Ever since news broke out about Jet Airways being in a liquidity crunch, frequent flyers have been bothered by one question. What would happen to their JPMiles if something happened to the airline? I understand the anxiety. It comes from the days when Kingfisher Airlines shut operations. Overnight the Kingfisher frequent flyer miles counted for nothing.

In the late 1970s, the first frequent flyer programme in the world was instituted as a marketing tool to help airlines get repeat customers. On every flight you bought and flew, you could earn miles, which could then be redeemed for a free flight. The three big American carriers, launched their programmes in quick succession looking at the success of this model.

Frequent flyer miles have become an alternate currency and these programs have moved on from just being loyalty programmes for the airlines, to being rewards for everything from dining to shopping, or staying at a hotel. While the costs such as taxes and surcharges associated with redeeming miles have grown over the years, they still remain an effective way to offer rewards. The aspiration of free travel continues to remain one of the most sought-after gratifications for travellers.

Needless to say, these programmes have evolved into profit centres for the airlines, given the number of organizations lining up to buy miles to reward their customers. These programmes are a lifeline for airlines when in a difficult financial situation. For instance, in 2004, American Express prepaid as much as $600 million to Delta Airlines as an advance payment for miles to be issued on their co-branded credit card.

Jet Airways was the first one to tap the frequent flyer miles business opportunity in India. JetPrivilege was established in 1994 as a division of Jet Airways. In 2012, a separate company was formed to issue JPMiles and take care of redemption tickets. This company is now owned 50.1% by Etihad and 49.9% by Jet Airways, and is the custodian of all JPMiles issued and their redemptions.

When word spread about the liquidity issues at Jet Airways, people started to try and find avenues to redeem their JPMiles. Little do they realise that JetPrivilege, just like its global counterparts, is a profit-making company run by an independent board, which is separate from Jet Airways. For the financial year ended March 2018, JetPrivilege Pvt. Ltd made an income of 622 crores and a profit of 177 crores. This financial standing of JetPrivilege should give travellers comfort to hold on and not hastily redeem their JPMiles.

The relationship with Jet Airways is of course, symbiotic. Jet Airways pays JetPrivilege every time miles need to be issued for a flight, and JetPrivilege pays Jet Airways for redemption tickets bought on the airline. Jet Airways sets aside a few seats on every flight for members who want to redeem miles. So, if you are not able to get redemption tickets on a certain flight, it might just be that someone else got them before you and perhaps you would do well to look at another date or time for your travel on miles. JetPrivilege also has a relationship with 25 other airlines on many of which, you can redeem tickets as well with your miles. This fact is overlooked by many Jet Privilege members while rushing to redeem their miles on Jet Airways. And additionally, the programme is tying up for many more redemption options like fuel and hotel rooms, and even events.

When members told me that they heard that there was an embargo coming on JPMiles redemption bookings or that the number of miles needed to redeem a ticket would go up, it did not make sense, because at this time, Jet Airways and JetPrivilege would do only too well to keep their 8 million members content. I reached out to JetPrivilege for a comment was told it was untrue that there were any sort of embargoes coming on redemptions.

A redemption ticket would reduce the liability of the outstanding miles and be offered against an empty seat, so why wouldn’t an airline or a loyalty programme want to attain multiple goals with continued redemptions..

I know your JPMiles are not insured, and I will leave you to make an independent assessment on when you want to redeem your JPMiles. But if it gives you comfort, I am sitting on a six-figure balance, and planning to redeem them on a round-the-world trip when I have the time.

Elevate Your Travel is a column for the business travellers by a business traveller

Ajay Awtaney is founder and editor of Livefromalounge.com, a frequent-flyer website

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