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Questions about rewards programs

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    Questions about rewards programs

    I just booked a trip to Chicago. I don't travel that often, and what I've done in the past 2 years was all booked by the travel agent at work. It's been a long time since I had to think about rewards programs and the benefits they offer. I want to be smart about my travel so that I can do more of it, both solo and with my family, and score the maximum benefit with the least amount of hassle. What do you guys(*) recommend?

    In particular, how much travel do you have to do before an airline frequent flyer membership is worthwhile? Are any of the airlines' programs "better" or "worse"?

    Ditto about hotel rewards programs. Are there any chains that have particularly good or bad programs? How many hotel stays do you have do per year to make a rewards program worthwhile?

    And finally, are there any websites or apps that you use to manage all the rewards stuff?

    Thanks in advance for your advice!

    (*) By "guys" I mean people of all genders. I grew up in the Northeast and a bit of that is showing this morning, LOL.
    Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    flyertalk.com might help with your questions. *I haven't fully investigated the site yet*


      Of the hotel rewards we have been exposed to, we have been the most pleased with the Hilton Honors reward system. Points added quickly towards free stays and they allow you to "double dip" I.e. Use points towards airfare as well as free stays, and redeem for perks at certain establishments all at once.
      I really, really like TB Bags!


        Right up my alley......

        The first thing you need to do is figure out which airlines go where you want to go and service your local airport.

        Then, don't just look at the airline but which airline program they belong to. OneWorld? Skymiles? StarAlliance? Try to stick to airlines within that program.

        Hotels--join most of the programs. They are free.

        Car rentals--same thing

        Unless you travel frequently, and I mean weekly or biweekly, it will take forever to gain enough points to get anything especially as it is getting harder to get free seats on planes.

        And that's where point hacking comes in. There are plenty of ways to get points without actually traveling, and double points when you do.

        The easiest way is with point generating credit cards. Most now give an amazing sign-up bonus--some anywhere from 25,000 to 100,000 points--for just signing up and using it.

        Use the credit card for everything but just make sure you pay it off each month. (If you carry credit card debt, don't do this as the interest rates are high.) I rarely use cash for anything.

        Next, sign up for the weekly deal emails from the airlines as well as similar programs with hotels and rental cars. Sometimes the deals are great and sometimes they are not.

        I'll give you an example....I signed up for a BA Visa and got 100,000 points for just signing up. It gives me BA points, which I can use on almost any airline within OneWorld and the card offers no foreign transaction fees. Next, I signed up for a Starwood Amex which gave me 30,000 points. I don't normally stay at many Starwood properties but I can convert Starwood Points to airline miles with a 25% bonus. (20,000 hotel points transfers to 25,000 airline miles.). I get one point/one FF mile for every dollar spent.

        Technically, by just signing up, I got free trips. And many of these airline credit cards offer free perks such as priority boarding, first checked bag free, discounts on purchases on board, etc, when you use the card. Most hotel credit cards offer one night free as a perk for just owning the card.

        If you search the internet, you'll find plenty of sites devoted to helping travelers gain as many points as possible. Try terms such as "point hacking" or "travel hacking."
        Last edited by Frank II; 10-29-2014, 07:00 AM.
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          Originally posted by Janine View Post

          (*) By "guys" I mean people of all genders. I grew up in the Northeast and a bit of that is showing this morning, LOL.
          Not that there's anything wrong with that :-)

          As a friend of mine likes to say "you can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can't take the Jersey out of the girl!"

          As far as your rewards questions, I'd go with Frank II's advice. I travel about half a dozen times a year for work and maybe that many for play. Since I almost exclusively fly out of Newark Liberty airport, which is a United hub, I've gotten a United credit card which gets me several perks, like free checked bags for my party, access to the lounge, and double miles on flights purchased with the card. There's a fairly substantial annual fee, but I've found that for me it is worth it in the checked baggage fees alone, particularly when I am on vacation and can't one bag it (think scuba gear).

          It is true that it's much more difficult now to ever get enough miles for a ticket, but I've started using mine for upgrades instead. Look around and you should be able to find what works best for you.
          Eat well, travel often.


            I agree with Frank II. I travel just about every week for work and the best advice I can give regarding airlines is to stick with one and try to travel exclusively with them. Most of the airlines have similar enough tiers now in order to get any kind of status so that shouldn't be a deciding factor. If you don't travel much you most likely won't get status anyway. The only other option would be the low cost airlines like Southwest/etc. I don't know much about their rewards programs but I do know that they are much different from the traditional ones. Also, you should know that traditional airlines like United, American, Delta, etc all count your activity towards status level within a calendar year from Jan-Dec.

