The ultimate tools in a smart traveler’s toolbox are the various loyalty programs offered by airlines and hotel chains. Yet it absolutely baffles me how many people ignore these golden opportunities to get bargain travel deals.
I was spurred to write about this topic after reading a great article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, called Staying power for frequent-flyer plans. It was about how American Airlines invented the frequent flyer program 25 years ago, and how these plans have changed the travel industry.
Following American’s lead, all the other airlines quickly created their own loyalty programs, and later, the hotel industry created their own versions as well, becoming a win-win for both the companies who wanted customer loyalty, and the travelers who wanted discount travel opportunities.
But how can a traveler or even a person who wants to travel in the future, make the most (ie get the most travel deals) out t of these plans? Here are a few tips”
- Double dip whenever you rent a car or check into a hotel. It boggles my mind how many experienced travelers neglect to do this. If, for example, you are a member of the Hilton Honors program and an airline frequent flyer program, you can earn hotel points and airline miles for the same stay.
- Book your award flights well in advance. This is particularly true for flying to Hawaii or traveling anywhere in December. It is not unusual to see people booking these flights nine to eleven months in advance. The best travel deals in the world can’t help you if you can’t get on the airplane.
- It is your job to give the airline your frequent flyer number when you travel. Believe it or not, they do not have the means to magically know who you are and what your number is when you fly with them. If you don’t identify yourself as a frequent flyer member, you won’t receive credit for the flight.
- Take advantage of every non-flight opportunity the airline or hotel gives you to earn miles or points. Become familiar with their websites and learn who their partners are. For example, most airlines are now affiliated with a credit card company. This means you earn miles for every dollar you spend on that card. Think of all the gas you pump, groceries you buy and other expenses you incur on a regular basis that you could be earning miles for that trip to Hawaii.
- Be VERY aware of the programs expiration policy. Most programs will allow you to go up to three years without activity before your miles expire. Activity is defined as anytime you put a mile into the program or take a mile out by spending it on a flight. Because the airlines offer you so many ways to earn miles through their partners and non-flight activities, don’t expect a lot of sympathy if you let your miles expire. In most cases they will refuse to reinstate them unless you are willing to buy them back. The point here is that the program is called a frequent flyer program. A member who falls off their radar for three years is about as desirable to the airline as someone who repeatedly bounces checks is to a bank.
- Become familiar with the ins and outs of the program. Most of this information is available on their websites. For example, you will want to know how many miles are needed to fly to certain places at certain times of the year. You will want to know when new partners are added, so you can keep on top of new ways to earn miles.
COPYRIGHT © 2005, C.H. Brown, All rights reserved.