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Make a wish: Tier points on award flights.

Updated: May 23, 2024. Tim Das.
Make a wish: Tier points on award flights. - Cover Image
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When you book a hotel stay on points, or using a free night certificate, it is considered elite qualifying. That means it’s counted towards elite status with that hotel’s loyalty program.

For instance, to achieve Marriott Platinum elite status, you require 50 nights. All these stays can be booked using points, points + cash, only cash, with certificates, or a mix of these. It doesn’t matter. You stay for a night, you earn an elite night credit.

Unfortunately, this is not the case with award flights.

I am unaware of any airline loyalty program that considers award flights (flights booked on points or miles) towards an elite status upgrade.

And that’s our wish for today — Tier points on award flights.

Why airlines should award tier points on award flights?

There are several reasons why this is a fair ask.

1. Airlines get paid for our miles and points.

In the early days of loyalty programs, points and miles were awarded for free. The only way you could earn points was to fly on that particular airline.

However, things have changed now.

Most of our award flights (and reward stays at hotels) are through points transferred from our credit cards to these loyalty programs.

And every time we transfer points from our credit card to an airline program, the airline gets paid for those points.

Airlines make billion of dollars every year by selling miles to credit card companies, for the points we transfer to their program.

To put it simply, in most cases, airlines are paid hard cash for award flights. Therefore, it’s not too much of an ask to award tier points, as they would with other paid flights.

2. Customers have a choice, even for award flights.

For most of us, credit card points are a travel currency. And most travel credit cards have multiple partners — airlines, and hotels, to convert points to.

So just like an airline offers points and status to customers to choose them over competitors, why not offer the same benefits to choose them over competitors for transferring points to.

Remember, miles are sold to credit card companies.

3. Consumers want to be loyal. Programs make it tough.

For the past year, there has been a trend to over-optimize rewards, points, and miles. e.g., one would carry several cards and decide which one to use before every purchase, depending on the points or rewards.

Or booking multiple hotels during a vacation to maximize points or boost elite status. Or booking flights using credit card points after numerous calculations to determine the best value (red-eye flights, via-via-via flights).

However, the trend is changing now. Managing multiple cards, keeping a track of points and elite status with numerous loyalty programs, or flying on routes that take up too much time is now becoming overwhelming.

Most travelers are going back to convenience and simplicity over absolute maximization. A couple of good cards, a couple of hotel chains, and a couple of preferred airlines. That’s how the future appears to be.

People want to be loyal to credit cards, hotels, and airline programs. They just need a good program to stick to. It may not be the most rewarding, but a balanced program overall.

And that also means, loyalty benefits are now much more important than ever. If people are going to stick to a couple of programs, then what that program offers becomes much more significant.

Given that credit card points still remain the primary source of miles, any program offering tier points on award flights will likely become the preferred choice for millions of credit cardholders, who contribute billions to airlines through mile purchases.

One thing airlines are doing right.

Hotels only reward you with points and elite night credits for bookings made directly with them.

Fortunately, with airlines it doesn’t matter where you purchased your ticket from - primarily because unlike hotels which pay hefty commissions for bookings, flight commissions are negligible.

Nevertheless, some airlines have started incentivizing direct bookings.


Airlines awarding tier points for award bookings — We hope that this wish comes true someday.

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