Frequent flyer programmes have been helping to wing us around the globe for more than 30 years. Now, airlines are switching their programmes from ‘miles travelled’ to ‘money spent’ in droves. We look at three of the biggest airline Loyalty Programmes currently operating within Ireland and at how they are attempting to retain passengers.



The airline industry was the first to practice loyalty by offering frequent travellers free flights when Western Direct Marketing pioneered the programme for United Airlines in 1972. It laid the basis for the airlines programmes that we know today. American Airlines followed suit to create the first major airlines loyalty programme in 1982, American Airlines Advantage.

Non-US airlines were initially sceptical of introducing these loyalty programmes as they feared it would dilute the exclusive image associated with flying at the time. But before long, most airlines had rolled out loyalty programmes and today there are more than 200 frequent flyer programmes worldwide with many global alliances making it easier to collect points and receive rewards for travelling globally.



Loyalty programmes are evolving into something that is much more inclusive – not just rewarding business customers and high frequency customers. Offering members the chance to earn reward points for flights, including their air partner brands, as well as earning points across multiple ways such as encouraging family members to fly and sign-up.

Members are given options on how they want to use their earned points across various ways such as on flight upgrades, airport lounges, airport services and across a wide selection of partners in retail, hotel, car rental and finance.

Such flyer loyalty programmes continue to drive new levels of member behavioural change, while generating a wealth of knowledge from both transaction data and insights. All helping to strengthen the offering to members and the ability to build deeper and relevant customer relationships.



Aer Lingus was a member of the Oneworld alliance until 2007 but is now no longer a part of any global alliance, instead having a handful of partner airlines. The airline is home to Ireland’s only homegrown airline programme. Aer Lingus’ Gold Circle, which began operating in 2004, and re-launched as AerClub in partnership with Avios in 2016 which reached one million members in November 2018. Benefits are available to Green, Silver, Platinum and Concierge members.  Each tier has a unique combination of travel benefits, such as lounge access, priority check in, and priority boarding. 

Members can redeem points to reduce the price of flights with Aer Lingus, or gain easy access to a wide range of rental vehicles across the world. AerClub members will be given the opportunity to collect Avios points (the points rewards currency) on all car hire purchases and enjoy additional benefits including a dedicated reservation line, a free additional driver (with Avis only) and payment flexibility.

“Our new car hire offering promises guests choice and convenience whatever their need or budget, together with a quality and world-leading service. The partnership also serves to enhance our existing loyalty programme AerClub, enabling AerClub members to collect Avios on their car hire purchases.” said  Jennifer Fox, Director of Performance Delivery and Retail, ‎Aer Lingus.


British Airways partnered with Avios in 2011 to replace its original rewards air miles and BA Miles programmes. Avios was awarded the Best Loyalty Programme of the Year at the 2013 Loyalty Awards in London.

In early 2014, Gavin Halliday formerly of British Airways took over as managing director of Avios. He said, “I am energised by the opportunities open to Avios, both in terms of global market expansion; working with key strategic partners and offering members great value travel rewards.”

Robin Glover-Faure, head of short-haul at British Airways, said: “Our most loyal customers in the Executive Club have told us they want more ways to use their Avios and this new option is in response to that feedback. It enables them to realise real cost savings – as much as 38 per cent off in some cases – on European flights, so flights to somewhere like Barcelona could cost as little as £48 return and 4,500 Avios for someone on a hand-baggage only fare.  We believe this will prove very popular with customers and should result in more people being whisked away!”

At the beginning of 2015, Avios faced criticism for changes to the programme, which slashed by 75% the airmiles the cheapest economy class tickets will earn, while giving business and expense-account flyers more rewards. Supply for flights is managed through blackout periods for more popular times and routes. This means that many routes are almost impossible to book using points alone. You also have to pay taxes, fees and carrier charges on flights bought with miles – adding more than €400 to a London-New York flight. To get the most value on your points, Avios have recommended in the past that you buy cash tickets and use your points to upgrade.



Emirates operate out of the $4.8 billion Terminal 3 in Dubai International Airport – the largest airport terminal in the world. The airline began a direct Dubai-Dublin flight in 2011. Skywards is the airline’s award-winning frequent flyer programme and was launched in 2000 – now more than 20 million members have signed up to the programme.

Skywards is open for everyone to join and offers four tiers of membership – Blue, Silver, Gold and Platinum – with each tier providing a selection of exclusive offers and privileges,” says a Skywards representative.

Programme members earn Skywards Miles whenever they fly Emirates or select partner airlines, such as Qantas, as well as when they use the programme’s designated hotels, car rentals, financial, leisure and lifestyle partners.

Emirates Skywards has consistently been ranked as one of the best frequent traveller programmes for many years. Its impressive list of partners is certainly a big draw for many frequent flyers. Other major draws include the Family Bonus programmes that allows you to register up to eight immediate family members and when one of the eight flies on Emirates, you will earn 20% of their miles.

Aer Lingus AerClub
British Airways Avios
Emirates Skywards
How to earn miles (other than on airline flights)
Aerlingus Airways flights, partner airlines (BA, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, United and on Jetblue Airways.) British Airways flights, partner airlines and across their global network of hotels, retail (i.e. Tesco Clubcard), BAA credit card, Shell Service Stations etc. Emirates flights, partner airlines and across their large global network of financial, hotel, rental car and retail partners.
Air miles lifetime
36 months. 36 months. 36 months.
Points plus cash option
No. Yes. Yes.
Linked to credit cards
Gold Visa Business Card Bank of Ireland. British Airways American Express Credit Card, Lloyds Duo Credit Cards. Al Ahli Bank of Kuwait, Citibank, Emirates Islamic Bank, Emirates NBD, MBNA or Standard Chartered Bank India.
What you get at the top tier:
– Dedicated reservations and
customer service.
– 4 one-way complimentary upgrades.
– 1 free roundtrip.
– Companion ticket.
– Booking on full flights.
– Access to lounges.
– Partner membership of the
Gold Circle Club.
– Priority baggage for
Business class
Transatlantic scheduled
– Transfer Avios for free
priority boarding.
– Priority reward.
– No booking or service fees
– 100% bonus Avios on
– Use of first class desk.
– Upgrade for two voucher.
– Gold Upgrade vouchers.
– One gold executive club
partner card and two silver
– Access to lounges.
– First Class check-in and baggage
– Access with guests to the
Emirates First Class Lounge in
Dubai and worldwide lounges
– 75% bonus Skywards Miles
when you fly with Emirates.
– Gold ‘Partners Card’ for a spouse
or partner.
– Guaranteed Business Class
revenue seats.
– ‘Last Seat’ Flex reward tickets
even on high-demand flights.
– Access to lounges.
– Personal travel coordinator.


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