Air miles can still be clocked up even without stepping on board a flight. UAE carriers double down on their loyalty programmes. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: Keep adding to your accumulated air miles… even if you are not flying anywhere soon.

Emirates airline on Monday said members of its Skywards loyalty programme can earn an additional 25 per cent “Tier Miles” by shopping online or at select stores in the UAE. Typically, the Tier Miles are won – and used – by miles flown.

“The initiative is a first from Emirates Skywards, and it joins less than a handful of global airline loyalty programmes offering a similar benefit,” the Dubai airline said in a statement.

But besides shopping, are there other ways to earn/use air miles?

Some airline industry sources say holding on to them until airlines relaunch their flights could be a good idea. More so, as ticket rates could be on the higher side in the initial phase – and passengers holding on to significant air miles will get discounts on fares later.

Holding on would be an advantage

"With the re-opening of travel, having air miles would enable travellers to manage increase in prices effectively,” said Rabia Yasmeen, Senior Analyst, Euromonitor International. “Different airlines have responded differently in terms of flexibility regarding bookings and refunds on bookings, with many also offering air miles on non-refundable bookings.

“Ideally, travellers should keep their air miles over the extended period of flexibility and use it for their bookings later as tickets are likely to be subject to fare increase.”

For those who still think they can only redeem air miles on flights, seat upgrades, hotel stay and holiday packages, it’s time they realised such loyalty programmes extend rewards that have nothing to do with buckling up on a flight.

“Use the air miles programme’s in-house online rewards store to redeem miles on categories such as gadgets, household appliances, mall gift vouchers and more,” said Ambareen Musa, CEO of Souqalmal.com. “The other route is to redeem your miles at the airline’s partners, where the options are endless - malls, jewellery stores, electronics stores, e-commerce websites and so on. Interestingly, you can also earn miles when you spend at these partner stores.”

etihad plane
Etihad has extended the validity period for members who have their air miles points expiring shortly. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Loyalty extensions

The restrictions on travel caused by the COVID-19 disruption have restrained the ability of loyalty programme members to retain their tier and accumulate miles. Recognising this is going to be a problem, UAE airlines have extended the validity of the benefits.

As Emirates confirmed on Monday, members are encouraged to earn miles by spending online or at outlets. Members will continue to earn Skywards Miles on these spends and can be redeemed for upgrades or to reduce the cash component when booking flight tickets later.

Carriers are also offering members extension on their status. From May 1, Emirates Skywards’ members with a tier review date before April 1, 2021 will retain their current status for a further 12 months - at just 70 per cent of the usual travel criteria.

And if you are worried the Skywards Miles are expiring soon, don’t be. Their validity has been extended until December 31, 2020.

Emirates Skywards
Emirates Skywards members are encouraged to earn miles by spending online or at outlets. Image Credit: Supplied photo

In normal circumstances, there is a fee of $20 per 1,000 miles to extend the validity of accumulated miles for another year. Opting for this makes sense if the member has sizeable points that are expiring shortly.

Etihad Guest, Etihad Airways’ loyalty programme, is also offering bonus tier miles to eligible members - those who earned or redeemed miles in the last 18 months - every month until June.

Members of Etihad Guest can also earn double Tier Miles on flights up to June 30.

“Throughout 2020, members who achieve 80 per cent of the qualifying requirements will be extended or upgraded for 12 months,” said an Etihad Airways spokesperson to ‘Gulf News’.

“Members who achieve less than 80 per cent of the qualifying requirements will now be extended until December 31. Etihad Guest Miles that expired in March and April or are due to expire in May will be extended for three months for members who have been active with the programme over the last 18 months.”

There’s a transfer option too

Some airlines and credit card issuers give the option to transfer the miles to other loyalty programmes. “For example, convert to a hotel loyalty rewards programme,” said Musa. “But make sure to check the transfer rate first.”

Both Emirates and Etihad have partnerships with credit and debit cards to help members earn miles, and those earned on credit card spend are usually redeemable across a range of outlets.

“For instance, the Air Miles Middle East card offers air miles when you spend across different outlets,” said Yasmeen. “These air miles can be redeemed for shopping, food and dining, travel or other offers such as getting e-vouchers or gift cards.

“Similarly banks such as HSBC and ENBD also offer points earned on spend through air miles, and these can be redeemed through vouchers at merchants. If travellers do not wish to fly anytime soon, redeeming air miles through e-vouchers is also a good option, especially for e-commerce purchases.”

How to check and maximise air miles
The number of miles earned depends on the distance travelled, the class and the frequent flyer status. This can be totaled up using the miles calculators on the Emirates and Etihad websites.

Some air miles programmes have a condition that the miles will expire in case the account has been inactive (no miles earning or spending activity) for a certain period - 15 months under some popular programmes. Always make sure to check the miles statement and use them before they expire.