Airlines and their partners are offering frequent travellers more ways to earn air miles without boarding a plane Thrifty points-savers are flying high on rewards accumulated through their airlines' loyalty programmes - often without ever leaving the ground. Frequent flier incentive schemes, originally intended to help regular customers fly more often through free seat offers, now have a much wider umbrella. Points, or 'miles', can be earned in different ways - such as through credit card purchases - and be spent on a broader range of goods and services, and free or discounted upgrades. Some airlines also have marketing partners such as car rental agencies, hotels and restaurants that offer frequent flyer points, which can boost the tally considerably for the travelling executive with a healthy expense account. Ron Mathison, general manager of Cathay Pacific Loyalty Programmes, says air miles are now the world's second-largest currency after the US dollar. 'The value proposition gets better the more you collect. The trick is to earn in as many categories as possible, and benefit from doubledipping wherever possible,' Mr Mathison says. 'For example, pay for everything with a credit card that earns you miles. The more categories you earn in, the less you have to spend to earn free flights, whereas a straight discount of 15 per cent can never be more than 15 per cent.' To get the most of such schemes, always check when booking a flight or making an applicable purchase that your frequent flier points have been credited. Do not assume this automatically has been done, because sometimes it has not. (You may need to keep your boarding pass to prove a claim later). If you want to use your points for a flight, plan ahead. 'Free' frequent flier seats are usually limited, so they should be booked well in advance. For some, scheme benefits can matter more than the points themselves. Business travellers, for example, may fly so often that the last thing they want is another trip. But they might appreciate priority check-in or an upgrade. It pays to see whether your scheme has any deals to help you achieve elite status faster. Do not chop and change schemes, or you will waste points accumulated. Choose one scheme and stick to it, and read the fine print so you can recognise the business partners to maximise your membership bonuses. Also remember that the rewards offered may not be open-ended. Determine whether your points have a use-by date. You might well find it is a case of 'use it or lose it'. Airlines recognise the value of loyalty programmes, and have worked out some interesting strategies to promote them. Air France has a scheme rewarding local passengers, even if they do not fly frequently on that airline. Belinda Leung, head of the Air France Frequence Plus programme, says the airline, which flies directly from Hong Kong to Paris, wants to do more for its China-based members. 'We recognised that those passengers would travel more frequently around the region [on partner airlines] than they would on our long-haul flights. So our marketing department came up with a local programme to reward our members in Greater China,' she says. The programme is free to join, and members living in Beijing, Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong may use their accumulated points to 'buy' goods such as brand name wallets, leather goods, luggage and perfume, or obtain restaurant and hair salon discounts. The scheme was introduced two years ago, and Ms Leung says it is 'very successful'. 'The loyalty programme is an important part of our business strategy because we find that once a customer joins, they tend to be loyal to that airline so they can gain reward points faster.' Air France is a partner with American Express in its programme, so points may also be accumulated on credit card purchases. Reward benefits of Frequence Plus include upgrades, waivers for excess baggage, car rentals, hotel accommodation and EuroDisney Paris packages. Lufthansa Miles & More members enjoy benefits such as Adventure Awards, which include a round-trip flight aboard the legendary Ju52 warplane where members can lift off like a pro using the Lufthansa flight simulator under the guidance of BMW safety experts. The programme, set up in 1993, has more than 7.2 million participants and an average growth rate of 20 per cent. Miles can be accrued through hotel and car rental bookings, as well as purchases made with the Lufthansa Visa Card. 'Just 35,000 status miles during one calendar year earns a member the frequent traveller status, and 100,000 status miles gets Senator status,' says Hans DeHaan, Lufthansa's general manager for southern China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. 'Miles & More members should fly on Star Alliance [carriers] to centralise the miles which is the fastest way to accumulate points and redeem awards. 'Lufthansa also organises promotions from time to time, such as offering bonus miles online, and this year, to mark our 10th anniversary, an online competition every month. Members are advised to stay tuned.' Perks of the Cathay Pacific loyalty programme - the Marco Polo Club - include lounge access, priority check-in, wait-list confirmation, excess baggage and guaranteed seating. The scheme also offers 'lifestyle rewards' such as a flight simulator experience, food and wine hampers, movie premieres, mobile phones, golf or spa packages and rugby tickets. Members can also transfer or gift miles to friends and family (for a small fee), or use them for excess baggage. For those who still have to travel economy class, Continental Airlines' OnePass scheme has an advantage. Under its new Elite Access service, members can be sure that they will never get a middle seat assignment. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Flying Dutchman Global network of partners. Earn miles when you fly, rent a car, make a hotel booking ? even when you rent a phone. The revised scheme has four new levels, including three offering elite status. Japan Airlines JAL Mileage Bank Gain points through flights, hotel bookings and the JALCARD credit card. Redeem for flights, upgrades, in-flight duty free purchases or for JAL group hotels, golf courses and package tours. Continental Airlines OnePass Earned miles do not expire. 100 per cent miles can be earned on any pre-purchase tickets. Hong Kong passengers can earn or redeem miles on partner airlines. Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Club Asia's biggest travel reward programme, with more than 200 partners in 15 different earning categories. Numerous redemption options in both air travel and lifestyle rewards. Air France Frequence Plus Using miles accrued by travelling with Air France, its partner airlines or non-airline partners, you can travel at any time of the year, and take advantage of special offers and bonus miles. Lufthansa Miles & More Earn miles through a wide range of partners to enjoy an inexhaustible range of offers. Privileges include an Executive Bonus for frequent travellers, giving 25 per cent extra miles. Dragonair The Elite A range of privileges and exclusive travel benefits at four membership levels. Priority access to special offers that reflect their status include advance seat reservation and extra baggage allowance. Northwest WorldPerks Earn and redeem points in a broad range of ways, including non-airline partners and on purchases made using the WorldPerks Visa card. Frequently updated online offers are available.