What Would You Do With One Million Loyalty Points?

Loyalty
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That’s the question 10 lucky winners will need to decide in Best Western International’s Loyalty Millionaires promotion, a part of their 25th anniversary celebration. Two randomly selected winners will be chosen each week through July 14, each winning one million bonus points to redeem in any way they like, and not just on hotel rooms either.

“Whether it’s a trip with the family or that special something you’ve been saving for, we hope our 10 lucky loyalty millionaires get their summer off to a great start,” said Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Best Western International in a Broadway World article.
With more than 60 redemption options starting at 8,000 points, including free hotel nights, retail gift cards like Starbucks, Target, Home Depot and Amazon, BWR members have countless options to redeem their rewards points. One BWR member recently redeemed their points for retail partner gift cards and used them to buy a tractor.
Redemption options include free hotel nights as well as retail gift cards like Apple, Barnes and Noble, Starbucks, Walmart, Target, Home Depot and Busch Gardens.

But what, exactly, might one million Best Western points get you? We did some calculations for a variety of stuff Gadling readers might want to have or do.For starters, a million points will get you about four months in a Best Western Hotel. But it will also enable buying 200,000 air miles on American, Delta, US Airways or Alaska Airlines. You could also get $3,846 in gift cards from Starbucks, Disney, Outback Restaurants or Dunkin Donuts. Want to spend those million points on gear? You could walk away with a Canon PowerShot A2600, some Beats by Dre Studio High-Definition Headphones, a Samsung 8GB Galaxy 2 Tablet 7″ Screen and tickets to see 400 movies at an AMC Theater with some change leftover.

Read more about Best Western Re
To enter, sign up for the free Best Western Loyalty program then register on the Loyalty Millionaire tab on their Facebook page.

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Best Strategies for Hotel and Airline Loyalty Programs

LoyaltyWorking loyalty programs for airlines, cruise lines, hotels or rental car agencies can be tricky business. Core benefits of one program are often overshadowed by promotional offers from another. Navigating our way around them in an organized manner to get the most benefit, then keeping track of what we earn can take a lot of time that few are willing to invest. Those who do not travel all that much often find themselves belonging to a bunch of programs with little value racked up on any of them. Still, the benefits of being a member can be worth our time, even for an occasional traveler, armed with the right strategy.

“To make sure you get more benefits, either in free flights or elite traveler perks, consolidate your miles into as few airlines as possible,” recommends iFly. “The more miles that you can build on one card, by using that airline or its partners, the faster you get your rewards.”

That strategy works for hotel chains as well and focusing on programs that offer more can help. Third-party web sites like FindTheBest rank airlines, hotels and others for us, consolidating benefits, perk thresholds and more to easily see which programs are a good fit for an individual’s travel profile.

“At FindTheBest, we present you with the facts – stripped of any marketing influence – so that you can make quick and informed decisions. We present the facts in easy-to-use tables with smart filters, so that you can decide what is best,”says FindTheBest on its web site.

Once points start coming in, another helpful website, AwardWallet, can make keeping track of them easy. AwardWallet is a free service that helps us manage reward balances, supporting over 400 loyalty programs. AwardWallet is also used by businesses to manage their corporate reward balances.

Loyalty pays off, but as new offers come along, getting in on them can be to our advantage as well. Another site, BoardingArea, features the latest offers for airlines, hotels and more.

Occasional travelers can also benefit from being a part of a loyalty program at work. Hotels are going after businesses with bonus programs that give top-tier benefits, normally reserved for heavy users to occasional travelers signed on under the company program.

Best Western, for example, has a new Business Advantage program where members get an across-the-board 10 percent discount off the hotel’s lowest rate, automatic elite-level membership benefits and a 10 percent bonus of all the points earned. When these programs initially roll out, expect extra value too.

A special bonus offer through April 8 gives Best Western Business Advantage participants who stay with the chain just one night during its Spring Promotion a free membership to Trip It Pro (normally $49), a personal program that helps business travelers keep track of their trips and their rewards.

Frequent traveler programs are a hot topic and relationships with hotel loyalty programs run deep, often causing members to lie, cheat or pose as someone else to get ahead said a survey Gadling reported on earlier this month.

In a survey by Starwood Preferred Guest respondents said they would try subterfuge to get upgrades and were not above telling little white lies to get a better hotel room or a hotel/airline travel upgrade,” Starwood said in TravelAgent. Nearly half of respondents claimed they would pretend it was their honeymoon to get an upgrade. 25 percent would pretend they had a family emergency and 20 percent would pretend to be someone important.

All they really had to do was have a strategy for their loyalty program participation that included joining the right program, keeping track of awards and taking advantage of other offers that may come along.



How to Get Travel Perks with Loyalty Club Membership

Flickr photo by Larry Johnson

Gadling’s 2011 NYC summit / NoFF happy hour recap

One week ago, the nefarious crew here at Gadling assembled from all parts of the globe to gather in the Big Apple for our annual team summit. Led by Gadling’s steadfast Editor-in-Chief & tequila pusher, Mr. Grant Martin, the team took to the bustling streets of NYC for a weekend of strategizing, socializing, pool sharking, and vital face time.

