Maximizing Loyalty Earnings
The 2008 Business Travel Guide
Written by Michael Roney
Business travel continues to increase while travel providers further expand the incredible range of services, perks and loyalty programs offered to customers. Just how does a busy executive on the move sort it all out and effectively navigate these options for maximum efficiency and reward? Read on for tips on how to make your hard work pay off.
While turbulence in the economy has given frequent business travelers a bumpy ride in 2008, these very same challenges paradoxically have created benefits — a silver lining in the storm clouds. As conditions have toughened, competition for your travel dollar has actually increased, as has the range of loyalty programs offered by airlines, hotels, car rental agencies and other providers. And these programs have never been more flexible, with a varied and ever-expanding range of perks, personalization options and rewards.
Plan Your Loyalty Strategy
First, you need to do some homework in evaluating and selecting loyalty reward programs. They all offer credits in points or miles, but with numerous tiers of elite membership, each with multiple earnings and reward opportunities.
The golden rule for enhancing your benefits is to commit to only one or two programs — one for an airline and one for a hotel chain is optimal — and one global airline alliance, such as the Star Alliance™ or oneworld®. Find the alliance that best meets your needs with regard to route network and level of service, and then learn what options you have when earning and redeeming mileage.
Star Alliance is the current king of alliance networks, with 21 member airlines that fly to 975 airports across 162 countries. And no matter which Star Alliance member airline’s frequent flyer program you belong to, you can earn and redeem miles and build status across all 21 of those airlines, meaning that you will have maximum flexibility and currency for earning and spending loyalty points.
You should also make sure to regularly use one of the major loyalty credit cards, most of which not only earn points or miles per dollar spent, but can also open the door to additional bonus earning and redemption opportunities.
Compare Earnings Value
To maximize your benefits, look for those travel providers whose programs excel in three key attributes:
These days we’re seeing greater reciprocity for earning and spending loyalty credits among airlines, hotels, car rental firms and thousands of merchants. All Nippon Airways (ANA) is typical among carriers offering the most flexibility, allowing its Mileage Club members to earn credits by using the services of its marketing partners. In addition to its fellow Star Alliance members and the major hotel chains, these include hundreds of retailers, American Express, telecom and Internet services, car rental firms such as Avis, Alamo and National (the last two of which are offering double bonus miles), Amtrak and more than 1,500 restaurants worldwide.
Focus on hotels that eschew a rigid dollar-to-point scheme, instead basing your earnings on factors such as your status and how you pay for your stays. Hilton’s HHonors®, for example, provides three ways in which members accumulate both hotel points and airline miles each time they stay at a participating hotel — a benefit the company calls Double Dipping®. In addition, HHonors, Intercontinental Hotel Group’s (IHG) Priority Club®, Marriott Rewards®, Starwood’s Preferred Guest® program and numerous others allow you to earn points not only on stays, but also through purchases, friend referrals and transfers from other loyalty clubs.
Finally, keep an eye out for exclusive alerts and access to enhanced earning promotions that are constantly being offered to loyalty members. For example, ANA is currently offering 5,000 bonus miles for those who make their first purchase with its ANA Card U.S.A.; Delta SkyMiles® members can earn up to 8,000 bonus miles on certain Budget car rentals through November 15; and IHG is offering double miles or double points for stays at certain brand hotels through December 15.
Assess Your Spending Flexibility
Consider the flexibility you will have in spending all of those credits you’ll be earning. Major airlines and hotel groups offer a broad range of choices, from flight or cruise tickets to free hotel stays across a range of brands to gifts, charities and more.
ANA’s Mileage Club allows its members to not only earn free tickets and upgrades on ANA and other alliance airlines, but also cash in miles on shopping, dining, tours, hotels and rental cars. ANA’s Miles to Shop program gives members the option of redeeming miles for gift cards to a selection of their favorite stores, including Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy, Crate & Barrel and Macy’s. IHG’s Priority Club even lets you use points to stay at other hotels — including boutiques and competitors’ — through its “Any Hotel, Anywhere” program.
