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Are Customer-Loyalty Programs Worth It?

by Sandra Scott

When I started travelling several decades ago, I thought that customer-loyalty programs were too much trouble, or that I’d never use one. With my first European trip, I flew Lufthansa and didn’t bother joining their loyalty program, thinking I’d never get a chance to fly them again. Wonder of wonders, I was booked on Lufthansa a year later and I did sign up. And I signed up my son who was nine. Lufthansa sent him a birthday gift every year until he was a teenager.

Turns out customer loyalty programs can pay off in many ways. And today, with so many airlines sharing the same program, joining one allows passengers to accumulate miles in one program from several partner airlines.

Recently, I had miles on American Airlines that were going to run out. I did not have enough money for a ticket, so I used them, along with my husband’s, to book eight free nights in a charming riverside hotel, Baan NaPing Village Resort, in Chiang Mai, Thailand. And, this year I used my United Airline miles to fly free on Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Seoul.

I also recommend credit cards that accumulate miles with an airline. One of my credit cards is associated with United Airlines. It costs $60 a year, but this year alone I received two vouchers for $100 each, which we used to reduce the cost of our air ticket—plus we got two free one-time passes to United’s VIP club. There are also other benefits. Miles can be used to shop at various places online or donated to a worthy cause. I’ve read that millions and millions of miles go unused every year.

My second credit card is associated with Priority Club, which accumulates miles with the InterContinental family of hotels. I have used these points many times, including to stay at their high-end hotels. Not a bad deal. Priority Club members get a welcome package (water and a snack or two) and an upgrade, if available.

I also belong to a slew of other hotel programs. Sometimes, such as with Omni and Lowes Hotels, it means I get free internet or some other benefit. Recently, a small box of chocolates was delivered to my room at Traders Hotel Yangon as a thank-you for being a member of their program.

It pays to be “loyal” and, due to the internet, signing up and receiving points for usage is fast, easy and almost always accurate. Tip: Pick the credit card and loyalty program that includes the greatest number of partner airlines or hotels.

Just be aware that hotels and airlines are not going to offer freebies even to loyal customers if it is their busy season and they expect to be fully booked. To avoid disappointment, plan ahead—way ahead—and be flexible.

 

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