Frequent Traveler Programs

How to maximize your points and take splendid vacations for pennies.

If you already travel for business (and actually need a tip or two), or you are considering accepting a job that involves business travel, this blog is for you.

I could tell you which frequent traveler programs (airline, hotels, auto rental) I believe you should join. This seems to be the approach of a lot of folks that give travel advice.  Unfortunately, I know that won’t help you if you live in , say… Palm Springs (PSP), and travel frequently to San Francisco (SFO).  The bottom line for any business traveler is where you live, where you go most often, and what kind of travel arrangement situation your employer has arranged. 

Unless your employer books all your travel on a company credit card/account, (rare but not impossible,) or books all your travel with no consideration for your preferences (also unlikely), you have some control over the airlines, hotels, and car rental agencies you use.

Maximize this. Your frequent trips will determine whose programs you should focus on. And by focus, I mean obsessively track and make sure that your trip bookings all feed into the primary (and if you must, secondary) airline, hotel, and car rental agency you have selected.  This is how you earn points, and more importantly, status.  

Yes, yes, I know.  “But this Taca flight is $48.97 cheaper than the Copa airlines flight.  Can I really justify spending that much more to fly with a United partner?” 

Seriously, you absolutely can.  Let me explain.  First, there is the fact that it’s your low back and knees getting on those airplanes – not your VP of Sales and certainly not his admin.

Don’t say that. 

Instead, point out how the Taca equipment (that’s Road Warrier, and airline-speak for the plane) has a poor maintenance record, or that it’s a regional jet (small, uncomfortable, and susceptible to air pockets and other flying difficulties).  You can also use the schedule as a reason why you chose the flight you did.  A real kicker is the number of stops.  Any non-stop is superior to a one or, heaven forfend, a two-stop flight.   Stops delay you, and your time is company money.   Remember the part about arriving fresh and ready to perform your job to the best of your ability on behalf of your employer?  All of this ties into getting you on flights that will increase your status (and not incidentally, earn you points).

There is also the “wear and tear” factor.  This is not an inconsiderable value.  If you are considering a flight with two stops that takes 12 hours over a direct flight that takes less than 4 hours, with a price difference less than 100.00 – that’s a no-brainer.  Take the flight that is easier on you physically.  Consider your productivity, your energy level, and your customer engagement.  These are intangibles that will, over the course of your career, make a huge difference in terms of how effective and happy you are on the job. 

The higher your status with an airline, the more free things you get that will make you comfortable (and productive) during your flight, and in some cases, actually save the company money.    So getting your status moved from almost never flies to Platinum (or above) is a high priority your first year on the road. 

Mind you, it costs nothing to join a frequent traveler program.  So join every program related to a hotel stay, an airline flight, an auto rental, or even a particular restaurant chain you  might use for a team luncheon.  Join them all. Make sure to keep a contacts entry with details on all your “Frequent Traveler Programs” – ID, login, password hint.  You never know.  You might stay at a Kimpton once in the next three years, and forty nights the forth year.

Establish longevity.  It generally has no impact on your status or how you accrue points, but sometimes… SOMETIMES… a service rep will notice that this year you made it to Platinum level and you’ve been with the program for a decade – and give you an upgrade or a freebie you never expected and to which you’re not actually entitled based on the details of the program – Just Because You’ve Been Around.   This serves them in the long run.  That small perk usually costs them nothing, but it buys your desire to remain higher up on their program.  Remember this. 

Third, be aware of affiliations.  If you travel international and local, you may find yourself looking at flights with airlines you don’t usually book.  Consider “affiliations”.  Delta, National, American, etc… all have a network of international airlines they are affiliated with. This means your points earned, your status, and your lounge memberships will transfer over to airlines on which you’ve never previously flown. Go you! I once achieved Platinum status with United by flying back from Bali on Singapore Airlines after I missed a connecting flight.  

I will probably write a blog about my experiences with airline and hotel loyalty (and there are several).  But that’s for another day. 

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