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April 18, 2000

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Larissa Fernand

Flying is fun only if you do it once in a while. However, if you travel regularly for business matters, flying can be quite a nuisance. So to make up for all that trouble, enroll yourself with a frequent flyer programme. All the miles you now fly will correspondingly translate into a free ticket. At least then you can clock up all the miles flown and avail of the benefits that the airline offers. Here are some frequently asked questions on frequent flyer programmes.

Are there any other benefits besides a free ticket?
If you are not keen on taking a free ticket, you may be able to pass it on to someone else. Some airlines may have no problem with whom you give the ticket to; others however may restrict it only to immediate family members.
Other benefits such as free hotel stays, shopping coupons at duty-free shops and car rentals also apply. Frequent-flyer lounges and some business class lounges at airports will be open to you. Priority check-ins, excess baggage allowance, free upgrades from business class to first class and even from economy to business or first class are some other benefits.
Some airlines in certain countries even permit you to earn miles if you buy a house or car if you are funded by a particular finance company which they have tied up with.

Are there any restrictions on the time of the year in which to fly?
While there are absolutely no restrictions on which time of the year you fly to earn the miles, there are restrictions on when you can use your free ticket. These dates are referred to as the blackout period. They generally fall during the peak season. Some airlines may permit you to fly during the blackout dates if you use double the miles than necessary.

Are these points valid perpetually or temporarily?
Definitely not forever. They generally lapse after three years. You will get a statement which will inform you how many miles are there in your account. Keep your boarding pass in your possession till the miles are credited in your account.

On what are the points dependent?
It depends on the distance you fly, the class you fly in and the ticket. First class will get the most number of miles credited, followed by business class and economy class in that order. On a discounted ticket, the miles credited will be less than on a fully paid one. So, if you fly a few thousand miles on a first class ticket you may get 140 per cent of the miles flown. This may drop to 120 per cent for business class and for economy an equal credit to the miles flown.
A few airlines may offer bonus miles on a frequent-flyer achieving a particular limit. Some may credit miles the moment you enroll.

What are the eligibility criteria?
Some airlines may require you to fly a minimum number of flights before you sign up. Others may ask for a fee. Still others may have none of the above restrictions. As for age, some offer it to anyone two years and above, while others start at around 12 years of age.

Is one restricted to flying with that particular airline?
No. You can check and see which other airlines have partnered with the one on which you have enrolled. Then you can ensure that you fly either with the airline on which you have the frequent flyer membership or any one of its partners.

How many miles does one have to cover before getting a free ticket?
Extremely variable. For a Bombay-London air ticket, the minimum miles could be 50,000; 80,000; 80,400; 90,000 and even 1,10,000. In case you think this is totally arbitrary, remember that the method of computation has also to be taken into account. Some may credit you with 150 per cent of the miles flown others may restrict it to just 110 per cent on a similar route.

What if I get the ticket and then don't use it?
Try to avoid this as much as possible. Since travel agents do not deal with these tickets and you have to deal with the airline directly, you will have to visit the airline's office with your unused ticket and your passport as proof that you have not traveled. And some airlines may not re-credit mileage once it debited from your account.
A word of caution. If you are planning to utilise the miles for a free ticket, make sure you inform the airline three to four months in advance. Or else, they may just inform you that they do not have a seat available.

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