They’re all around us, and they’re heavily marketed. We hear things like “sign up for a Visa Card and earn a bonus 50,000 points”, “Spend over $30 and collect points”. Loyalty programs are big business, and to help cut through the marketing we have created these guides to help cut through the marketing, and understand how such programs may be of use to the traveller.
There are a wide range of Loyalty Programs that are relevant to travellers. The main ones are, of course, the Airline and Hotel Loyalty programs. Credit Card programs can also provide significant benefits to travellers that goes beyond the initial sign up bonus that marketers often promote.
Each program has its own set of rule and nuances, and in this section, I will be providing a basic primer on a number of loyalty programs that may be useful to readers. These will provide a basic outline of the rules, how to achieve elite status, and what the advantages of each of those levels.
Over time, I will also be providing reviews of the various programs that are available, and will add links to these guides as they are completed.
Why join a travel program?
Travel providers, such as airlines and hotels, offer the frequent traveler points or miles in an attempt to secure your loyalty. Ultimately, they do this as they have proven to be powerful tools in extracting more money from your pocket. In a way, they are gambling on earning your loyalty, and in a way it is a game.
It is a game that the traveller can play too – and indeed, many people do. Loyalty addicts set about amassing points and miles in everything they do. Such behaviour was exemplified in the movie ‘Up In the Air’, where the main character lives and breathes loyalty programs. Indeed, at one point he comments “I don’t do anything if it doesn’t benefit my mileage account.”
Playing the game has generally become known as travel hacking, and it is a game played by many. Indeed, the phrase ‘travel hacking’ is thrown about quite a bit these days.
As with the IT hacking equivalent, there are many different defintions for constitutes travle hacking. Some people play the game to the extreme, while others look for ways of maximising their points from their day to day.
While the term is not one that I am particularly fond of, I define travel hacking in the way that I use the programs, and that consists of two related goals:
1) Travel in such a way that your out of pocket expenses during that travel are as small as possible. That is, travel for as little money as possible. Zero is the ultimate goal, but a goal that remains largely out of reach.
2) Travel in way that is better and more comfortable than what you could normally afford. That is, achieve things in your travel that you may not be able to pay for.
Put the two together, and the aim is to gain the best possible experiences out of travel, while at the same time minimising the amount that it is costing you.
Generally speaking, the types of programs that offer opportunities to travel hackers are:
To gain the most from these programs, you need to first understand what it is that they offer. The guides in this section provide primers for the various programs, whether they be airline, hotel or credit card programs.
The focus is more toward the leisure traveller that wants to gain benefit from what is out there, but doesn’t necessarily want to become hacking guru.