Business traveler: How to choose the best Mileage and Travel Rewards program

My wallet is full of airline reward program cards, but more often than not, I forget to use them. A few years ago, when I was traveling frequently for business, I experienced the benefits of the mileage program of the company I flew most frequently, redeeming transatlantic travel rewards several times. Still, travel can be so hectic sometimes, that it is easy to forget to make every expense count towards your mileage credit.

In the case of corporate travel, there are companies offering services that can make the job easier for you. These flights and accommodation booking specialists, for example, FCm Travel Solutions, can advise which rewards program might suit each trip.

Whether you are a business traveler or an individual traveling for pleasure, there are many important things to consider in order to select the most suitable airline mileage programs.

Photo by Nelo Hotsuma

Your Travel Needs

Look for a program that will reward the way you already travel. Figure out which airline you’re most likely to travel with – consider their departure points, destinations, network and itineraries – and investigate their program as a starting point. Another program might have better incentives and rewards, but you’re unlikely earn the points if it demands you drastically change your travel behaviour.

Sometimes, when you are looking for flights online, you may often find that the pricing does not differ greatly between competing airlines for the itinerary of your choice. If you are an Aadvantage member, for example, and American Airlines is offering a flight for $520, while another airline is offering the same flight for $500, in the long run, you may do better to purchase the ticket that will help you earn miles. It´s great to have many mileage program cards like me, but if you keep switching airlines, you may end up with a bunch of eggs in too many different baskets, and you will seldom gather enough miles to obtain a reward.

Fees and Charges

Every rewards program has some kind of associated fees and charges. Some charge a one-off joining fee while others have monthly maintenance fees. Some are free to join, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no cost. Check to see what fees are charged to redeem your points or check your balance. For example, there are fees to transfer your miles to another person, and there may even be fees for accounts without recent activity.

How Points are Earned

It’s really important to investigate how points are actually earned. Traditionally, points are allocated based on the actual mileage travelled. Some programs now offer points based on ticket cost, completely independent of the distance. In most cases, the type of fare and your membership status will drastically alter the points awarded.

In fact, today, you don’t even have to leave the ground to earn points. Affiliate partnerships with credit card companies, hotels, restaurants, retailers and other organisations reward everyday purchases with mileage points. Consider your existing shopping habits and investigate whether there’s an airline rewards program associated with the businesses you regularly buy from.

Membership Level

vip madrid
My lunch at VIP lounge, Madrid airport

Not every member is treated the same. You’re likely to earn a higher status as you accumulate points, which comes with additional benefits. Look in to the membership structure and the benefits of the level you’re likely to reach.

Top level members get access to airport VIP lounges and priority boarding. Lounge access can be priceless during long stopovers, and it also has the advantage that it helps you save money, as these lounges generally offer food and drink; some of them even have resting rooms. I was recently in Madrid for many hours, and was able to take a nap in a VIP lounge that featured a dimly lit room with beds, which were separated by screens.

Alliance Affiliation

Most airlines have an alliance affiliation – a group of airlines that provide additional benefits to the extended membership base. The alliance allows you to earn points for multi-stop, multi-airline journeys, as long as each airline is part of the alliance. You can also usually redeem points for flights on alliance partner airlines.

These alliances are very dynamic, so, it is important to keep up-to-date with this information; airlines that were not part of a network yesterday may become so today, and it can sometimes be hard to keep track.

Added Benefits

It’s not all about free tickets for flights. Besides airport lounge access and priority boarding, there are a number of additional benefits for joining a rewards program such as ticket upgrades, and additional luggage privileges. Some programs even allow you to use points for accommodation, meals and consumer goods.

Take Note of what’s not Included

Each program has restrictions. There may be dates or destinations with limited availability – or completely blacked out – for point-based travel. The program is under no obligation to offer anything beyond the terms and conditions, so make sure you’re aware of the limitations when you sign up.

In the end, the best rewards program is the one that rewards you for the activities and habits you already have. Personally, I have set a goal for myself to get better at earning rewards and mileage credit. I took about 15 uncredited flights during my Summer in Europe, and I really don´t want that to happen again!

Have you been a member of an airline rewards program? What were your experiences? Share in the comments below.

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