Loyalty Pays

benefits of travel loyalty programsMake Yourself Known We live in a culture that tends to choose price over loyalty.  But, affinity pays and can often provide significant value in relationship with a travel-related company. Spread yourself---or your stays and/or flights---too thin and you'll have zero relationship with any company making you virtually anonymous. Who wants that? Loyalty makes you known.

Price-Chasing within Reason One big reason travellers (including myself at times) veer away from a reciprocal relationship with a travel provider is price and/or experience related. Juggling price versus loyalty between airline networks or hotels is a balancing act, but the payout is worth it. For example, later this year I'd like to go to Australia. I really want to fly VAustralia to get to and from Down Under, but I'm going give up that dream for practical, loyalty influenced reasons. I'll likely fly with Air Canada a) because its price is comparable (within 10%) to VAustralia's, b) it's a direct flight, and c) the total trip is worth 14,000 miles---which is just 10,000 miles short of a free domestic flight---too bad the political Turks and Caicos/Canada partnership hasn't gone through yet! Travel Tip: if you are a price-chaser who wants to become more loyal, choose the travel provider which offers you the best rewards, then always seek it as an option first. If your stealthy DIY travel skills find you a price outside of your flight or airline loyalty, use the 10% rule. If it's only 10% more to fly or stay within your loyalty program, then take the hit, but if the percentage differential is larger, you may end up going for price.

Choosing Loyalty Because of flight and hotel price wars, nowadays, choosing loyalty over price can be a sacrifice.  Given that traveling for pleasure is price-sensitive and discretionary, most companies understand and appreciate your attention. A few years ago I abandoned my price-chasing tendencies and started narrowing my focus, choosing a primary airline and hotel group to invest my time and money while on the road. I chose the Star Alliance flight network because Air Canada is a force to be reckoned with at my home airport, and they have multiple partners worldwide. My hotel choice is Fairmont because of their benefits, locations and service. Narrowing my focus and thoughtfully balancing price and loyalty was a bit painful at first, but I quickly learned the benefits of choosing loyalty outweigh the drawbacks. Travel Tip: airlines and hotels know loyalty is discretionary, as such, they reward enthusiasts with savings, gifts, upgrades and other freebies.

Loyalty Pays Based on only a few years of investing in one flight alliance and one hotel group, I've already reaped the benefits. Earlier this summer I travelled across Canada using air miles accumulated from flying Air Canada and its partners---a ticket that would have cost me about $1000 to book. With Fairmont, because I've accumulated enough stays to reach the second of three tiers, I enjoy free gym access, free internet, free addidas workout clothing, dining and spa vouchers and upgrades. On top of this, half the time I get upgraded without even using a certificate or inquiring about the possibility.

When your Loyalty Goes Unnoticed Sometimes you need to remind companies about your allegiance. Recently I stayed at 4 different Fairmont properties during my get to know Canada better trip. Due to these and other stays in 2010, when I'm not automatically upgraded at check-in, I inquire about the possibility---and I'm not shy to do so because of the concerted effort I make to stay at these luxury hotels. If all else fails, here are some best practices for contacting travel companies with your woes.

Don't forget, when it comes to travel: value comes in the form of loyalty.  Loyalty = savings, preferences, extras and puts a face to a name.