A review of GOL Airlines Smiles Loyalty Program
GOL offers the most extensive route network in South America and the Caribbean with almost 900 flights a day to 62 destinations in 13 countries. Through its low-cost, low-fare, business model the company has made air travel more accessible in Brazil and South America, capturing a growing market of first-time flyers.
GOL increased its operating capacity significantly when it acquired VRG Linhas Aereas, operating the VARIG brand, in 2007. The Smiles program was created in 1994 as the mileage program of VARIG Airline Company. Since 2013, the Smiles program has operated as a business independent of GOL, and has expanded its member base and partnerships.
Smiles members earn miles on domestic flights based on the fare paid. Full flex fares earn three miles per R$ paid, other fares earn two miles per R$, and promotional discounted fares do not earn miles. Accumulation of miles for international flights is based on distance traveled with bonuses for class of service. Flights to the U.S. will earn a minimum of 5,000 miles, flights to Central America have a 3,000-mile minimum and flights within South America earn a minimum of 1,000 miles. A mileage bonus of 150 percent is earned for first class fares and 125 percent is earned on full flex fares. Both full fares and promotional discounted fares earn 100 percent of the actual miles flown on international codeshare flights and a miles bonus of 150 percent is earned on business/first class fares.
Members can also earn miles through a variety of partner companies, co-branded credit cards, car rentals, hotels and online merchants. For a monthly fee of R$30, members can join Clube Smiles and earn 1,000 miles each month, five free reservations per year, advance notification of promotions, bonuses for transferring miles from a co-branded credit card, an additional year of mileage validity and discounts to sponsored entertainment events.
Award redemption tickets, including award tickets on partner airlines, must be booked online at the GOL Smiles website as award redemption ticketing is not available in airports or by calling Smiles customer service. GOL offers three types of award redemption tickets: Smiles Comfort, Smiles and Smiles plus Cash. Smiles Comfort awards are only available on select international routes, Smiles awards are available on any GOL route including South America and Central America, and Smiles plus Cash allows members to combine miles and cash for award redemption flights on all routes in Central and South America as well as the U.S.
Smiles one-way award redemption rates start at 10,000 miles for domestic flights within Brazil and throughout South America, 15,000 miles from Brazil to Central America and 35,000 miles from Brazil to North America. Award redemption flights within Central America start at 10,000 miles and Central America to the U.S. start at 15,000 miles. Domestic flights within the U.S. start at 12,500 miles.
Smiles Comfort one-way award redemption rates start at 15,000 miles throughout South America, 22,500 miles from Brazil to Central America and 52,500 miles from Brazil to North America. Flights within Central America start at 15,000 miles and Central America to the U.S. start at 22,500. Domestic flights within the U.S. start at 18,750.
GOL partners with Delta Air Lines, Air France, KLM, Iberia, Qatar Airways and Aerolineas Argentinas allowing members to redeem miles for flights outside of the Americas. One-way economy tickets from Brazil to Europe and Africa start at 35,000 miles with tickets from Brazil to Asia and Oceania starting at 50,000 miles. One-way business/first award redemption tickets on partner airlines start at 85,000 miles from Brazil to Europe and Africa and 100,000 miles from Brazil to Asia and Oceania.
Smiles members in Brazil can redeem miles for online shopping through the Smiles Shopping portal or redeem miles for PayPal credits. Members can redeem 5,000 miles for a R$50 PayPal credit up to 105,500 miles for a R$1,500 PayPal credit.
GOL has worked to strengthen partnerships in recent years to allow members access to many worldwide destinations and to provide Smiles members with a wide variety of options for earning and redeeming miles.
GOL has a robust list of hotel partners including Hilton, Sheraton, VOILA, Marriott, Starwood, Preferred Hotel Group as well as a number of South American hotel brands. Smiles miles earned varies by hotel partner ranging from one to two miles per R$ spent to set rates of 100 – 500 miles per stay. Some hotels such as the Gran Marquise Hotel offer special miles bonuses for weddings booked at the hotel or miles promotions based on the length of stay such as Costa do Sauipe, which offers up to 3,000 miles for a seven-night stay and up to 1,000 miles for a three-night stay.
GOL partners with Sixt Rent A Car allowing members to earn 500 miles on car rentals and 1,000 miles on limousine rentals worldwide. Members can also earn 250 miles for exchanging currency at Carol DTVM (250 miles for every US$1,000 or equivalent) or Cotacao (100 miles for every US$1,000 or equivalent).
GOL has partnerships with five financial institutions, including American Express – Brazil, BBVA, Banco Patagonia – Programa Club Patagonia, Discount Bank, Nuevo Banco Comercial and American Express – Latin America. A Smiles co-branded MasterCard is offered for residents of Brazil. The Platinum card has a signup bonus of 10,000 miles, an annual renewal bonus of 3,000 miles, earns two miles per dollar spent and comes with benefits such as priority boarding, access to the VIP room in Brazil on GOL flights, priority check-in, an excess baggage allowance of 20kg and an annual fee that is waived in the first year.
Smiles members in Brazil can earn miles for shopping online through a number of Web portals including Americas.com, Walmart.com and Skybox with offers varying by portal. Smiles members can supplement their mileage earnings through partnerships with restaurants, entertainment venues, magazines, newspapers and when paying for parking.
GOL’s elite program is three-tiered: Silver, Gold and Diamond. Attaining Silver status requires earning 10,000 club miles in a 12-month period. The miles required for elite status can be earned by flying on GOL or partner airlines as well as earned from non-airline partners. Members accrue one elite club mile per every 15 miles earned from non-airline partners. Silver status benefits include a 5,000 mile bonus for achieving Silver status, a 25 percent mileage bonus when flying on GOL and up to 10kg of excess baggage.
