Most airlines, hotel chains and rental car agencies have programs that reward frequent travelers for their loyalty. Each program is structured differently and it takes quite a bit of work to determine which programs will best reward your travel. I won’t spend time reviewing rewards programs on this website as there are plenty of blogs dedicated to analyzing that aspect of the travel industry.
For all travelers, especially those on a budget, membership brings perks that should not be passed on. The more you travel, the more perks you’ll be given access to. I’ll tell you a little bit about my strategy for playing the game of rewards programs.
I should note a few things first. None of the travel providers whose programs are listed here have paid me to include them. I do not receive any special perks or consideration in their programs due to my disability or for running this website.
I travel a lot. Keep that in mind, as some of the perks I receive and have written at below are reserved only for the most loyal travelers who have reached top tier status in the rewards programs.
I probably have any unhealthy (at times) loyalty to Delta Air Lines. They are the first airline I used as a kid and the one that I best remember from my early years of flying. They have flown me all across the country and the globe. In 2014, my first year back in the air following my car accident, I flew them almost exclusively, about 80% of the time. Due to my extensive travel with Delta, I am a member of their highest elite member tier, Diamond Medallion. I won’t detail all of the perks of that tier here (perhaps later, spread across my future trip reports on this blog), but I will talk about the value of joining the rewards program, Skymiles, as a standard member.
Some airlines, such as American Airlines, allow flyers to earn “miles” for each mile flown with them. Delta and United have recently moved to a revenue based earning structure, where general members earn 5 miles per dollar spent on airfare. For as little as 10,000 miles, travelers can book a free one-way ticket for travel within the United States. It is up to you to decide which model is best for you when you select an airline. If you plan to travel only occasionally, it may make more sense to choose the lowest fare from any airline rather than remaining loyal to a single carrier.
Here my loyalty is more diverse. I am a top tier Platinum Elite in Marriott Rewards, a second tier Platinum in Hyatt Gold Passport and a second tier Gold with Club Carlson Rewards. I also have accounts with Starwood Preferred Guest, Hilton Honors and Wyndham Rewards.
The greatest benefit of many hotel rewards programs is that even general members (including those who have never spent a night before) receive complimentary in-room Wi-Fi access. This access often costs $10 to $15 per night, an expense that is easy to avoid just by joining the rewards program. Points add up over time and after just a few stays or nights, you could have enough rewards currency for a free hotel night.
Among my redemptions in the past year have two nights in Boston and three nights in Bucharest, Romania. Earlier this week, I used points to pay for an upcoming one week stay in Beijing, China. Points can go a long way in helping to affordably open your world! They are also a great way to stay for free at expensive hotels you might otherwise miss out on. Signing up is free – do it!
Is loyalty worth it?
In our everyday lives, we are loyal to businesses and products because we become familiar with them, prefer them or have some other attachment that makes us return. This is true of consumers in the travel industry as well. Perhaps even more so for travelers with disabilities.
Had a good experience on Southwest Airlines? Perhaps that is enough to make you pay $10 more to use them for your next trip.
Do you like the roll-in shower design at the Hilton? Prefer the shampoo at the Westin? Perhaps those comforts will make you want to return.
Loyalty programs add an additional dimension to the selection of an airline, hotel or rental car agency. Perhaps you only need 1,000 miles for a free flight to Paris on American Airlines, but their ticket for your upcoming trip to New York will cost $50 more than the cheaper alternative. That is a decision you will have to weigh. American hopes you’ll choose them. This is the purpose of rewards programs, to incentivize your loyalty.
For the very frequent travelers who can achieve elite status, loyalty is a no brainer. My loyalty to Delta gets me free checked bags, lounge access and plentiful upgrades to First Class. At the hotels I hold status with, I receive late checkout, free breakfast and the occasional suite upgrade.
The question you have to ask yourself is whether it makes sense to be loyal. Only you can determine the answer to that question. Free travel does sound good, though!