Shepherding bulky conference or presentation materials on a plane can be an added hassle, and airlines are now imposing fees for heavy and excess baggage. Marriott Rewards is addressing that particular issue through its partnership with The Luggage Club, allowing members to use points to ship luggage directly from home or office — all with no limits on the size, weight or number of pieces that can be shipped.
An innovative Qantas loyalty tier called “Anyseat” allows you to spend extra points to book an award seat on the exact flight you want, even if it’s highly popular and only a few days away — a welcome option.
Toyko is a sprawling, fascinating city with many different districts, each with its own atmosphere. If you have a free afternoon or evening, focus on sampling bite-size portions.
When You Land: Narita Airport is about 40 miles east of the city center. Rather than spending ¥25,000 on a taxi into town, hop the Narita Express train or airport coach, both relative bargains and just as time-efficient, for about ¥3,000.
When You’re Hungry: For some memorable yakitori, try Fuku, a charming restaurant that follows traditional, time-honored methods of preparation. Telephone: 3485-3234; located at Nishihara 3-23-4, about four minutes by train from Yoyogi-Uehara station.
When You Have a Free Afternoon or Evening: Meiji Shrine is a soothing park area near Harajuku station. For shopping, Shinjuku and Shibuya are good places to go. For the latest electronics, visit the Akihabara district. For nightlife, you’ve got to check out Roppongi. For a more traditional experience, try Asakusa with its shops and famous temple, Senso-ji.
Of course, as a member of a major loyalty program, you’ll receive additional benefits such as the use of special facilities, including airport lounges, and the ability to customize the scores of services and perks that define your flight or accommodation experience. And once you’ve achieved elite status, the earning potential increases significantly.
ANA offers Bronze, Platinum and Diamond levels in its Mileage Club, each with increasing perks for mileage earnings, upgrades and access to elite airport lounges. At the highest Diamond level, earned at 100,000 annual miles or 120 flights, you’ll be enjoying a 125% mileage bonus, top-priority waitlist and service, numerous upgrade certificates and complimentary accommodation coupons for ANA Hotels worldwide. And for customers who earn Diamond status, ANA offers any Business Class, Premium Economy or Economy Class seat on any international flight (and any seat excluding Premium Class on Japanese domestic flights) by redeeming double the miles of its standard flight award.
Most major airlines now allow elite members to book a reward flight by using a combination of miles and credit card payments. For example, Anyseat allows you to redeem flights with points plus cash, while British Airways and Lufthansa even offer “overdraft” options for elite members who won’t have accumulated quite enough miles in time for a desired reward trip.
Hilton’s HHonors and IHG’s Priority Club both provide alternate ways to reach elite status, allowing you to act like any veteran traveler by choosing the method that will get you there the quickest. You can attain Hilton HHonors Blue and Silver VIP levels based on stays or nights, and you can earn your way to the Gold and Diamond tiers with stays, nights or folio. Likewise, Priority Club offers Gold and Platinum elite levels based on number of nights or accumulated points, your choice.
Win the Loyalty Game
As with any industry, times are changing and the economy dictates what businesses can or can’t do. The reality as we approach 2009 is that all travel providers, especially airlines, are seeking models for their loyalty programs that won’t hurt the bottom line. Some do better at that than others, but several leading carriers, including ANA, have been fortunate to have strong and insightful management that has proactively adapted to the evolving business environment. They’ve creatively put the opportunities and perks out there. Now it’s up to you to put together your strategy and use them wisely.
“We strive to reward loyalty in a way that exceeds our customers’ expectations, whether that is in flight or on the ground,” states Tomonori Ishii, ANA’s senior vice president and general manager, The Americas. “Just as they show dedication to us, we will dedicate ourselves to serving them.”