In talking about frequent flyer programs, I’m always reminded of the scene in the movie, "Up in the Air" when Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) caught Natalie staring at his plate. Ryan said, "Our business expense allots forty dollars each for dinner. I plan on grabbing as many miles as I can"... Natalie said, "Ok you got to fill me in on this miles thing. What is that about?" Ryan replied, "I don't spend a nickel if I can help it unless it somehow profits my mileage account.”
For those of you have not gotten into the program, I thought I would share some basic tips I shared on my earlier blog on how to travel for free or travel luxuriously for less money.
- Join a frequent flyer program even though you're not a frequent flyer. One can easily visit the airline's website to sign-up for a frequent flyer membership. Airlines and banks have partnership and alliances. So the best way to sign-up is through a credit card company because of the initial/bonus point incentives. For example, Chase has a special offer for United Mileage Plus card starting with 30,000 miles – enough for a free roundtrip ticket to anywhere in the continental United States. Look at the terms and conditions.
- Join a hotel reward program. Visit a hotel website and you'll find a link to a partner credit card company. There are a few to choose from: Hilton HHonors, Hyatt Gold Passport, Marriott Rewards, Priority Club Rewards, SPG (Starwood Hotels), etc. For example, you can earn up to 25,000 SPG (Starwood Hotels) points from American Express for opening an account/credit. SPG property includes Westin, St. Regis (most luxurious), Sheraton hotels to name a few.
- Upon credit approval, get ready to use your card to accumulate points. Use your credit card as a CHARGE card. Charge that frappucino, latte, your I-phone/TV/Internet and other household bills. But use your credit card responsibly. Pay the entire balance within the billing cycle/period so not to incur interest charges. Never ever use your credit card to pay your mortgage to accumulate points. Your mortgage company may accept your card and not tell you that they would use it as a cash advance. The goal here is to take advantage of the initial point or bonus offers to accumulate hotel points and not lead you into a debt problem. WARNING: Credit cards can lead you into a debt problem if you do not use them responsibly.
Joining a frequent flyer alone does not guarantee that you will be able to fly free immediately. First you have to be loyal to the program, meaning: flying on the same airline to accumulate points. It’s definitely worth to compare the various frequent flyer programs before becoming a loyal member: consider the number of flights, availability and airline alliances/partnership. Also, do not sacrifice bargain flights for loyalty. I joined two frequent flyer programs, using the other one as a backup. For instance, Air France offered their frequent flyer members 50% off redemption miles 2 summers ago. I had less than the minimum redemption miles required on my frequent flyer account, but because I was able to transfer and convert the hotel points I accumulated into AF airline miles, I was able to grab that first class seat to Madrid.
In terms of hotel rewards program, most travel guides rank the 'best hotel rewards program' using the following criteria: earning points opportunity, minimum redemption point required, conversion to airline miles, number of participating hotels, transferability to other rewards program, and credit cards you can use to earn points. In choosing a hotel rewards program, you should also consider what best fit your needs. For example, SPG rewards program offers a wide hotel selection internationally. Starwood Hotels own legendary palaces like the Westin Hotels in Madrid and Seville and the ultra-modern hotel designed by Frank Gehry in Bilbao, Spain. But ‘earning points opportunity' is limited with SPG.
Hilton HHonors tops my list when it comes to 'earning points opportunity'. You can earn points through EMiles, ERewards and Dining Rewards. Also if you want to travel with family, then Hilton HHnonors might be the right rewards program for you because of its wide selection of hotel suites like Double Tree and Embassy Suites.
Ultimately, I choose a rewards program where I can exchange hotel points to airline miles and airline miles to hotel points, and higher airline conversion rate. For me, the most important criteria in choosing a reward program is where I can earn points quickly and maximize the point value to use for my next trip.