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Is there any point in buying frequent-flyer points?

Is there any point in buying frequent-flyer points?

Q I am a Blue Card holder with Emirates’ frequent-flyer programme, Skywards. Last September I took up the airline’s offer to buy miles to put towards a future flight. I already had some miles. I bought 10,000 miles for £194. My holding at present is 17,400 miles. Recently I went through the process of making a booking to see how much I would save on a flight to Dubai using as many miles as possible. It showed only £73 saving, and so I didn’t make the booking. How can the airline justify charging so much for points that then lose so much value?

Patrick B

A Some travellers swear by frequent-flyer schemes, and one or two websites devoted to loyalty schemes can make it sound seductively easy to travel the world for free in luxury.

We’ll tell you what’s true. You can form your own view.

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Certainly, as a traveller you might as well collect any points that are due on a journey such as UK-Dubai-Australia. But if you don’t have a generous employer who bankrolls plenty of long haul, premium class travel for you, like me you find it difficult to accumulate a meaningful number of points.

Airlines know this, and sometimes make tactical offers to raise useful amounts of cash in exchange for points for future flights. But I find it helps to maintain realistic expectations of the benefits points can bring you. And without wishing to sound harsh, buying extra points takes the game to a whole new level: you need to know exactly why you are converting cash to airline points, a currency with limited versatility.

I never use miles to obtain a discount on normal fares. Each mile cost you nearly 2p to buy. But as you found, to use them for a discount values each at less than 1p each.

I suggest instead you see what options there are for using your points to travel more comfortably on trips where you have bought a ticket for cash. The airline says: “Any member from any tier can use their Skywards Miles to upgrade their Emirates flight to either Business Class or First Class.”

But even then, manage your expectations. At popular time upgrade opportunities are frustratingly elusive.

Always remember that the fundamental purpose of airline frequent-flyer schemes has always been to boost loyalty at minimum cost to the carrier, filling otherwise empty seats.

Every day, our travel correspondent, Simon Calder, tackles a reader’s question. Just email yours to s@hols.tv or tweet @simoncalder

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