Not all frequent flyer programs are equal. Once you get past the tick-a-box basics such as lounge access and 'priority everything', smart airlines begin to get creative in looking after their more highly-valued members.
This can result in some very practical benefits designed to make life on the road easier for top-tier travellers.
Sometimes they smooth out the journey; other times, they're welcome little touches which add up to a more rewarding experience.
Here are some frequent flyer benefits that aren't part of the typical package line-up, but perhaps should be...
Unlock a points-based reward seat
If you're flexible with your travel plans, burning through a stash of frequent flyer points is relatively easy – but busy travellers working to set schedules can't be so adaptable.
With that in mind, Qantas offers a handy perk for its Platinum and Platinum One frequent flyers: the ability to make a points-based 'classic reward' seat available on just about any flight.
This can only be done by calling Qantas, and success is never guaranteed: but ask, and you may receive.
Separate lounges exclusively for frequent flyers
Just about every business or first class ticket will get you into an airport lounge, and many airlines open those lounges to their elite frequent flyers.
Sometimes, though, frequent flyers enjoy access to an even more exclusive lounge.
On that list: the China Airlines Emerald/Paragon Exclusive Area and EVA Air’s The Garden in Taipei, as well as Finnair’s Platinum Wing in Helsinki, Korean Air’s Miler Club Lounge in Seoul, and Turkish Airlines’ Exclusive Lounge in Istanbul.
While amenities vary between lounges, one aspect normally high on the agenda is peace and quiet.
Being able to escape an airline’s bustling business class lounge and bunker down somewhere more private can be a godsend when there's work to do, and when it's time to unwind.
At busier locations like Helsinki Airport – where Finnair’s Platinum Wing welcomes all Oneworld Emerald members (when not closed due to COVID-19, of course) – guests can instead look forward to an upgraded dining experience, with à la carte service and vintage Champagne.
Of course, invitation-only programs with matching VIP-level lounges rank even higher, such as the Qantas Chairman’s Lounge, Virgin Australia’s The Club and Air New Zealand’s Elite Priority One, to name a few: but for ‘regular’ frequent flyers, a frequent flyer lounge remains appreciated.
Free inflight WiFI
The cost of staying connected above the clouds can be high – especially on airlines that charge based on data consumed, rather than time connected – but several frequent flyer programs waive those costs for high-tiered members.
Emirates Skywards Platinum cardholders pay nothing for unlimited WiFi when booked in any class, nor do Skywards members of any rank flying in first class. Complimentary messaging is also offered to Skywards Golds in economy, and for all Skywards members in business class.
At Etihad, WiFi is free for Etihad Guest Platinum members on all Etihad flights. All other members can connect at a discount, with Gold receiving 75% saving, Silver enjoying 25% off, and Bronze (the program's entry-level tier) getting a 10% discount.
Finnair’s complimentary offering varies by tier and by flight length, but as a general rule, unlimited Internet access is free for Finnair Platinum and Platinum Lumo guests on long-range flights, and on many shorter hops as well.
Give the gift of status, one trip at a time
Certainly, year-long 'partner' frequent flyer status is a valued benefit for many – but under Air Canada's revamped Aeroplan program, travellers can instead bestow status on others using a Status Pass.
Designed for a single itinerary rather than a 12-month roster, sharing a Status Pass allows the recipient to fly like a Silver member for a single, designated journey.
For example, an elite Aeroplan cardholder might share a Status Pass with a friend or family member to make an upcoming trip a little smoother, unlocking perks like priority check-in, three complimentary checked bags, and more.
One Status Pass covers an entire travel itinerary, including multi-city and return flights, so if you’ve earned more than one Status Pass, you can save the others for later – and can gift each one to a different person.
Unlimited complimentary upgrades
Everyone loves an upgrade, but frequent flyers don't always have to rely on these being relatively ad-hoc.
British Airways and Virgin Australia are among the airlines offering their top-tier travellers a number of upgrade vouchers each year.
At other airlines, free bump-ups to business class are uncapped, subject to seating availability closer to departure.
