How I manage my air miles, my hotel points and manage to get free air tickets is a question I get asked a lot. You honestly don’t need to read a 200 page book to understand how to maximise travel return on expenses, and lord knows, people are writing a lot of books on it out there. All you need is some tips and some practice. After that, you continue learning through experience. Have a little patience though. It may seem overwhelming when you read all these tips at first, but once you’re through it all, remember to take a deep breath and just get the basics right. Trust me, it ain’t hard.
Get on that frequent flyer program
This really ought to be a no brainer, but I have no idea why people are not more excited about getting on to the frequent flyer program, especially because it’s free! I know a lot of colleagues who travel a lot, but won’t get a frequent flyer number.
All major airlines have frequent flyer programs. All airlines that have a frequent flyer program also have a tie up with other international frequent flyer programs. Chances are, you will make miles on at least one frequent flyer program that you’re enrolled on, no matter what airline you fly internationally. This also gives you the option to redeem miles against partner airlines. So don’t think you’re getting tied down to one airline alone.
While booking an international flight, always find out what other airlines the international airline partners with in your country. Ensure you get the miles credited to the frequent flyer program that you use the most.
Choose the right credit card
Normally, people just choose credit cards for what it is. A credit card! It really is a lot more than that, but no one seems to pay attention to the benefits that come with. Pick a credit card that will really work for you.
Almost all major airlines have tie ups with at least one credit card. Pick 2 airlines in your country that have the best connectivity, even better if it flies international, and get the credit card that gives you the maximum conversion rate of amount spent into miles for that airline. Some credit cards also offer travel insurance for lost luggage, delayed flights, cancelled trips etc. Most credit cards will also give you between 10,000 to 20,000 bonus miles simply for joining. You will get additional airline perks like ability to use the lounge, carry excess baggage and skip the check in queue, just because you have a co-branded credit card.
Once you’ve done that, use your credit card for everything! Buying coffee, paying your utility bills, taxi expenses, everything imaginable that can be spent on a credit card. If you have large office expenses and your office reimburses you for travel expense, even better. Use your card for yourself, your colleagues, whoever! Stop using the office travel agent! If you’re getting reimbursed, you’re getting free miles. I’ve been doing this for years!
A lot of people tell me that the annual charges kill the benefit of the credit card. That’s far from the truth. If you’re paying an annual charge on your credit card, well you’re not spending enough on it. Once the annual charge shows up on my credit card, I call the credit card company and ask for the card to be cancelled. If you spend enough on your card, they will reverse your annual charges back to the card, as soon as you threaten to cancel, so really, you’re earning all the benefits for free.
Exciting as it may sound though, make sure you spend only as much as you can pay off without exceeding the credit card payment due date. Financing charges on credit cards are high. Never leave your credit card bill due beyond the due date!
I religiously follow the above, and I never ever pay for my personal travel in India. I always have enough miles for myself and my family. Plan well in advance and you will always get free tickets.
If you’re looking at options, here are my favourite credit cards:
– The Amex Jet Card for Jet Airways
– The HDFC World Card for Jet Airways
– The SBI Platinum Card for Air India
– There is also a Citibank Premier Miles Card which allows you to redeem miles against all airlines, but I recently gave this up because the conversion ratio just varied too greatly for different airlines. It wasn’t worth it.
A lot of people like to have credit cards that have the option to convert to air miles or redeem points for shopping offers or redeem points for hotel stays or just offer discounts on certain travel aggregators. While this is a possibility, remember that the conversion ratio for points to miles on such cards will not be as high as cards that convert points exclusively to miles.
Don’t be afraid to cancel credit cards and change to different ones based on your needs. This doesn’t mean that you should cancel and sign up for new cards every month. This will only affect your credit score. Once you have a card, stick with it for a couple of years.
Figure out the shopping tie ups
Some frequent flyer programs have tie ups with e-commerce sites and even departmental stores. All you have to do is use the shopping portal created by that airline, and feed in your frequent flyer number before you shop. I recently discovered that Amazon, Myntra and Big Basket, all have a tie up with Jet Privilege. The conversion rate is anywhere between 10 to 16 miles for every 100 Rupees spent! That’s massive! Just go to shop.jetprivelege.com, punch in the frequent flyer number and head over to the online store you want to shop with.
Now, imagine the number of miles I’d end up losing if I didn’t put in the frequent flyer details while shopping at any of the above. Crazy right? Oh and if you use one of your frequent flyer credit cards, you will earn miles for the swipe as well. That’s multiple miles for the same amount of money spent. Be smart!
Get on to the hotel rewards programs
This one is really simple. There should be at least one or two hotel chains that are present globally on your list. Enrol for their membership and every time you travel, stay at a participating hotel of one of the two. You earn points for every night you spend. Soon, you’ll be able to redeem those points for free nights. Don’t let your travel agent pay for your hotels in advance. Pay for them yourself to earn both miles for the swipe and the stay points on the hotel booking.
Make sure to join a rewards program that has a lot of participating hotels. It doesn’t make sense to join a rewards program that has hotels only in your country or where the number of properties are too few.
I love the Marriott rewards and the IHG membership. Marriott rewards includes several top brands such as Mariott hotels, Sheraton, Le Meridien, Four Points, St. Regis, Westin and the Ritz Carlton. IHG includes the Regent, InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, and Holiday Inn.
Some countries also have credit cards that have a tie up with the hotel rewards points program. Sadly, I’m unaware of any credit card that is co-branded with a hotel rewards program in India.
Remember, everything that applies to an airline frequent flyer program, also applies to a hotel rewards program. Keep abreast with the list of partners and inter transferability between miles and hotel points. If you don’t want to use air miles to fly, well, use them to get the free nights!
Be aware of the possibility of bonus miles
Airlines will have various options through which you can earn bonus miles. For instance, making flight bookings from their website will give you more miles than if you booked through a travel website. Some others offer bonus miles for a web check in or a tele check in. They may be small bonuses of 250 bonus miles but over the years, they all add up. Each mile counts.
Airlines will also have tie ups for renting cars or tie ups with hotel aggregators. Use them! For instance, Jet Airways has a tie up with Agoda and with booking.com. Book with them and earn air miles. Jet Airways also has a tie up with Avis, rent cars from there. If you’re using Hertz, they have a tie up with Mariott rewards. See? If you’re not earning miles, you’re earning free nights. If you’re going to spend the money, you may as well earn off it.
Use a combination of earned miles and purchased miles
You always have the option to buy miles for airlines or buy points for free nights. Now this may not always be a good idea, but make sure you have your calculation right. If a flight is really really expensive, it’s quite possible that it would be cheaper if you redeemed miles. If you don’t have enough miles to make the flight, well, just buy the number of miles that you’re short on.
In conclusion, it’s really not that difficult to travel and travel for free. You just need to be aware of the perks you’re missing out on. If you’re not doing the above, you’re missing out. Start getting those expenses to work for you.
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