Maximizing Airline Business Frequent Flyer Programs

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One of Sunday’s Reader Questions, about whether you actually need to have a business to apply for a business credit card, got me thinking about frequent flyer programs for businesses.

I always talk about what you can do with your individual miles and accounts, and even how couples and families can maximize their joint mileage, but there’s not a ton of information out there on the business mileage accounts several airlines offer that allow small businesses to earn points on the itineraries their employees travel (while employees still earn the miles themselves). Some of them don’t even require that you actually have a small business.

So I thought I’d put together a post on the basics of some of the major programs out there.

American Airlines
American has the Business ExtrAA program that, according to AA’s Terms and Conditions, is open to companies with two or more employee travelers, though TPG Editor Eric was offered and able to open an account just for himself, so the terms might actually be more flexible than that. Travel agencies or wholesalers, companies that have corporate sales agreements with American, and individuals are not eligible.

For Business ExtrAA, a company’s employees put in the Business ExtrAA account number when booking tickets in addition to their own AAdvantage numbers. Employees still earn AAdvantage miles, but the company earns Points that it can use for various awards.

The site says, “Your company will receive one point for each $10 you spend to fly on published fares during the month. Your company will earn double credit for every eligible itinerary that originates from one of over 200 airports [excludes Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and Miami (MIA)].” Then companies can redeem those points for over 50 award redemption offers including travel (2,000-37,500 points), upgrades (650-5,000 points), Admirals Club day passes (300 points) and memberships (3,000 points), conference room rentals (900 points) and gold status (2,400 points).

There are also incentives listed like this one, where a company can earn 2,000 bonus points for every 40 travelers that fly on a Group & Meeting Travel reservation.

Gary at View From the Wing recently blogged that it may be possible to earn an extra 5,000 AA miles for signing up using promo code SME3Q11, but it’s up in the air whether that bonus actually works. Can’t hurt to try!

British Airways
British Airways has the On Business program. Like the Avios program, earning points gets a bit complicated and points earned are based on BA’s system of dividing up destinations into regional zones as well as the cabin booked. You can find BA’s table of qualifying flights and points both on BA and partners including American, Iberia and Qantas here. Then businesses can use points on flight redemptions, upgrades, and Marriott hotel stays.

To take a quick example, a company that sent an employee from London to Australia first class roundtrip would earn 4,320 points, then could redeem 3,120 of those for an intra-European roundtrip in coach. An amazing redemption opportunity? Not really, but better than nothing.

Companies also earn bonus points when employees use a British Airways Amex Corporate Card (50% bonus) or the BA Amex Corporate Card Plus (50% bonus, and 2,500 points per card per year when the total spend charged to an individual card exceeds 25,000 GBP) to book tickets.

Delta has the SkyBonus program. It’s free to sign up and they don’t actually require any proof of your business. You can earn and redeem points on Delta and partners including Air France, KLM and Alitalia.

Businesses can earn up to 30 SkyBonus points per dollar on purchased business class fares or 6 points on all other fares, but only 10 SkyBonus points per dollar on business fares or 3 points on other fares to/from Delta hubs ATL, CVG, DTW, MEM, MSP and SLC.

You can then redeem earned points on things as small as 10 drinks coupons (10,000 points), a Delta SkyClub one-visit pass (30,000 points) or a free coach roundtrip in the US (85,000). I used bonus code SB2011NEW earlier this year for a 25,000 point sign-up bonus, but I’m not sure if it’s still active. Can’t hurt to try!

United has the PerksPlus program, which, like MileagePlus, is still hammering out the details of the merger with Continental and its former business program. The program is for US – and Canada – based corporate customers for flights on United and/or Lufthansa (points are not earned on tickets on Lufthansa flights by customers based outside the US).

For now, you fill out a registration form, and if allowed to join (you might have a phone interview with an airline rep), once your company’s spend on the airline exceeds $5,000 within a consecutive 3-month period, you can begin redeeming points online. For every membership year, your company also has to spend at least $5,000 within any consecutive three months in order to be renewed and be able to redeem points.

Businesses earn 4 points per dollar spent on last-minute or premium fares, 2 points on typical business travel fares, and 1 point on deeply discounted fares. You can find all the earning fare codes here.

On the redemption side, points can be used for a variety of awards. Award travel certificates cost 40,000 each, and itineraries require between 1 (for economy within the US or Germany) and 13 (first class between North America and Asia). Points can also be redeemed for upgrades (10,000 for regional, 50,0000 for systemwide), United club passes or membership (20,000), and MileagePlus Premier (50,000) or Premier Executive (150,000) elite status.

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