What is an Airline Loyalty Program and How Does it Work?

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While the biggest hindrance to travelling more – apart from intra-connectivity issues here in Africa – is how expensive it is to fly to most destinations. Reading about how travelers (particularly those from US & UK) get to travel all the time because of the airline miles and bonuses they accumulate rapidly with their credit cards, you’d get envious. So what is this airline miles and bonuses that gets travelers flying?

The airline loyalty programs, also called frequent-flyer programs (FFP), is offered by many passenger airlines to keep their customers loyal to them. All airline loyalty programs have a similar ‘earn and redeem’ design. Business travelers have to get a membership (mostly free) and earn miles and points every time they fly with the airlines or perhaps use any of their partner’s services.

The perks are designed in such a way that they incorporate the entire ecosystem of air travel including hotel chains, airport stores, and lounges, car rentals, taxis, restaurants, travel credit cards, and so on.

Initially, it was the airline that primarily issued the loyalty points but over time partnerships have developed and partners would start buying loyalty points from the airline to distribute to their customers for various activities.

Moreover, this has created an interconnected network of partners where a customer could earn airline loyalty points even when not flying. As the entire ecosystem is so tightly connected, the loyalty programs in the airline industry thrive due to frequent fliers.

Advantages of Airline Loyalty Program to Airlines

The aviation sector generates massive profits out of loyalty programs. For instance, in the US, the loyalty contribution amounted to 10% of total revenues at United Airlines. Similarly, other US carriers such as American Airlines and Delta Airlines have created their own airline loyalty programs which contribute billions of extra revenue every year.

United Airlines recorded $5.3 billion in revenues related to loyalty in 2019, along with its associate partners, a clear indication that the airline loyalty programs contribute a huge chunk of revenue for these carriers. Not only these big airlines, but their associate partners have also benefited from well-designed airline loyalty programs.

How Do Airline Loyalty Programs Help Generate So Much Revenue?

The loyalty program is a very important tool in customer retention. This is a well-crafted loyalty program that eliminates the risk of losing customers to competitors. If you take care of customer’s needs while also pampering them with extra perks, why would a customer choose your competitor over you?

Customers are motivated to spend more when they feel rewarded for every action, with every purchase paving way for more purchase. The loyalty and customer experience is a part of the same cycle, and revenues flow once the airline knows how to take advantage of it.

Why You Should Try Airline Loyalty Programs?

Rake up miles for free flights

While carriers and its associate partners make a lot of money from loyalty programs, the benefits of airline loyalty programs are extended to customers as well. Since the airline is focused on retaining customers, it cannot afford a blip in customer experience. The competition among carriers to design the best airline loyalty program directly benefits you as a customer.

With loyalty programs, you have more bargaining power, convenience, and comfort. All you need to do is fly frequently with the same carrier and keep gathering your rewards, which is mostly converted into frequent flier miles. When you accumulate a sufficient number of miles to cover the cost of the ticket, you can earn a free flight through loyalty.

Flyers need to gather between 5,000 to 147,000 miles to be eligible to earn an awarded ticket. However, the free flight in a loyalty program depends on factors such as distance between source and destination, the preferred class, and of course, the choice of carrier.

Some Major Airline loyalty Programs in Africa

South African Airlines  (SAA) Voyager

SAA Voyager is South African Airways’ Loyalty programe. It serves to reward frequent flyers equitably through the accrual and redemption of Miles. These Miles can be redeemed for flights, upgrades and other rewards. SAA Voyager offers five tiers – Blue, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Lifetime Platinum – each tier provides members with exclusive benefits.

Ethiopian Airlines, Sheba Miles

Launched in 1999, as the name suggests, Ethiopian Airlines loyalty program refers to the Queen of Sheba of Ethiopia who showered King Solomon with gifts.

The airline offers a loyalty program giving passengers access to exclusive rewards by traveling regularly on its domestic, regional and international flights. This loyalty program classifies its members into four different statuses: Blue, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

RwandAir Dream Miles

RwandAir has a passenger rewards program / loyalty program called Dream Miles. The program offers 4 tiers (Emerald, Silver, Gold and Diamond). The miles earned on each flight are dependent on the class booked, fare paid and tier status of the member.

Air Senegal Teranga Loyalty

Senegalese national carrier rewards its passengers for travelling with the airline by earning miles and redeeming. The Teranga Loyalty program offers 4 tiers including Teranga Ivory, Teranga Silver, Teranga Gold and Teranga Diamond.


Photo; by Jon Howell

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