In one year, I spent 75 nights in hotels.
On my 76th stay, I went from being an occasional hotel guest to one with a special check-in line, hotel lounge access, free breakfast, room upgrades and more. By obtaining Marriott Bonvoy’s Titanium Elite status in their loyalty program, I started to save money when I traveled for work or pleasure.
Yes, you read that right. The more money my job paid for me to travel for work, the more money I saved when I traveled for myself. Plus, I was treated like a pseudo-celebrity.
For example, when I took my dad to Panama for his 65th birthday the hotel said, “Thank you for your loyalty. We have taken the liberty to upgrade you and all your guests’ rooms.” We each had a gigantic room with a separate bedroom, sitting area, balcony overlooking the ocean and a dining room table. We didn’t even have a reason to use the dining room table, but it was there.
This article will explain how you can maximize business travel for personal gain. If you don’t travel much for business, that’s ok. Over time, you too can also acquire status if you keep track of your personal trips and stick with the same companies.
1. Pick a Brand and Stick With It
It’s very important to find a hotel, car rental and airline company that you like and then stick with them. Loyalty earns you a higher membership status – and those extra perks – faster. Repeat bookings also accelerate status and speed members to more perks along the way.
To maximize your ability to reach a higher status with work travel, select loyalty programs based on your company’s travel policy. If your job has specific rules on what companies you have to use, learn about these companies.
On the other hand, you have more flexibility if your company has an open travel policy. In that case, select brands based on where you travel often, what airlines offer the most flights from your airport, or which company has the best amenities that match your travel style and budget.
2. Choose Airline Flights for Maximum Miles
When it comes to airline loyalty programs, I say sign up for each one starting with your first flight. I recommend you do this because flights vary in price and departure time. This way, even if you are required to follow your job’s travel policies, you will still be able to earn miles for the flights you book.
For example, my company has contracted rates for popular routes. This means I have to try to book the contracted fare with the airline they partnered with before choosing alternative airlines. Even if I can find a cheaper or better flight on another airline. To make sure I don’t miss out on any travel rewards, I have signed up for every airline loyalty program offered by the airlines I fly.
Any miles I earn from work travel I get to keep. Therefore, when I am booking personal travel, I start my search with airlines where I have the most rewards. My earned work and personal travel rewards, when combined, help me earn free flights faster.
3. Pick Hotels with Good Travel Rewards
My job is more flexible when it comes to accommodations. I can choose any hotel I like, but I have a strict amount I can spend. Therefore, I look at hotel chains with the most worldwide options and the best hotel loyalty programs. When I first started traveling, I signed up for Marriott’s travel reward program.
My husband, who also travels a lot for his job, signed up for Starwood’s program. We signed up for different companies to ensure when we travel together, we could use travel rewards for free hotel stays at one of the two hotel chains. We won big time with the travel rewards when Starwood and Marriott merged. Not only did we get even more hotels to choose from worldwide, but we also got to combine our points, which meant more free personal hotel stays!
When we travel for work or pleasure, we get free breakfast, afternoon drinks, and appetizers, all of which help us save money on our trips. Plus, when we bring our kids, the free upgrades to larger rooms give us enough space to spread out. When we manage it right, we get to fly, stay and eat for free.
4. Get Miles on the Road with Rental Cars
When thinking about loyalty programs, don’t forget about rental car companies. Although I sometimes use taxis and rideshare services like Uber or Lyft, I rent cars for work, too. If you drive a lot for work, find out if you can rent a car instead of putting miles on your own car. I rent a car anytime I travel more than 50 miles from my house for work.
If you earn status with a rental car company, traveling gets faster and easier. For example, with Hertz Gold, your rental car is waiting for you in the parking lot. Plus, you get to skip checking in at the counter.
Some rental car programs will let you change rental car miles for airline points, hotel miles, or other travel rewards. If you don’t plan to ever rent a car personally, it might make sense to use them for free flights or hotel rooms.
5. Get the Matching Credit Card Too
After a few stays at the same hotel chain, they start to catch on and you may begin receiving credit card offers. Most companies start by offering you a significant amount of points for signing up for their credit card. However, these bonus points normally come with a requirement to spend a certain amount of money in the first one to three months.
I would never encourage anyone to go into debt to get the points. If you end up paying interest on that debt, the points aren’t worth it.
However, if you use the card to cover your business expenses, which your job reimburses you for, the card could be a win-win for you. Once you make the minimum spending requirement, you get the bonus points.
Some credit cards also come with additional perks like a concierge service, cheaper hotel rates, advance access to events, and more. The more you travel the more free stays you earn. That’s how you boost your travel options faster. For most people, the hotel stay is the most expensive part of the trip. So when you have enough points, use them to stay at the world’s best hotels for free.
Explore and See More When Work is Done
Recently, I traveled to Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea for work. During the week, I focused on my work agenda. However, I still found ways to check out the best restaurants for lunch or dinner by organizing team or client meetings over a meal. For me, exploring the food is just as important as seeing the sights.
Then, after each day’s work was done, I could do whatever I wanted. Before I departed on my trip, I mapped out my weekend plans, looked up excursions and asked colleagues who previously visited my destinations for recommendations. If you don’t have time to do the research, ask your hotel concierge for recommendations and local discount books.
Don’t be afraid to visit places alone, but you can also ask coworkers traveling with you if they want to see some of the sights together. Buy tickets or book reservations to the more popular tourist destinations, like exclusive restaurants, museums, and tours. However, don’t overbook your schedule. You’ll want to leave some open time slots for spontaneous adventures or just in case your work takes up more time.
If you can, add a few extra days to your trip to explore the sights of your destination. In my case, I grouped the stops so I could see each location over the weekend. I also arranged to be in Malaysia during a local holiday. This way, I got to experience a unique local celebration while on a work trip. There were cultural festivities, shopping specials and more.
Take advantage of local holidays and weekends to venture outside of the capital cities, taste unique food, and explore local and popular attractions.
Remember Your Happy Place!
Before you start racking up the miles and travel rewards, think about your dream trip. Where is someplace you have always wanted to travel or a hotel where you have always wanted to stay? Put a picture of that place on your desk.
When you are always on the road, let that be your happy place that your mind drifts to.
Traveling a lot for work can be hard on you and your family. Use that dream destination as motivation to maximize your work travel so you can sit back and enjoy your dream trip. It may happen sooner than you think if you play your point and travel mile cards right.
The more you travel for work, the more you can travel for less for yourself. Remember to take advantage of loyalty programs, plan your trips out in advance, and keep track of your stays.
Acquania Escarne is the creator of The Purpose of Money, a community of women building generational wealth for their families one dollar at a time. As an entrepreneur, real estate investor, and licensed insurance agent, Acquania has always been passionate about financial literacy. On her website, Acquania blogs about ways to help you improve your money habits, create wealth, and invest in real estate. Follow Acquania on social media for daily tips.
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