More people are travelling or making plans to travel at the moment. The year-end rush means travel service providers, such as hotels and airlines, are charging a pretty penny. And this might cause some people to stay home, or trade downwards in terms of their preference of travel providers.
But worry not, for loyalty programmes can help you.
If you travel a few times a year, it is quite possible that you would have read about an airline’s loyalty programme. Or, turned on the television in your hotel room and saw an ad, requesting you to sign up for the property’s loyalty programme. I have signed up for quite a few over the past 15 years, and I can tell you that these have been helpful in allowing me to travel without burning a hole in my pocket.
What exactly is a loyalty programme? A loyalty programme focusses on repeat business, and even if you are not the road warrior, you could still be benefiting from these marketing innovations that continue to stay contextual 40 years after the first programme took off.
Simply speaking, an airline loyalty programme, such as Emirates Skywards or Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, will grant you “miles” each time you fly with the airline or other partner airlines and put your frequent flyer number during check-in. Accumulate these miles to a sizeable number, and you can use them for free airline tickets, or upgrades on the airline when you have paid for tickets in cash. Along the way, if you do a lot of business with the airline, you will also get benefits such as extra baggage allowance, lounge access and upgrades.
Similarly, a hotel loyalty programme will give you points for your stays at the hotels of the chain. You can redeem these points later for future free stays. What’s more, as a frequent traveller, once you start doing a lot of business with the same hotel chain, you will also be treated to perks such as upgrades to the suites for free, or free breakfast for two and access to the club lounge.
Loyalty is an ignored aspect for most travellers in India, but it truly is time and money saving. For example, you can travel between India and Europe on a business-class ticket (worth ₹2.5 lakh), free of cost. Or, stay at a hotel worth $1,500 a night, by redeeming your hotel points. Most travellers ignore it because they think they cannot get enough points to get that free travel. Reality is, they can accumulate these points pretty quickly.
Some of the biggest hotel chains around the globe have loyalty programmes that can be used in India as well. The only catch is, unlike airlines, hotel chains insist that you book a room directly with them, and not via a travel agent or an OTA (online travel agency) like Booking.com or MakeMyTrip.
Making a quick pile of points
Major banks in India have partnered with organisations that offer loyalty programmes, enabling their members to transfer points to such offerings. This means the points that you can use for 20 paise in cash, can now be used for building a piggy bank of points, allowing you to travel in luxury for your next trip.
For example, you can use Citibank Prestige or PremierMiles, most cards from Axis Bank Credit Cards and American Express, to transfer points to prominent loyalty programmes across the globe. From Citi, you can transfer points to Air France, Qatar Airways, Etihad, InterContinental Hotels among 14 airlines and hotel chains, and American Express has an assortment of eight partners that include Emirates and Marriott Bonvoy.
Another way to generate loyalty points through your daily spending is to sign up for a co-branded credit card. At present, Air India, IndiGo, Vistara, SpiceJet and Emirates offer co-branded cards in India. These co-brand cards do not offer the option to transfer points to various loyalty programmes, but rather transfer points earned to just one airline at the end of the month.
A last but quick way to generate loyalty programme points is to buy them. Loyalty programmes frequently run sales, and buying points there may make sense for any upcoming travel. Often, buying points could drop the cash cost of your trip by half. You should, however, do the comparison before coming to any conclusion.
There is a tonne of value to be extracted from loyalty programmes, but you need to delve deep and understand the value proposition offered to make the best choices. And these would depend on your travel habits.
Another thing to remember is that there is no fixed value of the points such as ₹1, so you need to wrap your head around how many points will get you travel worth what amount. Once you have worked through these initial explorations, get set for low-cost travel across the globe.
Business of Travel is a column for travellers by a frequent traveller. Expect to read all things aeroplanes, hotels and loyalty here.
Ajay Awtaney is the founder and editor of LiveFromALounge.com, an India-focussed frequent-travel website.