Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The advantage of loyalty schemes

Readers of this blog will appreciate that I do like to travel, and that marriage to Ros hasn't really changed that. Naturally, the sort of travel that I do has changed a bit, as Ros isn't quite as adventurous as I am, but nonetheless, we do travel a fair bit.

One of things that really helps is loyalty schemes. I join them as a matter of course, even though it is usually best to stick to just one or two for maximum effect. All of them offer free stuff, although the free stuff does vary in quality and quantity.

For example, I'm not a huge fan of British Airways' Executive Club programme, as it is relatively hard to earn status, and the miles gained are often hard to spend, whereas United Airlines' Mileage Plus scheme allows you to earn miles quite quickly and spend them pretty easily, and in some unexpected places.

The secret is to find an airline that is part of one of the big three airline alliances (Star Alliance, One World and Sky Team), and has a fairly liberal points policy. My preference is for Star Alliance, as they have the best coverage, and miles earned on one member can be spent on others, i.e. you can use United Mileage Plus points to fly Air New Zealand from Melbourne to Port Vila, or LAN Airlines from Buenos Aires to Bogota, should you be minded to.

If you can stick to that alliance, you can earn points, and therefore free flights fairly quickly, with only a few flights. If there is an airline that flies from near you to somewhere you travel frequently, it's probably best you pick an airline in their alliance - so KLM or Air France for Sky Team, BA or American Airlines for One World, Lufthansa, SAS or United for Star Alliance.

Don't forget partner offers either. British Airways have a tie-in with American Express (indeed, a number of airlines do), allowing you to earn miles for your purchases, and by using e-retailers via the airline loyalty scheme website, you can double, or even treble up, making that free trip a little closer.

Hotel chains, Eurostar, they have schemes too, and all of them offer an opportunity for free stuff without having to pay any more. After all, they want your custom, and they'll happily bribe you to get it. They'll even offer bonuses for staying in certain hotels, or flying certain routes, if you're flexible.

So, if you're travelling, sign up. Because, if you don't, you're only subsidising people like me. And whilst I am most grateful, I'd be delighted if you got some free stuff too...

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