Low-Cost Carriers: Save Money while Earning Mainline Points

In the world of miles and points, we all have our favorite airlines that we love to fly internationally, and ideally in business class if we can. Redeeming a hard-earned chunk of points for an aspirational award flight is one of the great pinnacles of this hobby. 

However, a less glamorous but equally powerful way to save money is by flying Low-Cost Carriers. Low Cost Carriers are not talked about enough in the world of miles and points, and perhaps that’s because of a perception that they are unrelated. However, it turns out that many Low-Cost Carriers have relationships with mainline carriers that allow you to earn, redeem, transfer, or otherwise benefit from points and status on the mainline.

Without further ado, let’s explore how you can earn points and status for mainline carriers while saving money by flying on Low-Cost Carriers.

Overview of Low-Cost Carriers

For the uninitiated, Low-Cost Carriers are airline carriers that operate flights with the intention of reducing as many costs as possible to offer cheaper fares than standard carriers. Although these airlines offer no-frills fares, it comes at the detriment of in-flight services, which are instead sold as add-ons to the ticket price.  

For example, complimentary snack and beverage service may not be provided depending on the airline or flight distance. Instead, they provide an in-flight ‘buy onboard menu’. Baggage, including carry-on baggage, may also come at an extra cost. In some cases, the price of bringing a piece of carry-on luggage may be even more than the flight itself. In-flight entertainment is another additional paid add-on that could be offered onboard these flights. 

Some Low-Cost Carriers may choose to fly out of smaller, regional airports where it costs less to operate and move passengers. These airports may not be as easily accessible with ground transportation to major city centers or the cost to take rideshare and taxi services may negate the difference in fare compared to a main airport.

Regional airports are also less likely to have pre-departure lounges. If your flight does leave from an airport with lounges, credit cards such as the American Express Platinum card may provide you access before your departure through the Amex Global Lounge Collection.

Earning Points & Status with Low-Cost Carriers

Budget airlines may sometimes offer loyalty programs to customers, for future flight benefits such as seat selection ahead of check-in or priority boarding. Some of these programs replicate a frequent flyer program you would see at a full-service carrier. Other airlines may offer a subscription-based model where you pay an amount per month or year to receive discounts on multiple services.

Major airlines that operate their own low-cost subsidiaries may choose to extend elite status benefits to those who fly frequently, enabling flexibility for loyal customers who fly on both budget and flagship companies. These benefits can be further extended to an airline’s alliance affiliation, where members can enjoy elite benefits on worldwide connections. Read on to learn which low-cost airlines can garner status benefits and miles earning with mainline airlines from Oneworld, Star Alliance, SkyTeam, and more.

Oneworld Carriers that Earn Mainline Points

LEVEL and Vueling: Earn Avios and Iberia Elite Points for Status

Vueling plane on the tarmac during sunset.

Avios is the Frequent Flyer program for the International Airlines Group (IAG), a consortium of airlines including British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus. Avios is also the points program for Qatar Airways as well, where you can fly on their infamous QSuites business class.

Although each carrier has its own branding for their frequent-flyer programs, they all still earn Avios, which can be transferred between programs. You can combine flights with credit card programs that earn or allow transfers to Avios. Check out the best ways to earn and redeem Avios for business-class flights.

qatar airways qsuite seat 3e

Two Low-Cost carriers are operated by the IAG group, LEVEL and Vueling. Like Iberia, both LCCs are operated out of Spain.

Originally operating as OpenSkies as part of British Airways, LEVEL primarily operates transatlantic routes from Barcelona with wide-body aircraft. Most flights serve destinations in the continental United States with some services to South America. Vueling on the other hand, operates within Europe and parts of Africa with narrow-body aircraft. Unlike LEVEL, Vueling has hubs from across Europe.

On LEVEL, travelers are not able to earn Avios or Elite Points towards status on bookings from their own website. However, customers are able to earn on codeshare flights operated by LEVEL with an Iberia flight number.

In some cases, you can earn more Avios on flights involving LEVEL compared to a connection on another mainline IAG operator such as British Airways. You can further multiply Avios earnings by booking flights with co-branded cards such as the Chase Iberia Visa card (US) which earns 3 points per dollar spent on Iberia flight purchases.

On Vueling, you will be able to input a Vueling or Iberia Plus frequent-flyer number while booking your flights through their website. There is an additional option to earn elite status through Vueling’s own status program, Vueling Club Premium.

As Vueling is not a Oneworld member, Vueling Club Premium benefits do not get extended to alliance partners, including parent company Iberia. However, it is useful when earning Avios, where earning is doubled on top of fare class bonuses. 

Iberia Elite Points, which are counted towards elite status, can be earned through both Vueling and Iberia. LEVEL flights can also earn Elite Points, but only when booking through Iberia’s website. Elite status unlocks Avios bonus multipliers and pre-departure benefits such as lounge access and priority boarding.