It's a favourite perk of many North American frequent flyer programs, offered to various degrees by American Airlines AAdvantage, Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan, Delta SkyMiles, Hawaiian Airlines’ HawaiianMiles and United MileagePlus, and others.
Depending on each program, on flights up to a certain length – typically those within North America – if there’s a seat available in a premium cabin, and an eligible elite frequent flyer is set to take that flight, that upgrade is free.
These free upgrades are on top of any upgrade certificates given to members for use on longer flights, allowing travellers to confirm certain requests and lock-in upgrades sooner than the week (or day) of travel.
Welcome back, with your favourite drink
For travellers who’d normally spend more time on planes than at home, Emirates goes the extra mile to keep things familiar.
Gold and Platinum members of the Skywards program can have their favourite inflight drink kept on file, which the crew can serve on every journey without being prompted. A traveller’s preference for a particular newspaper can also be recorded.
Ride in style, when you spend your miles
Even before COVID-19, many airlines had wound back or even abolished airport chauffeur services for business class and first class flyers, especially so for those booking flights with miles rather than paying full fare.
But after earlier cuts, some carriers are giving back. Etihad, for example, continues to provide its Gold and Platinum frequent flyers with chauffeur service in the UAE, on business class and first class tickets booked using miles.
Covering those arriving into or departing from Abu Dhabi Airport, the service even stretches beyond Abu Dhabi, to anywhere in the United Arab Emirates: again, free of charge.
For example, you could fly into Abu Dhabi in business or first class using Etihad Guest miles, and have the chauffeur drive you the 90-odd minutes to Dubai – or, to other lesser-known destinations within the UAE, such as Sharjah, Al Ain or Ruwais.
This benefit doesn't extend to members of partner airline frequent flyer programs making similar bookings on Etihad, such as Virgin Australia's Velocity members, although the ability for Velocity members to spend their points on partner airlines has been suspended since April, in any case.
Turn frequent flyer status into hotel status
After clocking up some serious miles in the air, it's only logical to work towards elite status on the ground: and sometimes, your frequent flyer card might just be your ticket to elite hotel status, without meeting the usual requirements.
Virgin Australia's Velocity Gold and Platinum members of the program can request equivalent status with either Hilton Honors or IHG Rewards Club, for example.
Velocity Gold members can choose between Hilton Honors Gold or IHG Rewards Club Gold, while Velocity Platinum travellers can select either Hilton Honors Diamond or IHG Rewards Club Platinum.
Further afield, KrisFlyer Elite Gold, PPS Club and Solitaire PPS Club members of Singapore Airlines' frequent flyer program can also request a fast-track to Shangri-La Golden Circle Jade membership.
Under the two programs' Infinite Journeys partnership, these KrisFlyer and PPS members can reach Jade after spending just one night at any Shangri-La, Kerry Hotel, Traders Hotel or Hotel Jen property worldwide.
From the second stay onwards, this provides benefits such as complimentary daily breakfast, room upgrades, a 4pm late check-out and more.
Zip through the airport with concierge assistance
Who doesn’t love being whisked past airport queues and escorted to their flight – either on foot, by buggy, or even by Cadillac across the tarmac?
When eligible members of American Airlines AAdvantage and Qatar Airways Privilege Club travel with their home airline, they'll often receive the white glove treatment: either by request, or as necessary, to help them make a connection.
Qatar Airways Gold and Platinum Privilege Club members can pre-request assistance on arrival into Doha – including private immigration clearance, separate to Qatar’s normal premium facility – as well as on departure or while in transit.
American Airlines instead extends ‘Five Star Service’ to its VIP ConciergeKey members, again for assistance on arrival, departure, or in transit, although this is American's invitation-only status.
At some airports, AA VIPs customers may even be driven from the lounge to their flight – or from one flight to the next, when time is tight – by Cadillac.
Executive Traveller readers, it's over to you – beyond basics like priority service and lounge access, is there a 'special' frequent flyer perk you look forward to when taking to the skies? Share your thoughts via the comments below.
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