Q: Who owns Frequent Flier miles; the company or the traveler?

My wife and I are frequent fliers with several airlines since we split our time between Greece, Hong Kong and London. My company’s new travel policy requires that I should travel in economy at the best possible price – and business class only in exceptional circumstances. However, the policy states that any staff member may upgrade using their frequent flier miles, which I understand are in any case the traveler’s property.

With this in mind, I dutifully booked a flight to Paris at the best available economy fare on a KLM flight. When I asked Flying Blue if we could upgrade to business class we were told that Air France/KLM allow upgrades only on full-price economy tickets. Does this rule apply to all airlines? If so it seems to make the ‘concession’ about miles in our company’s travel policy rather pointless. 

Derek Dickins, Athens:
A: That’s a good question, as they say. The stark fact is that in these dire economic times, companies are seeking to claw back miles on company travel without alienating their employees. According to Ravindra Bhagwanani, managing director of Global Flight (www.globalflight.net), companies can save about 10 percent of their air travel costs by using miles for corporate travel. There was a court ruling in Germany declaring miles the property of companies; in Austria, companies have to pay tax if traveling executives use their miles for personal trips.

The bitch of it that most airlines only allow upgrade awards on the most expensive fares in each class. A round-trip upgrade typically often costs more miles than a round-trip business class ticket! This applies especially with Star Alliance carriers.

For example, on short-haul flights in Europe the price of a fully flexible economy (Y) fare is typically only about 10 percent less than a business class (C) fare. Only buy the full Y fare if you want to use it to upgrade; otherwise, if you’ve got to travel in cattle class, shop around for the cheapest ticket.

It’s a similar case in North America. So, if you want to upgrade, check out airline policy and try to buy a ‘qualifying’ level ticket in the class in which you’re allowed to travel in compliance with company travel policy.

Copyright 2011 Roger Collis



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