Loyalty Programmes are changing all the time, and I’m certainly still learning from them and always trying to get the most and best out of them. Here’s my rundown of mistakes I’ve made, or heard of so you can avoid doing the same. Also let me know what yours are, I’m interested to know!
(1) Not signing up for the loyalty programme in the first place!
I did complete stays at hotels without even signing up to their programme or even collect the points via an airline scheme. Many of the hotel and or airline loyalty programmes will often offer benefits to those who have just signed up to the programme, so you even gain straight away. Airlines for example will prioritize members over non-members when it comes to operational upgrades. You have to remember that when you pay for a flight or a stay the airline/hotel has already calculated that it is expecting to hand out loyalty points.
(2) Using those points foolishly
When I originally signed up for frequent flyer programmes I think that I assumed that everything would be paid for and that it would better value to use points instead of paying cash – In reality most airlines still ask you to pay for taxes/fees etc. So you need to calculate how much you are getting back for the points you are using. For example if you use Avios (British Airways Exec Club Points) for a return to London for Singapore it would cost you 70,000 Avios and Taxes/Fees etc of £396.95, the cash price was £705 – this equates to a value of £4.41 per 1000 avios. For a business return the same would be 140000 Avios and £579.65 in taxes, whereas the purchase price was £3587.55 so the value would be £21.49 per 1000 Avios. Generally the more expensive the price of the ticket the better the value of the points – as what you pay in points is fixed. For hotels its different and it varies from programme to programme, have a look into the programme and where the best deals are.
(3) Collecting them thoughtlessly
When I started to travel for work a few years ago I tended to put my points for staying at a hotel to my airline programme, which gave me literally just 500 points, worth just a few quid. For a redemption at the Doubletree by Hitlon you pay 10000 Hilton Honors points, the usual cost would be around £80 for a standard room. This equates to a value of £8 per 1000 Hilton Honors points, using that as a base we can see the benefit of collecting Hilton Honors points rather than collecting Avios. On a stay costing £80 per night you would receive 128 Avios (1 per $US dollar spent so x1.6) – this can be worth £2.75 (using the £21.49 value used in the example above). For Hilton Honors 1 night would receive 1,920 which is worth £15.36. This number then increases significantly if you are gold and combine with any deals/offers, and avoids the hassle of having to find redemption flights or have large balances of points. It is worth saying that these numbers can change depending on what offers are around at the time e.g. Hilton is offering a bonus for its points and miles conversion with BA at the time of writing, see below for the next tip!
(4) Opting out of the marketing
Many of the programmes have targeted offers that only go through their marketing channels. You’ll need to sign-up to these in order to get access to them, so don’t opt out of the marketing material as you could be losing out. That’s what I did recently with my American Express card where there was a recent bonus for transferring points to BA and Club Carlson but was offered as a link only through one of these emails – I have since signed up. Of course it’ll nicely clog up your inbox.
(5) Not actively managing my account
Some of the hotel loyalty programmes let you change or edit your benefits that you receive. For example with Hilton Honors I will opt to have breakfast included as a hotel benefit when I stay with them for leisure travel. When I travel for work I will opt out of this and receive the 1000 points as breakfast will already be quoted in the price being paid. Similarly you must ensure that your hard earned points actually appear on your account and fight for them if not, at the time of writing this I’ve been having an issue with my Avios points not appearing for a Malaysian flight I took a couple of months ago.
(6) Unfamiliarity with the programme
It’s important to get familiar with the programme that you are a member of even if you are at the most basic level, as this will often offer something that non-members don’t receive. Last year I was focused on getting my Silver BA Exec club status, but hadn’t really looked too much into what my Bronze membership offered (their 2nd tier above Blue). I was standing in the economy queue my flight to Sydney last year with my bags (BA Bronze tag attached), and one of the business check-in staff came over and said “you can check in here sir”. I was confused and surprised but happy to be out of the long queue, at this point the check-in staff said “you’re BA Bronze you are entitled to use the business class check-in”. By this point I had been BA Bronze for over a year and hadn’t realized at all, and although not a massive benefit it certainly could have saved me a lot of time!
(7) Not using those small amounts or orphan miles
The airlines, hotels and other loyalty programme firms love those people who don’t use their expiring miles! It gets the bad debt off their books and they don’t have to worry about them anymore. It’s always worth getting something out of them even if it’s only a little. I’ve managed to use up small amounts with Miles and More (Lufthansa) through a Hilton hotel booking (just 10,000 points), as well as use PointsPay (check out the post) to use up some lonely Eithad Guest points.