Employees of SMEs sometimes have to fly for work but, unlike big companies, most don’t have the luxury of large travel budgets. So what is an SME to do?

It turns out there are many ways of saving on airfares.

Airline reward programs for SMEs

One of the easiest, if you live in or near Dubai or fly Emirates regularly, is Emirates Business Rewards, which is specifically tailored to small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).

Benefits include one reward mile plus Skywards miles for every $1 spent, special offers and discounts with rewards partners, plus the chance to redeem miles for flights and upgrades.

Etihad’s program, BusinessConnect, is also tailored for SMEs with between two and 50 business travelers – launched in 2009, it has 10,000 members globally. Benefits include the chance for the business to earn a portion of the miles travelled by employees.

A spokesman for Etihad said: “It helps companies to optimize their travel spend, by rewarding them with additional Etihad Guest Miles over and above the Miles earned by their employees, whilst adding convenience and value to the business and corporate travel experience.

Business credit cards with air miles

And then there are air miles credit cards. They offer the chance to save miles, which can then be exchanged for free flights every time you spend. There are dozens of air miles cards to choose from but be careful to calculate which one offers the best earning vs burning ratio – in other words, how many miles you need for an airline ticket. And consider the annual fees, as air miles cards rarely come without a fee. Picking a card which is linked to your favorite airline is also wise if you travel on one regularly.

Some business credit cards available in the UAE also offer travel perks. They include RAKBANK’s Titanium Business Credit Card, which offers unlimited airport lounge access at Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Kuwait and Jordan airports.

NBAD’s Business Visa Credit Card allows cardholders the chance to earn 1 NBAD star for every AED 1 spent, which can be redeemed for Etihad Guest Miles, Emirates Skywards Miles and Fly Dubai e-vouchers, in addition to complimentary airport transfer services.

[Compare business credit cards with air miles]

Flying premium economy instead of business class

And finally there are premium economy seats, which offer extra legroom for more economy-like prices. According to seatguru.com, a premium economy fare is usually 65 percent less expensive than a business class seat, with one to two inches of extra seat width, two to three extra inches of seat recline, adjustable headrests, footrests or back support, bigger TV screens, power ports for laptops and better food.

A number of European airlines offer the service flying from the Middle East.

  • KLM’s economy comfort seats offer 35in legroom and up to double the recline for between 10 – 160 euros or 1,500 to 25,000 Flying Blue Miles one way.
  • British Airways’ premium economy class, World Traveller Plus, offers 38-inch legroom, an adjustable footrest, wider seats and a larger free baggage allowance. The British Airways website doesn’t say how much its World Traveller Plus seats are but, on one Saturday in November, the lowest price available for its premium economy class was AED 2,418, while an economy seat cost AED 1,408 by comparison.
  • At some point during the first half of 2015, Middle East travelers will be able to buy premium economy seats on Lufthansa, which will offer up to 50 percent more room and a better quality of food with porcelain tableware and two items of luggage at no cost, making it much more like business class than most premium economy seats out there.