The highlights of the weekend (from what we can remember) included a travel/tech panel organized & curated by Gadling’s own Jeremy Kressmann; where Drew Patterson (CEO of Jetsetter), Geoff Lewis (CEO of Topguest) and Grant Martin discussed the present and future of social media’s impact on loyalty programs.


On Saturday evening, we had the pleasure of teaming up once again with the boys at the Nomading Film Festival to wrangle some of the top NYC-based talent in the travel industry for our second happy hour of 2011. Hosted at the Lolita Bar in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, we convened over a special pouring

of 17 Year Old Fine Oak & 18 Year Old Sherry Oak Single Malts from the Macallan. A sensible amount of scotch & tequila was consumed, new friends were made, old friends reunited, and when the fine folks at Mastercard & Travelocity started feeling generous, coveted gifts (and gnomes) were raffled.

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We couldn’t have asked for a better group to share the celebrations with; thank you to all that were able to make it. If you missed us this time around, then scroll through the gallery above to see the photos that we were allowed to publish. If you want the uncensored version, you’ll just have to join us next time!

Five business travel challenges for small companies to overcome

business travelRegardless of economic conditions, owning and running a small business isn’t easy. It’s always tough to find clients, allocate your funds effectively and maximize your bang for the buck. And, business travel is a big part of this. When you go out on the road, you know you’re committing some serious cash to the endeavor, and you want to make sure you get as much value out of it as possible.

Part of this has nothing to do with what you’re spending: you want to make sure the reasons for your business trip are smart. But, you also need to keep an eye on the expense side of this to ensure you aren’t spending unnecessarily. Business planning covers the first aspect of this, and travel planning addresses the second.

So, how can white collar travel folks spend more intelligently on business travel? Here are five ideas:

1. Forget brand: are you loyal to a particular airline? Cut those ties. Sure, you’re thinking that accumulating miles can get you free business travel later … and there is some truth to that. However, you could be spending more than the price of a ticket when working toward that benefit. Also, there may be constraints on when you can take free travel.
2. Stay a little loyal, though: even if you aren’t buying on loyalty, you should still enroll in the loyalty programs for every airline, rental car company and hotel you use. It may take longer to accumulate benefits when you spread your purchases around, but the free perks you receive won’t come at the (literal) expense of your travel budget.

3. Shop around a bit: time is money, and the hours you spend looking for a flight are hours you could sink into other business activities. So, look at your effective rate per hour (i.e., how much your time is worth). Let’s say, for example, that an hour of your time is worth $100. If you could spend an hour to save $250 on a flight, that’s a good return – swallow the pill and do some comparison shopping for airfare and room rates.

4. Look at alternatives to airline loyalty: some online travel agencies have loyalty programs. Remember to join them, as you can accumulate benefits with them as well as with the airlines. As with airline choices, though, don’t choose a particular booking site just to accumulate points. Cash comes first!

5. Play the credit card game: use a branded credit card to make your travel arrangements. Choose one for the airline you use most. So, if you have a Delta card and wind up flying American Airlines every now and then to save money, you’ll still accumulate some benefits with Delta. Just don’t forget to pay the card off at the end of the month!

[photo by codepo8 via Flickr]

Hoteliers sue Choice and Wyndham over hotel loyalty programs

hotel loyalty programsAre hotel companies illegally taking loyalty fees from hotels, where guests who don’t know they’ve been enrolled in a hotel’s loyalty program are staying? That’s the question under discussion after franchisees filed class-action lawsuits against two major hotel brands.

The suits, filed in U.S. District Court in Orlando last month, allege that Wyndham Worldwide Inc. and Choice Hotels International Inc. have “inflated the ranks of their loyalty programs and are collecting fees from hotels when those guests stay at franchise properties,” according to a story in the Orlando Sentinel. The story goes on to say lawyers for the hoteliers have asked for more than $260 million in damages from Wyndham, and more than $225 million from Choice.

Here’s the issue:Franchisees say the hotel companies are ‘auto-enrolling’ guests who book online into hotel loyalty programs, unless the guest opts out at the time of booking. Then, the hotel is matching personal data (emails addresses, home addresses, etc.) to the guest to reward points (not hotel membership numbers), which franchisees say results in hotels collecting program fees of up to 5 percent of gross room sales generated by guests “who may or may not have stayed at their property because of the loyalty program, and who may not have known they were entitled to benefits.”

“The real purpose of a rewards program is that you build customer loyalty,” David Wood, an attorney for the franchisees, told the Sentinel. “In that event, the hotel franchisee would benefit. But under proactive matching, that doesn’t happen.”

Wood also goes on to say that charging the extra fee for the loyalty programs is against the franchise contracts of both companies and is a violation of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

Readers: What do you think? If it costs you nothing, do you care if the hotel auto-enrolls you into their loyalty program?