The wife and I generally do a few long haul (5+ hours) flights every year, mostly from London to Johannesburg. In 2015, we had done 4 long haul return flights, all of them with British Airways.
We had made the conscious decision to switch our loyalty from Emirates as our carrier of choice to British Airways. This was a massive step down as British Airways is a vastly inferior carrier to Emirates in every sense!!! The reason behind the mutiny was that we were London based and we needed a carrier whose hub airport was in London. The Emirates hub airport is in Dubai and this meant that we could not get a direct Emirates flight from London to anywhere in the US…If we wanted to fly Emirates, we would have to fly via Dubai which meant flying 8 hours east to fly to a destination that was west – utter madness! There was always the option to fly any of Emirates’ partner airlines going west but we would only accumulate Rewards miles and not Tier miles with Tier Miles needed to progress up their Skywards loyalty program.
So from about 2014 we began using British Airways exclusively for our long haul flights and even used them for some of the short haul ones – in hindsight, a very bad choice as the British Airways loyalty program sucks!
With most airlines, their loyalty programmes encompass two types of miles – rewards miles and tier miles. Rewards miles can be redeemed for free flights, flight upgrades, nights at hotels, consumer goods and general stuff. Tier miles allow you to progress up the airlines’ loyalty program giving you little perks and benefits such as priority check-ins, larger baggage allowances and even complimentary upgrades to Business and First class. You earn both rewards miles and tiers based on the number of flights you take with the airline, the class of the fare you’ve booked and the distance you’re flying.
I’ve always chosen to be loyal to an airline and did so with Emirates for a number of years. I enjoyed the fruits of my loyalty in the form of complimentary upgrades to Business class from Economy, access to Business class lounges, larger baggage allowances and express check-in services. After getting married and starting to travel to the US a lot more, the wife and I switched to British Airways for the reason mentioned earlier. After a few years of flying with British Airways, it struck me that we hadn’t actually progressed up their loyalty programme and didn’t receive a single perk rewarding our loyalty despite making a fair amount of flights with them. That prompted me to look around for another airline to switch to with the only viable candidate being Virgin Atlantic (as their hub airport is in the UK as well). I did a quick British Airways vs Virgin Atlantic comparison of their respective loyalty programs based on our travel in 2015. Had we flown the same flights with Virgin, we would have progressed to the next level as opposed to being stuck on the same level with British Airways. I’ve used the following criteria to make the comparison:
- I’ve used the lowest fare in economy from both carriers
- I’ve checked fares at the same point of the year on both carriers and ensured that the cost of the fares were comparable (which they are)
- I’ve based it on the miles calculator published on the websites of both British Airways & Virgin Atlantic
Based on this, I think I will be taking my last long haul flight with British Airways later this month and will then make the switch to Virgin Atlantic. From what I understand, their staff are more courteous, their planes are in a better condition, their airfares are competitively priced vs British Airways and they reward loyalty far better than British Airways – seems like a no brainer to me!