Loyalty programs are taking a hit. What you should do to take advantage of the deals.
Perhaps it was just a year ago – you leaned back, let your legs relax into the chair’s support, and closed your eyes, ignoring the small bit of turbulence while you sank into your bubble of luxury.
This year, you’re not flying first class quite so often, if at all. According to a recent survey by Colloquy, a research firm, membership and participation in high-end loyalty programs are down 28 and 31 percent, respectively. Translation: executives and business owners are consolidating their trips, or simply cutting back altogether.
Noticing the changes in program participation themselves, airlines have begun rolling out new terms in recent weeks, including:
· United Airlines: Dropped change fee for frequent fliers.
· Delta: Eased restrictions on rolling over miles and making members eligible for elite SkyMiles status.
· JetBlue: Started rewarding points-per-dollar instead of by route.
But not everyone is impressed. Business travel expert Joe Brancatelli recently wrote in his blog:
To be brutally honest, frequent flyer programs are boring now. And even when the frequent flyer program news is good, as it is this week, you're always looking for the next rug that the airlines are planning to pull out from under you. They've broken faith with us so often that we know every apologetic gesture they make today will be followed by a money-grubbing asininity tomorrow. So there's no reason to believe this week's changes at United Mileage Plus, Delta SkyMiles and US Airways Dividend Miles will be permanently positive.
Regardless of these changes, it’s likely travel is already a much smaller line on your budget spreadsheet. But you or your business or employees are still likely to be a member of at least 12 programs, according to Points.com. You can further leverage loyalty programs to your benefit, especially now, when they’re in retreat. Consider these strategies:
· Location, location, location. Where do you fly most for business? If you find you’re making regular bicoastal jaunts, you’re best off consolidating your miles with an airline like United, for example, or JetBlue, both of which do a lot of east coast-west coast business. Unlike, say, Delta-Northwest, which cover other parts of the country better. Know your route and pick your program accordingly.
· Buy if you don’t fly. Most airlines allow you to pay cash (or credit, through the affiliated credit card) for additional miles. If you’re short a trip, consider spending a few hundred dollars or so to kick you into elite status.
· Redeem, barter or swap. Thanks to the versatility of points, there’s no longer no such thing as an unused mile. If you have remnant points, redeem or swap them on an exchange for other points, or for other items your business may need (like office supplies) – if you don’t, you’re leaving (much needed) money on the table.
Travel remains a necessary evil for many businesses, even as 70 percent of those surveyed by Administaff said they would cut costs by cutting travel. Thankfully, there are still ways to keep them down on your balance sheet without cutting back on doing business that helps companies grow.