At the start of 2018 I was aware that I’d be making regular trips from South Africa to Europe. I had been burnt by Frequent Flyer programmes in the past and was apprehensive of joining another. However, my standard flight to the Ukraine, for work, was Turkish Airlines. After some googling their Miles&Smiles programme had a good reputation and I decided to try it out.
A year later I’m now at “Elite” level with around 3 more international return flights needed to make it to the top tier of the programme (unnecessary once you’ve hit Elite because the perks at this level are pretty good). Every travel website and then their mom’s website tell you that you should sign up to a frequent flyer programme, but I wanted to walk you through my own experience to help you decide if it is really worth it (spoiler: my short and simple answer to this question is at the bottom of the post).
Let’s look at how the frequent flyer programme I signed up for works
Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles programme has various tiers – like any frequent flyer programme. They work as follows:
Classic – zero rewards
Classic plus – rewards if you fly domestic in Turkey itself. So little to no perks if you’re using this purely for international flights.
Elite – Where I am now. It’s fancy. We’ll discuss a bit later.
Elite Plus – Fancy but like a lot.
Turkish Airlines is also a member of Star Alliance which means you can earn points when you fly other Star Alliance airlines. I specifically chose to sign up directly to Miles&Smiles for a variety of reasons. The first was when looking at the programme itself it just seemed a bit easier to follow than the others. Many of the sites I visited listed it as one of the better frequent flyer programmes. Turkish Airlines flies to a host of destinations and Turkey was, at the time, opening a bigger airport. All of these things appealed to me. I could have chosen to sign of up for Star Alliance rather but I knew I’d primarily be flying on Turkish Airlines for the year and as they fly to so many locations from South Africa it just made the most sense to me.
So how many flights did you need to take to get to Elite status?
The short answer? A lot. I flew from South Africa to Istanbul (and return) five times. I then flew from Istanbul to Kiev (and return) five times. So I had to do 10 long distance international flights (around 8 hours a flight) and 10 shorter international flights (around 2 hours a flight). So around 100 hours of flying. I’d get into actual distance, which is how tiers are calculated but I feel like this is enough to go on for you. I needed to do these flights over a period of around 10 months. My final flight to Istanbul and then Kiev (and return) was done when I was Elite status. I only flew economy during this time.
What are the perks of flying as an Elite status member on Miles&Smiles?
As I mentioned further up I received little to no noticeable perks on the first two tiers of the programme. Hitting Elite changed a few things. I was able to use Business Class check in lines which meant I checked in a bit faster. My luggage received priority tags and that meant it was first off the plane and on the conveyor belt when I landed – so I got out of the airport quicker. When getting on the plane I go on with business class passengers. This is a rather nice perk because it gives you time to settle for longer flights and you have all the overhead space before everyone comes on and tries to shove their kitchen sink up there. You don’t get off the plane any quicker though. I also got access to free WiFi in the air which was pretty rad but I didn’t really use it because economy doesn’t have space to pull out a notebook to work. Elite status also gave me access to the business class lounges at the various airports. These are game changers with free food, drinks and more space to relax as well as comfier chairs. However, the clean bathrooms alone are really the big bonus here.
I did receive one upgrade to business class on a flight from Istanbul to Kiev. I’ve tried to find out how these bump ups work. Most websites tell you if you ask nicely at check in they might bump you up but chatting to the check in staff this isn’t the case. Everything is now automated. IF there is space in business class Elite and Elite Plus members get bumped up – but the higher the miles the more likely you are to get bumped. Or at least this is my understanding. Unfortunately for me, the flights I made while Elite almost always had a fully booked business class – other than the one flight where I was bumped. I’ll do a separate post about flying business class in the next few weeks.
Is joining a frequent flyer programme worth it?
Hard no. Seriously, if you aren’t flying every few months then it really isn’t worth it. You’re locked in to one airline unless you sign up to something like Star Alliance and you need to fly a ton to get to a tier level where you actually have benefits. While my Miles&Smiles benefits last till the end of 2019 (and to the end of 2020 if I do two more international flights during 2019), I don’t see why someone who doesn’t fly monthly or every second month would bother. Rather shop for the cheapest and quickest airline.
Yes, the perks are fun, but by the time you get them you’ve become so accustomed to not having them that they don’t exactly make the world of difference. The only thing I really love is access to business class bathrooms – but most airports have pay per hour lounges which I’ve utilised in the past. If a shower and clean toilet are a must have, pay the once off R500 fee. Easy.
Are you signed up for a frequent flyer programme? Have you experienced any must have benefits you think I’m missing out on? Let me know in the comments below.