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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tips for Frequent Travelers

So I have already written to you about travel safety, and now I am going to write about some travel perks; mainly hotel points and airline miles. It is to your benefit when traveling for business to accrue some rewards for yourself. First you will want to obtain and read a copy of your company's travel policy so you know where they can flex and where you will need to flex. For example, my company requires me to book through their travel agent and we have preferred hotels and a preferred rental car company. I must pay for everything with my corporate Amex and then be reimbursed (so other loyalty Credit Cards are not an option) but I can (and do) add Membership Rewards to my Amex account for $75 a year and collect membership rewards points for every dollar of my employer's money I spend on travel to and from sites.

I spend a lot of time on airplanes and
collecting reward miles is a real perk
that I can use to obtain discounted or free
 leisure travel.
In regards to airfares, it is wide open so I can research and communicate to the travel agent which fares I want provided they are within the travel policy guidelines. In this way, I can maximize my reward points and choose to focus my reward accruing efforts on a preferred airline/chain so I can rack up miles/status/points for leisure travel. Be careful of diversifying too much or you will only achieve a low level of status/rewards in many programs whereas it is typically better to have a lot of status/rewards in just a few programs. This is less flexible but in general, you will see greater returns when you focus your efforts.

I was first going to attempt to download all the tidbits I have learned over the years but then decided a list of my favorite web links would be much more effective.


Find the Lowest Airfares

  • ita software - Click on the graphic in the lower left called 'Search Fares using QPX'. Be exact with your entry as this system can't really 'guess' at what you want. When your results come up use the third toggle button at the top to 'choose flights (graphical)' Now you can sort and stack and filter or just choose one segment at a time. I love this site! The only airline I have found not listed so far is SW so I just check them separately.
  • Kayak.com - Another price aggregator as above.
  • FareCast.com - Will the fare be cheaper if you wait until next week to book it? This site tells you!
  • Yapta.com - Tag a fare and book it once it is cheaper. If the fare does drop after you already booked (assuming you booked directly through the sirline website) you might be entitled to a refund or future credit thanks to the low fare guarantee).
  • Many airlines will give you bonus miles for booking through their site. I can't do this because we are required to use the agency but this is especially powerful when you own and book with their co-branded credit cards. Something to look into...


Booking Hotels

  • Again, pick one or two chains and accrue status so you get upgraded rooms and executive lounge access, free breakfast, bonuses, etc. Plus, once you are at the higher tiers you typically accrue points faster. This chart is helpful for comparing the different loyalty programs - thanks Starwood Preferred Guest program!
  • One more tip here, once you get high level status in one program call competing programs and ask them to 'status match' or to allow you to 'challenge' the high tiers of their loyalty programs. These promotions are usually offered in the first half of the year. Airlines will status match, too -- never hurts to ask, anyway!


Misc

  • seatguru.com - Make informed decisions when choosing your seat - make sure your seat fully reclines and that it doesn't have a blocked view of the TV or limited space.
  • seatcounter.com - How many seats are left in each class of service on a plane. Helpful when you are hoping for operational or status based upgrades to a higher class cabin or if you are looking to get bumped (sometimes you can plan to miss a flight because you will be compensated with a free roundtrip US ticket or a discount voucher for future travel).
  • flyerguide.com/wiki - An ever-changing Wiki that has aggregated information about traveling and loyalty programs. Companion website to flyertalk, see below.
  • flyertalk.com - This is an online forum with lots of frequent travelers who share their tips. I subscribe to posts and threads and I get these emailed to me weekly. I download my email to a local client so I can browse through them in digest format while on my frequent flights. I have learned so much here and love this free site.


Tools for Tracking Points and Miles

  • I prefer a web-based program so I can recommend the following: http://www.mileagemanager.com/ (this site is free to try for 30 days and then $14.95 annually. It has rewards summaries but also lets you know which accounts are about to expire, and my favorite part is the 'Elite status summary' which tells you what you need to earn to get to the next Elite level in any given program.)
  • http://moneycenter.yodlee.com/ (this site is free and will also manage your personal finances and help you set budget goals or you can just add your reward programs and have it manage those exclusively. Of note, your bank might already subscribe to this service for you as some major financial institutions like Bank of America, Fidelity, and Wachovia do... Check here)

Shoot me an email or leave me a comment if something important is missing from this post or you have more questions about this topic that I can answer. I would also love to hear your tips and success stories so feel free to leave those comments as well!
Read more about What to Pack in this post.

4 comments:

Nadia said...

Just read an article about how easy and inexpensive it can be to acheive elite status on your airline of choice. It quotes one of my personal friends, a true mileage aficionado. Enjoy!

http://washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jul/28/being-elite-can-be-simple/

pmadden78 said...

Nadia,
Your blog is very interesting. I have been planning investigator meetings as a meeting planner for the past 3 years and I have enjoyed reading about it through the perspective of a CRA. You have also included some great travel tips on this one in particular. Glad that I stumbled upon your site.
~Patrick

Dune Buggy said...

Thanks..For such a useful information i have bookmark this article it is very interesting......

Ann @ Philippines Weather said...

Thanks for sharing this post. For the travelers, it is also very important to know the best time to travel or check first the weather before going to the scheduled destination for them to enjoy their trip.

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