Iberia Plus Elite LevelAvios BonusOneworld LevelRequirements
Clasica5xN/ANo requirements
Plata6xRuby1100 Elite Points or 25 flights
Oro7xSapphire2250 Elite Points or50 flights
Platino8xEmerald6250 Elite Points
Infinita8xEmerald125,000 Elite Points
Infinita Prime8xEmerald200,000 Elite Points

ZIPAIR: Earn Miles with JAL Mileage Bank

Japan Airlines plane wing in the window of the airport.

ZIPAIR, a subsidiary of Japan Airlines (JAL), is a relatively new Low-Cost carrier, launching operations in 2020. Currently the only no-frills service between continental North America and Japan, ZIPAIR has gained popularity over the last few years, especially with the Japanese economic recovery and growth in tourism.

Although branding itself as a low-cost carrier, ZIPAIR provides services that you can expect from major carriers. Complimentary In-flight WiFi is provided to all passengers and lie-flat seats are options for customers.

ZIPAIR Points can be transferred to JAL Mileage Bank at a rate of 2 ZIPAIR Points to 1 JAL Mile. JAL Mileage Bank allows for redemptions across Japan Airline’s network and fare classes including Japan Airlines business class, as well as onboard fellow OneWorld alliance members and codeshare partners. JAL also offers the option to transfer from JAL to ZIPAIR at a rate of 1:1 or 1:1.5 in increments of 10,000 points.

The ZIPAIR Points program allows travelers to earn rewards while flying with this budget carrier. According to ZIPAIR’s website, the only way to earn points is by signing up for the points program, downloading the ZIPAIR app, or exchanging miles from JAL Mileage Bank. ZIPAIR currently does not specify how or if travelers will be able to earn points on flights. 

Jetstar: Earn Status and Miles with Qantas Frequent Flyer

Jetstar plane touching down.

Flights flown on Jetstar can be credited towards the Qantas Frequent Flyer program, which costs a one-time fee of 99.50 AUD for Australian residents, 60 NZD for New Zealand residents, or free to sign up for everyone else.

Miles can also be earned towards Emirates Skywards and JAL Mileage Bank, however, no status can be earned with those partners. Jetstar also offers Club Jetstar, a paid membership program where customers can save on fares, baggage, and seat selection.

From Qantas’ Points and Status Credits Calculator, the earning rate for Qantas and Jetstar is the same whereas the rate on Oneworld partner flights is lower for points status credits. On partner airlines not affiliated with Oneworld, no status credits can be earned. Codeshare flights with a Qantas flight number earn at the standard Qantas as defined by their table.

Qantas Status benefits are very inclusive where even Silver status can give you access to a lounge. At Gold, not only are members allowed to access Oneworld Alliance member lounges but also Emirates Business lounges. Platinum and Platinum One members can access Qantas First and Emirates First lounges as well.

Qantas Status TierQantas Points BonusOneworld LevelRequirements
BronzeN/AN/A99.50 AUD for Australian Residents
60 NZD for New Zealand Residents
Free for everyone else
Silver50% moreRuby300 Status Credits7000 for Lifetime
Gold75% moreSapphire700 Status Credits14,000 for Lifetime
Platinum100% moreEmerald1400 Status Credits75000 for Lifetime
Platinum OneUp to 175,000 extra per yearEmerald3600 Status Credits, where 2700 were flown with a Qantas flight number

Star Alliance Carriers that Earn Mainline Points

Eurowings and Discover Airlines: Earn Status and Lufthansa Miles

Eurowings plane

Like IAG, the Lufthansa Group operates their own Low-Cost carriers, Eurowings and Discover Airlines. Eurowings focuses on destinations in Europe and Africa whereas Discover operates more leisure routes including some across the Atlantic. Both airlines allow travelers to collect Lufthansa Miles & More, allowing customers to achieve frequent flyer statuses. Earning Miles & More can unlock redemptions such as flights in Lufthansa’s First Class cabin.

Lufthansa is a member of Star Alliance meaning that loyal customers have their benefits acknowledged by partner airlines in the alliance. Eurowings BIZclass and Discover business class customers are able to earn HON Circle Points towards exclusive HON Circle Status.

HON Circle Status is Miles & More’s most exclusive status level with top-tier benefits across the Lufthansa Group such as limousine service on mainline flights and access to the First Class terminals and lounges. Members will also be able to give their partner or spouse complimentary Senator status so long as they continue to have HON Circle status. 

lufthansa first class a340 seat 1k

Starting from Frequent Traveller status, customers can access Business Lounges before departure and Welcome Lounges on arrival after Lufthansa Group long-haul flights, including on Eurowings or Discover. At Senator status, recognized as Star Alliance Gold, you’ll be able to access Senator and Star Alliance lounges across the world, including the new Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge San Francisco (SFO)

Miles & More Status TierM&M BonusStar Alliance LevelRequirements
MemberN/AN/ANo requirements
Frequent TravellerUp to 50% moreSilver650 M&M + 325 Qualifying Points
Senator
Gold
2000 M&M + 1000 Qualifying Pints
HON Circle Member6000 HON Circle Points

Scoot: Earn Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Miles and Elite Status

Scoot plane parked at Singapore Changi airport.

