Why Do Some Airlines Make it So Hard to Redeem Miles?

Frustrated woman at computer
Some loyalty programs seem to make reward flight bookings as complicated as possible.

Many Australian frequent flyers would know the struggle that can be redeeming Qantas or Velocity points. But, as difficult as this can seem at times, it’s nothing compared to the challenge of redeeming points or miles in many overseas frequent flyer programs. At least with Qantas, most partner airline awards are available online and if you need to call Virgin Australia, they’ll usually answer the phone within a short time!

Sadly, many airlines still don’t make partner airline award flights available to book on their websites. With airlines like Etihad, for example, you would still need to phone the call centre to book any award flight on a partner airline.

Virgin Atlantic is almost as bad, as you can only redeem Flying Club points with three airlines online. Most other airlines make their members call up to book flights on at least some partners.

How many frequent flyers would not realise that you need to call, and therefore miss out on access to many partner airline awards?

Other airlines like Air France & KLM do have websites that let members book flights on most partner airlines, but their online booking engines are barely functional. The Air France and KLM websites simply don’t work most of the time when trying to book a reward ticket using Flying Blue miles.

If you wanted to redeem China Eastern miles online, you may also find that the English language version of China Eastern’s website doesn’t work properly.

Redeeming Avianca LifeMiles – a popular Star Alliance program which sells miles with huge bonuses – can also be a nightmare. Many itineraries cannot be booked online, so you would often need to deal with Avianca’s Colombia-based call centre. If an award booking is available but you can’t book online, you may also need to employ the infamous “screenshot method” which is so complicated, we’ve prepared an entire article explaining the process.

On the other hand, some airlines have shut down their call centres. A few years ago, Qatar Airways Privilege Club made the bizarre decision to remove all phone support – which would have been OK if the website was perfect, but it wasn’t. It reversed this decision after around a year after a huge backlash.

And even when airlines have functional websites and call centres, some airlines actively don’t display award availability on certain routes or airlines. I tried to book a LATAM Pass award flight a few years ago, and found most partner airline awards were not displayed on LATAM’s website despite being available. The call centre, too, insisted there was no availability on many routes that I knew had seats available… that was, until I requested to speak to a supervisor and threatened to file an official complaint. Award seats then magically appeared.

Emirates Skywards has recently upgraded its website so that award flights on around half of its partner airlines can now be booked online. But if you want to redeem Skywards miles to fly with other partners such as Jetstar or Air Mauritius, you would need to start an online chat.

But Garuda Indonesia’s award booking process is probably the most bizarre of any airline whose frequent flyer program partners with an Australian bank. To redeem Garuda Miles for an award ticket, you would need to fill out a paper form and then visit a physical Garuda Indonesia sales office in person (in Australia, there are CBD offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth) with your original Garuda Miles membership card and passport!

Why do loyalty programs make redemptions so complicated?

When loyalty programs become too complicated, or it becomes too difficult to redeem the points, many members simply give up.

Perhaps that’s entirely the point! After all, it’s more profitable for airlines to let members’ points expire or be redeemed for gift cards.

But loyalty programs should also remember that members are most engaged when they’ve just redeemed their points for something they value. Conversely, when members feel like their points are worthless or a desired reward is unattainable, they’ll stop caring about the program and the loyalty scheme loses its power to influence behaviour.

Of course, not all airlines make it difficult to redeem your frequent flyer points or miles. Air Canada and United Airlines, for example, make it very easy to redeem your miles for flights on any partner airline online. But such airlines are sadly in the minority.

There is one silver lining for frequent flyers: the harder it is to redeem a reward, the better the availability for those who are prepared to put in the extra effort!


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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]


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Nick J

You mentioned China Eastern – I can also confirm trying to redeem points in their FF program is a terrible experience. I made the mistake of putting a small number of points (16,000 points each x 3 people) into their program (from a pre-covid trip to Japan & back, on China Airlines), and thereafter it’s been a struggle to find any way to use them at all. Allegedly they’re partnered with Qantas, but I could not find a way to redeem these online, for example Qantas flights Sydney Melbourne (pre-covid) came up as no economy seat availability, even for a… Read more »