There is some debate about whether hotel, airline, and rental car loyalty reward programs are still viable, or if they are more trouble than they are worth. Simply, it varies from one individual to another. Many people just do not travel enough to earn an adequate amount of points / miles to use before they expire. However, I had one client recently redeem enough points for two ocean view rooms for six nights in Hawaii which was a significant savings. Personally, over the years I have redeemed points for more than three weeks of free nights (over time) with the Hilton Family of Brands, and numerous free flights with Southwest Airlines. These programs can be beneficial, when used carefully.
So are loyalty reward programs a good fit for you? Here are some points to consider when evaluating any program for you.
First, remember no two programs are the same. You need to take the time to read contracts and program fine print. You have heard that knowledge is power. It is definitely true about maximizing the benefits of any loyalty program.
When looking at a program, consider how many points / miles are needed to be redeemed for a free flight, hotel room nights, or upgrades that you want to earn. Then figure out how many stays or flights would be needed to earn those “freebies”. An important consideration – do the points / miles ever expire? If possible, consider loyalty programs that don’t have expiration dates (taking note that all of the programs reserve the right to change any part of the program, including whether or not points / miles expire). When there is no expiration on your points / miles, even with a low amount of travel, you can eventually earn some freebies down the road.
Once you know how many points / miles you WANT to earn for redemption, and how much travel you need to take to reach those levels, you have to figure out if you’ll earn enough to reach your goals. You can do this by looking at your past travel history, as well as your projected future travel. How often do you fly versus drive, and to what destinations? When flying, you will need to figure out how many miles (or in some programs, points) you will earn when flying to the destinations that you visit.
The next evaluation is really important: can you focus your flight loyalty to ONE airline? Does the same airline from your home airport serve all (or most) of the destinations that you frequent? Can you focus on one hotel chain or family of brands in all or most of the destinations that you visit? Based on your evaluation of past and/or projected travel, can you accrue enough points / miles to achieve your free travel goals? Can you do it before the points / miles expire (assuming they do expire)?
Another way to judge the value of your loyalty programs is to consider the cost needed to earn those “free” flights, stays, etc. In other words, are you spending more than necessary on your travel, in order to earn points / miles to redeem later? That “freebie” might end up not being free at all. Many airline loyalty programs these days offer credit cards that help you earn points or miles. But if you are paying fees and interest on those credit cards, you might end up spending more than you’ll ever earn in “free” travel. If you consider a credit card that is tied to your reward program, you need to be diligent about paying off balances EVERY month; otherwise it’s not going to be an effective program for you.
There are some other considerations as well. What ancillary benefits are provided by the program(s) you are evaluating? With airlines, can you get baggage fees waived? Or gain access to the airlines airport lounges (note that not all airlines have airport lounges)? Do they have express check-in lines? Can you speed through TSA security lines? You need to evaluate the value of these benefits, and how they fit into your travel plans.
For loyalty programs to be most effective, you have to BE LOYAL. Belonging to EVERY airline program isn’t going to get you anything but headaches in the long run. You need to consider which airline, rental car company, and hotel(s) that you prefer, versus which ones can get you the most bang for your buck (more freebies with fewer stays, or with lower cost stays/flights). Also consider this, if you booked less expensive, non-chain hotels that don’t have loyalty programs will you save more than booking those hotels with a loyalty program? Would that savings be more than enough to offset “free” stays with any loyalty program?
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At Ships 'N' Trips Travel we have been providing memorable travel experiences for our clients since 2005.