Singapore Airlines’ Scoot allows frequent flyers to earn KrisFlyer Miles and Elite status. Like Eurowings and Discover, Scoot recognizes elite status benefits from their parent carrier, allowing for priority services, extra baggage, and complimentary seat selection to everyone in the same booking. 

KrisFlyer Mile Redemptions for Scoot are fixed at 0.95 cents per mile compared to Singapore Airlines where miles are averaged to be valued at 1.5 cents with deviations depending on class and flight distance. Singapore Airlines has two types of redemptions, Saver Awards and Advantage Awards, where Saver is offered in very few quantities and is often waitlisted.

Redeeming points for higher cabins will usually result in a better redemption rate but oftentimes waitlisted especially on transcontinental searches. If the reservation is still waitlisted two weeks before departure, the booking will be canceled.

Every KrisFlyer mile earned on Scoot is equal to 2.5 Elite Miles which is counted towards status. Without additional mile or flight requirements, KrisFlyer’s Elite program is very straightforward for qualification compared to other status programs. At KrisFlyer Gold, elite members are recognized at the Star Alliance Gold level which can be very handy as outlined in the Complete Guide to Star Alliance Gold

Beyond Krisflyer Elite Gold, Singapore Airlines has a PPS Club elite level, however, Scoot does not offer a premium cabin, which is the only way to achieve PPS Club levels. PPS Club elites are able to use their status for some benefits aboard Scoot, including extra luggage and priority services before flights like KrisFlyer Silver and Gold.

KrisFlyer Elite StatusMiles BonusStar Alliance LevelRequirements
MemberN/AN/ANo requirements
Silver25% more on SQ and ScootSilver25,000 Elite Miles
GoldGold50,000 Elite Miles

SkyTeam Carriers that Earn Mainline Points

Transavia: Earn with Flying Blue

Transavia is a low-cost subsidiary of the Air France-KLM group. Through their loyalty program Flying Blue, frequent travelers can earn miles and XP for status. Flying Blue members are only able to earn miles and XP without extra charges if they purchase Plus and Max fares. The earning rate for XP is the same as flying on a SkyTeam airline.

You can also earn bonus XP and Flying Blue miles through credit cards such as the Brim Air France KLM World Elite Mastercard or Bank of America Air France KLM World Elite Mastercard (US).

Air France and KLM are members of the SkyTeam alliance, where Flying Blue elite status is recognized on member airlines. On Transavia, Flying Blue status will not have flight benefits honored as it is not a SkyTeam member.

However, Flying Blue elites will still be able to take advantage of the mile earning bonus associated with their status level. Our guide to the Air France KLM Flying Blue program shows the best ways to earn and redeem miles as well as the benefits associated with each elite status level.

Flying Blue EliteMiles BonusSkyTeam LevelRequirements
Explorer4 miles/euroN/ANo requirements
Silver6 miles/euroElite100 XP
Gold7 miles/euroElite Plus180 XP
Platinum8 miles/euroElite Plus300 XP

Non-Alliance Carriers that Earn Mainline Points

flydubai: Earn with Emirates Skywards

Dubai cityscape photograph.

flydubai, the low-cost carrier subsidiary of Emirates, allows travelers to earn Skywards and Tier Miles for status. Although Emirates is not affiliated with any airline alliances, its route network combined with flydubai is very extensive with many connecting partners.

Even through earning with flydubai, loyal customers are able to unlock experiences such as Emirates’ famous A380 Business Class cabin with Skywards miles redemptions. Members of Emirates Skywards can also earn from online and physical partners, including other airlines, hotels, car rentals, retail stores, and many more.

Emirates SkywardsMiles BonusPriority Services and Lounge AccessRequirements
MemberN/AN/ANo requirements
Silver30% moreN/A25,000 Tier Miles or 25 flights
Gold75% moreYes50,000 Tier Miles or 50 flights
Platinum100% moreYes150,000 Tier Miles and 1 First or Business Class flight

Conclusion

Flying on Low-Cost Carriers allows travelers to save money on flights by forfeiting the need for services they would expect on a traditional mainline carrier. However, some of these airlines allow loyal customers the ability to earn points and status with their parent companies, allowing customers to regain amenities or even experience exclusive frequent flyer status benefits. 

Although most frequent flyers gain their status and points through traditional carriers, it is possible to earn the same points, status benefits, and redemptions by just flying on budget carriers. You can also combine points with some credit card programs that have a transfer partner agreement with an airline’s frequent flyer program. Once you accumulate a comfortable amount of points, you can use tools such as Seats.aero and ExpertFlyer to find the best redemption rates and travel opportunities. 

Andy Leung

Andy Leung

Andy started his miles and points journey at a young age when his family signed him up for his Aeroplan account. However, only in 2022 did he start really digging deep with different credit cards and loyalty programs. Between graduating from university and finding a career in urban planning, Andy took advantage of flight and hotel deals, traveling to many new cities and learning about their urban planning methods along the way.
Andy Leung

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1 comment on “Low-Cost Carriers: Save Money while Earning Mainline Points

  1. Learning how to save money and earn points with low-cost carriers is invaluable for budget-conscious travelers. Thanks for sharing these practical strategies!

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