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The Observer: Airmiles takes off again to silence the critics

Airmiles takes off again to silence the critics

Gemma Bowes
Sunday April 23, 2006
The Observer

Airmiles is to relaunch its service tomorrow following complaints that the scheme has become worthless.

The scheme, where points awarded for money spent in shops can be swapped for flights and holidays, has been running since 1988 and has 8 million collectors. But critics say limited availability of flights makes Airmiles almost impossible to use and that you must spend vast amounts to get a flight that would cost peanuts with a low-cost airline.

'Over a year, I spent a lot of money in the supermarket, yet when I tried to buy a flight with the Airmiles I'd saved I realised I didn't even have enough for two return flights to Paris,' said Natalie Harper, 28, from West Sussex. 'There was very limited availability whenever I tried to book. I ended up paying for flights partly with Airmiles and the rest in cash, which worked out to be more expensive than just buying a cheap air fare anyway.'

The firm admits there were snags. 'People found Airmiles confusing, didn't understand what they were worth and found the website difficult to use. They would try to book flights, then find the price had gone up and the only ones available were at 2am,' admitted a spokesman.

The relaunch includes a new site, claimed to be more user-friendly, and lots more flights. The price structure is changed, so fares for 20 popular routes will be fixed at a discount rate, replacing the old structure where fares are cheaper the further you book in advance. A return to Paris will cost 400 Airmiles instead of the current average of 592.

But that still means spending £1,667 at Tesco or £3,560 at Shell garages to save enough points, and in addition travellers must pay all taxes and charges in cash. On the cheapest Airmiles flight to Paris in May, with BMI, these come to £53.90. But booking the same flight with BMI itself would cost just £75.90 including taxes. To earn 8,000 Airmiles needed to pay for a return flight to Sydney, you would have to spend a whopping £33,360 in Tesco.

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