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Air points well taken

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Remember the bad old days when no matter how many airpoints you had it was virtually impossible to use them? When airlines limited the number of frequent flier programme seats on each flight and the ones you wanted had always been snapped up long before?

That perpetual flaw in the frequent flier system is the reason I still remember with joy the 2000 film Duets, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis, not for its fairly forgettable story about professional karaoke players, but because of the wonderful running gag of trying at each hotel to book a room using airpoints and never getting close.

For me the climax of the film was not the announcement of who won the big karaoke contest but the moment when a hotel receptionist finally said that, yes, there was an airpoints room available ... and jaws dropped in amazement.

I related to that theme so enthusiastically because not long before I had felt the same disbelieving joy when I finally managed to use airpoints to get my wife a Qantas flight to Brisbane, even if it was three days before she really wanted to go, and involved travelling via Sydney.

I'm aware that for your true frequent flier what matters is the ability to smooth the travel process through lounge access, easier check-ins, upgrades, extra luggage allowances and priority waitlisting.

But for me - and, I suspect, the average traveller - the crucial issue has always been whether you are able to use your points to pay for a flight or a hotel room when and where you want.

Happily, things are better now, depending of course upon which airline loyalty programme you belong to, which for most of us down here is probably Air NZ, Qantas and maybe Emirates.

Qantas' Classic Awards programme is pretty much like the old system with available seats strictly limited. But these days it also has Any Seat Awards, where you can use your points to pay for any seat available, though you do have to spend a lot more points than under the Classic Seats system.

But as far as I'm concerned, Air New Zealand's Airpoints Dollars, which you can use to buy any seat at whatever price is available, is simply wonderful, easy to understand and simple to use. I've had dealings with various airline loyalty programmes over the years and for my purposes Air NZ's is definitely the best.

I mention this because I see that Air NZ was last week named as having the airline industry's best frequent flier programme.

The website Airline Business and Global Flight organised a conference in Vienna to discuss frequent flier programmes (see www.loyalty09.com) and as part of the exercise gave out three 2009 Loyalty Awards: to Air NZ, Emirates and Corsairfly.

Emirates got its award primarily for a system which lets it offer seat upgrades to customers on board, a great idea, especially when you find yourself seated next to a 200kg sumo wrestler. Corsairfly was acknowledged for a family focused loyalty strategy.
Our national carrier was named as the overall winner for having "the airline industry's most innovative frequent flier programme". Iain Webster, a loyalty business development consultant who was one of the judges, said, "Air NZ's Airpoints programme combines the creative use of mobile and web technology to radically enhance its customer experience."

That's nice to know. But for me - and, I'm sure, for the cast of Duets - the programme's biggest asset is the glorious ease with which you can redeem your frequent flier points.

- Jim Eagles

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