In the 2009 movie “Up in the Air”, the main character, Ryan Bingham, has business travel down to a science. He knows how to pack efficiently. He knows which airport lines move faster. And he’s a pro at maximizing his frequent flyer miles.
“I don’t spend a nickel, if I can help it,” he says, “unless it somehow profits my mileage account.”
You don’t need to be as extreme as Bingham, though, to earn free flights and vacations.
Whether you travel frequently or just a few times a year, here are 10 tips to help you rack up points like the savviest road warrior.
1. Think long-term. Sign up for travel reward programs even if you travel infrequently. Just one or two trips a year can add up to earn you free airfare or a hotel stay on your next vacation.
2. Sign up for rewards programs for each service you typically use, such as a hotel chain, airline, restaurant chain and rental car company. Then concentrate on using those as frequently as you can to maximize your points with each service. Many programs offer escalating levels such as silver, gold and platinum. The higher the level you reach, the more rewards you earn.
3. Even if you typically fly the same airline all the time or stay at the same hotel chain, you may want to sign up for one or two alternates in case your favorite airline doesn’t go to a particular destination or your preferred hotel is already full.
4. Check each loyalty program to see if they have merchant partners. Some airlines offer bonus miles if you sign up with a particular utility company or purchase gifts from a certain retailer.
5. Some online travel and restaurant booking sites offer bonus rewards, too.
6. Stack rewards whenever you can. For example, book your trip on a travel booking site that offers rewards, and you could get points from the booking site plus points from your credit card plus points from your airline, hotel and car rental agency. While you’re at it, reserve one of your preferred restaurants on an online restaurant booking site and you could earn rewards from the restaurant, the restaurant booking site and your credit card company, as well.
7. Read your loyalty program emails. Some of them offer bonus rewards like double or triple points if you use their services at a specific travel destination or during a specific period of time.
8. Weigh credit card interest rates and annual charges against the rewards you’ll earn. You don’t want to end up spending more for the card than you can earn back.
9. Make sure you know your reward programs’ rules. Some have points or rewards that expire. Make sure you use yours before they disappear.
10. You’ve earned those rewards so use them judiciously. If you can, make the most of your money by using your free hotel night at a $200-a-night hotel not a $79-a-night one. Use free airfare for long, expensive flights, not short hops that cost much less.
If you have to put up with the inconveniences of business travel, you may as well take advantage of the perks, too. Free flights and hotel stays, special lines at the airport, premium seating, dedicated reservations and customer service lines, special lounges in the airport, room upgrades, late checkout and better rates can all be yours with travel rewards programs.
As with any “free” program, keep in mind that spending more than you normally would just to collect points is not smart money management. Your company should have policies in place to discourage this behavior.
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