            For hotels, they count status towards the next level much differently, most do so on a rolling 365 day period. So in the past 365 days they will tally up your account activity to see what level you should be at... also, many of the popular ones (Hilton, Marriott, etc) will offer accelerated status matching from time to time if you call them and ask if they can match your current status with X brand. You do have to provide proof of that, however... This year I got Hilton to match my platinum status at Marriott because I happened to be traveling to a client who was much closer to Hilton properties than Marriott ones.

            That being said, the two main ones for frequent travelers are Hilton and Marriott. Which one you choose will be a matter of personal preference. A lot of people will search to see which brand has hotel coverage in the areas they visit or want to visit most (like Hawaii/etc), then make their decision based off of that. For me, I tend to like Marriott a bit more because I find their hotel quality to be more consistent from city to city... Marriott also seems more consistent when it comes to redeeming rewards... I almost always know how many points it would cost me to stay at a particular tier of a hotel whereas it seems with Hilton even within a tier level it could vary widely... Hilton could have changed recently as I have not been an active member of their program for a while now but when I was, this is what I noticed. Either way, like Frank II said, sign up for them all and then try to stick with one as your primary and have the other(s) as backup.


              We don't travel much so getting an airline cc is not worth it, they have annual fees which is sometimes worth the upgrade you get getting it, sometimes not.

              I am very happy that we now live next to an airport where Southwest is present.

              For hotels, I agree with Frank II to sign up for all of their reward programs. I prefer the ones with wifi included in the price of the room and empty fridge. This way, I can buy healthy food or indulgences and eat them quietly in the evening.
              Last edited by backpack; 10-30-2014, 02:38 PM.


                Wow! Thanks, everyone! So much great advice! Good point about the hotel programs. If they are free, there's really no harm in signing up to all of them.

                *scoots away to spend the rest of the evening on flyertalk.com...
                Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.


                  I had the United card, which I got primarily because it offered no foreign transaction fees, and was free for the first year. When the year was drawing to a close I called to cancel (as I had switched to a different Chase card that also had no foreign transaction fees), and they offered me money to keep it for another year. (The annual fee plus some.) So there is that to consider. Most of these cards are free for the first year, and you can possibly negotiate a second year free. In that time it's possible to earn a free flight based on non-travel purchases alone. And while you have the card, you sometimes get certain perks on any flights you take with them.

                  *I am not particularly a fan of United. But I'm using that as a an example because it is the card I have experience with.
                  Last edited by bchaplin; 10-30-2014, 06:34 PM.
                  All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.
                  Edmund Burke


                    Just to add a different spin on things....I got the Barclay World card. The reason I got it is that I don't want to be tied to any one particular airline or hotel chain. The card works very similar to other rewards cards in that it gives 2 points/$1 spent. However, you can redeem the points as a credit for $0.01 per point to pay off travel charges, and they give you back 10% of the points. For example, and to make the math easy, if I have 100,000 points I can use it as a $100 credit on any travel related purchase, and they give me back 10,000 points. First year annual fee is waived, no foreign transaction fees, etc.
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                      I've been keeping an Amex SkyMiles Options card (the free one) simply to make sure my Delta miles don't expire since I no longer live near a Delta hub and haven't been flying much since changing jobs. I signed up for the standard fee card, took the miles bonus, then, at the end of the first free year, transferred to the no-fee version. I earn fewer miles, but I don't put enough on it for that to matter anyway. I thought about paying the fee to get bag check, but, well, thanks to y'all I don't really need it anymore.

                      My SO and I are b&b/guesthouse/hostel/campground types and even though I'm a member of several hotel programs, I have yet to actually qualify for any free stays before existing points expire. I still try since the programs are free. I've been eyeballing the Capital One cards, but probably won't bother. My favorite card to have and use is the REI member visa. It could be considered travel-related, right? You get a $100 gift card for signing up (I got $125 during a grand opening special), 5 dividend points on REI purchases plus your usual dividend and 1 dividend point on non-REI purchases. Once a year, you have a credit (your dividend, good for 2 years, I think) to spend at REI and that's pretty fun. Now why I get excited about putting, say, $800 in car repairs on it in order to have $8 to spend later is beyond me, but it does add up.

                      As Frank II said, no rewards card is worth it if you carry a balance.


                        Probably is obvious, but unless you are a heavy traveller, the airline miles programs aren't going to do anything for you. Even if you have miles, there are 10 people on the flight with more miles that will get the upgraded seats, etc. And I've found so many blackout dates, I could never use them.