Gold status is achieved by earning 20,000 club miles in 12 months. Gold status benefits include 7,500 bonus miles for achieving Gold status, a 50 percent mileage bonus when flying on GOL, up to 20kg of excess baggage, a dedicated customer service call center, special services at check-in when flying GOL, validity of miles extended to four years and access to the Smiles VIP lounge regardless of the class of service you are flying.
Diamond status is achieved by earning 35,000 club miles in a 12-month period. Diamond status benefits include 10,000 bonus miles upon achieving Diamond status, a 100-percent mileage bonus, validity of miles extended to five years, priority seating and complimentary upgrades within six hours of flight, dependant upon availability. Diamond members receive special elite benefits when flying Delta, including priority boarding, check-in and luggage handling, a preferred line at security, preferred seating, additional luggage allowances and VIP lounge access (Atlanta, Detroit, New York, Miami and Santiago).
Rules and Conditions
Membership in the Smiles program is open to anyone. Smiles miles are valid for three years with exception of miles earned through bonuses, promotions or while holding elite status, in which case mileage validity may be extended. Members can buy and transfer miles to other Smiles members but miles cannot be sold or combined. The cost for purchasing miles is R$0.07 per mile and transferring miles costs R$0.03 per mile. Miles that have expired in the last year can be reactivated for a fee. Award ticket bookings made within 15 days of departure will incur a R$30 reservation fee. Members can redeem miles for award tickets up until 90 minutes before a flight. Award tickets can be cancelled and miles will be redeposited into the member’s account.
You can claim retroactive credit for flights taken no more than 30 days prior to joining the program. Smiles members can request credit for flights on GOL or partner airlines in the past six months on the website.
Customer service is available daily from 3am to 9pm GMT. When we called, we were connected immediately with a representative who was able to speak English, Spanish or Portuguese. The website lists contact numbers for customer service worldwide and also offers a searchable frequently asked questions section for Smiles members as well as the ability to email questions to a Smiles program representative.
Members can join the program and manage their account online. Flight awards requests can be made for both GOL and partner airlines online. When booking award tickets you may hold a reservation for up to three days. When we visited the website, we found that not all information is translated into English, which makes understanding some aspects of the Smiles program difficult for English readers. The website often transfers English readers back and forth between the English language, British and the Portuguese versions of the website, depending on where you click. Program Terms and Conditions, for example, are only found on the Portuguese site, and unfortunately the Google translation of the document is a challenge to understand. In addition, when we tried to enroll in the Smiles program, the enrollment form was not working properly and we were not able to enroll.
Members can earn and redeem miles across a wide range of partners. The ability to earn miles with online merchants and through a variety of financial partners offers members many flexible options for earning miles outside of earning solely from flights. The miles required for elite status can be earned from flights on GOL and partner airlines as well as from non-flight partner activities. Members in general are happy with award availability, ease of redemption and award choices available through partner airlines. Membership in Clube Smiles offers members the ability to earn bonus miles every month and to have advance access to special offers.
GOL Smiles transitioned from distance-based mileage earning to revenue-based earning on domestic flights in 2013 to the disappointment of many Smiles members. Members also report that they do not like that there is no mileage earning on discount economy fares. Recent changes to the award redemption chart for international flights increased the amount of miles necessary for many international flights. The website can be difficult to navigate and program information is not consistent across the various language sites. We experienced technical difficulties several times when trying to enroll in the Smiles program and despite numerous attempts on different days, we were unsuccessful in enrolling.
Report Card from Readers
Miles are earned revenue based on domestic flights, and distance based on international flights (with an earning minimum per continent), distance based is also how you earn when traveling on partner airlines/codeshares. It was formerly segment based, and since changing to revenue, it has been universally bashed because of this, to make matters worse, promo fares now earn 0 miles.
Despite this, I’d still rate them above other mileage programs in the country (TAM is segment based, and Azul is revenue based), and with better choices for credit cards and other earnings. I’d rate it as a C.
Availability of award choices can be limited sometimes but are easy to find, generally they cost a lot of miles, but every week there is a promotion with surprise destinations where a domestic roundtrip flight can be cheap, seems to be much easier than other airlines as well. I’d give it a B.
Their partnerships are good and cover a lot of e-commerce websites and credit cards. While not in an alliance, there’s a lot of options with Qatar, Delta, AF/KLM, Iberia, Aerolineas (Etihad and Aeromexico will soon be partners and that will do some good too). So I’d rate it as a B, behind TAM, who is in oneworld and still holds a lot of codeshares with SA members.
I have not used much of their customer service but when I did I found it to be fast and helpful, as for online services the website is very slow, poorly designed and its search feature is terrible for flexibility, kinda averages this total to a D.
What I like the most about the program is because its easy to earn and redeem, there are a lot of options for earning and it’s getting more accessible than other programs in the country. A new feature, Clube Smiles, earns me more mileage every month and gets me deals ahead of everyone else–I like that.
I’d suggest improvement on their website, especially on the award search part. I think it’s a problem that, since spinning off in its own company, they haven’t done much collaboration–now that GOL has extra space seats in the front of the fuselage, Smiles members should get preferred access to them when available. Paying for Clube Smiles should also get me this benefit for free a couple of times.
Overall Score 7.36
Earning Ability 7.5
Award Choices 7.0
Elite Level 7.5
Rules & Conditions 7.0
Service Support 7.5
Online Services 7.0
VRG Linhas Aereas S.A.
Av. Vinte de Janeiro s/no Ter de Passageiros no 01, Galeao
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 21941-570