Frequent flyer miles are a godsend for the business traveler – the only respite for long hours away from home, hopping planes at odd hours and trying to find gates at airports designed like sadistic mazes.
But even before we even get into the nitty-gritty of frequent flier miles, do one very important thing: check your company’s policy on the subject. Too many business travelers are discovering too late that they may not be entitled to the benefits they thought they were at all because the points, miles or rewards accrued during business travel are considered the property of the company, not the individual. If all is well, the rest of this article applies.
If you happen to be about to get a credit card, stop! Well, pause, really, while you investigate your options. Some credit card companies offer generous frequent flyer miles as a bonus for signing up with them. Getting a card only to get the miles is a bad idea, but if you plan to get one anyway, it is best to choose one that rewards you even before you book a trip.
Beyond sign-on bonuses, earning and redeeming frequent flyer miles becomes a game of numbers. Each program is designed so the company pays out as little as possible while keeping the customer happy. Making an initial investment may pay off in the long run – frequent flyer programs are tier-based and buying a more expensive one allows you both larger rewards and greater choice of the time of year you can redeem. Check what your travel plans are likely to be in the future and choose a rewards system that matches your requirements most closely.
A trick that even experienced travelers miss out on is the power of the Alliance. Reward programs are offered by coalitions of airlines, and there may be quite a disparity between the cost of traveling on members of the same alliance. However, traveling on the smaller ones will earn you the same number of miles (based on distance) on the same route at a lower ticket cost. The good news: once it’s in your kitty, a mile earned may be earned on flights on the more expensive airlines exactly the same way.
Most frequent flier programs include an option to buy extra miles. Depending on how you manage this, it might be one of the most attractive options included. There is no point on missing out on a free trip to a destination of your choice because you are just short of the required miles; if spending a fraction of the cost gets you the same flight, why not? Remember, you will earn the miles right back on the trip.
The world of frequent flier miles is in constant flux, with alliances being made and airlines changing their individual rules. Research is invaluable, and the happiest business frequent fliers are the ones that approach the entire affair in a considered manner, just like they would any other business deal.