programmes around you as an individual. After all there is so much they know about you in this age of data, so you should expect that to turn into real value for you as a customer.
Read our contributor biography of Victoria Fox