In other words, how to travel like your boss when you're just starting out...
Sometimes, airline and hotel points systems can feel like a game you never got the rule book for—and you’re not the only one who’s confused. For millennial business travelers and frequent fliers, hitting the mark to get upgrades, perks, and free checked bags like your more established colleagues can seem like a pipe dream when you’re starting with balance of zero. But with nearly 70 percent of all business travelers, including millennials, booking their own flights and hotels, according to a MMGY Global report, you do have the ability to make elite status a reality.
In fact, when Condé Nast Traveler sat down with points guru and travel specialist Gary Leff, we found out that all it really takes is showing (and signing) up. Even if you don't travel 25,000 miles for work (the industry standard for the lowest status rung), you can be on your way to premium lounge access and priority boarding in no time by following these four tips.
Know what you want.
"Understand what your reward goals are," says Leff. "If really all you want is domestic coach trip to Florida—over traveling the world in a premium cabin—then you're looking at a different loyalty program. Southwest is great but won't get you a business class trip to Europe." If you are looking to "earn and burn" miles, airline rewards programs aren't the way to go. Instead, sign up for a credit card that earns miles on a variety of airlines, like a Chase Ultimate Rewards-linked card, including the Sapphire Preferred or Freedom Unlimited card, or the Citi ThankYou Preferred card. "Pay attention to all the ways everything you do on a day-to-day basis can earn points, on purchases you’d make anyway," says Leff. "A majority of points are earned for things other than flying."
Just sign up.
"The biggest mistake anyone makes is simply not collecting the points," Leff says. Even if you only plan to fly an airline once, sign up for its rewards program, especially on carriers like Delta and JetBlue where points never expire. Leff suggests logging all your points and loyalty accounts on a mobile app like AwardWallet, which keeps all your points balances in one place. "I think a lot of millennials don't have the belief that the payoff [in airline rewards programs] will be there for them. Airline brands aren’t particularly known for being honest or trustworthy, but frequent flier programs require the belief that, if you take certain steps now, there will be benefits later," Leff says. "It really is worth playing the game."
According to a Boston Consulting Group study, millennials spend 13 percent more on airline tickets than non-millennial business travelers.
Want status? Stay loyal.
If you're looking for elite status, and the chance to be the first on the totem pole for accommodations should your travel plans go south, stick to the loyalty route. Try to fly one or two airlines—likely one that has a hub near you or the nearest major city to you—and stick with it. "An infrequent flyer immediately has a disadvantage versus being at the top of the list if a flight is delayed or cancelled. Sticking to one airline is valuable, with usually a minimum of 25,000 miles a year, and the highest status given to those who fly more than 100,000 miles," Leff says.
You don't have to be on the road every day to get the perks.
If you fly for business but don't think you'll hit the 25,000 mile mark, Leff suggests signing up for the airline credit card. Even if it ends up in a drawer and you spend little to no money with it, the cards often come with perks of their own like priority check-in and boarding—which means there will still be overhead space and you can avoid checking a bag. If you live in Houston or near smaller United hub, sign up for the airline's card, since it also includes a few club lounge passes a year.
On the other hand, if you don't book your own business travel, make sure your company travel agent has your rewards information. If you fly on any of the Oneworld Alliance airlines (which includes British Airways, American, and Qantas), for example, you can transfer your points to your chosen frequent flier program. The same can be said for Star Alliance airlines, like United, Lufthansa, and Air Canada. Just confirm that the agent has submitted your frequent flier number when purchasing for you, and you'll have access to those points.
It might cost less to pay more.
According to a Boston Consulting Group study, millennials spend 13 percent more on airline tickets than non-millennial business travelers. But—and hear Leff out here—that doesn't mean they are just spending money needlessly. "If you have status on a certain airline, you aren't paying to check a bag, you won't pay for a seat assignment, or to confirm an extra-legroom seat. That's cash savings right there," he says. "Plus, you effectively have insurance that you will be accommodated and make it to the final destination of your business trip." For Leff, who buys a monthly in-flight Wi-Fi pass for American, his internet usage is included every time he steps on an American flight. So when frequent fliers are loyal, even if the flight isn't less expensive, their benefits can offset additional costs for a company.