Travel Perks – Making the Most of your Travel Reward Programs

Every year, several publications come out with lists on the best travel reward programs and how they rank against one another. The reason behind your trip can impact which airline you fly, where you stay, and what rental car company you use. Your company may have reward relationships set up already, or you are limited by what’s available at your destination. Whether you get to pick or not, here are some tips to make sure you get the most of you frequent traveler rewards.

Picking a hotel for your stay can be driven by location, price, availability, or a combination of those factors. But the important thing is to try and be as consistent within a brand and sign up before you travel to make sure you get credit for your stay. Many programs, such as Hilton, include free internet for the rewards members. Additional perks like free breakfast and internet can help make the cost and your stay a little better. According to the U.S. News and World Report, the best hotel rewards program is with Marriott hotels. With 18 affiliated brands, it’s easy to find a hotel with the right price for your trip. Points can usually be earned with one brand like a Courtyard-Marriott, and then with enough points earned cashed in for a stay with the Ritz-Carlton for a little pampering. If you’re looking for another option, FlyerTalk picked Starwood rewards for their top hotel reward program for 2015. Just make sure you read the fine print, as many programs have points that expire after a certain time frame if there’s no activity on your account.

Choosing your airline can really be dependent on the city you are flying from or heading to. Traveling from or to Atlanta? You’ll probably be picking Delta. Heading to Dallas/Fort Worth will most likely have you on an American Airlines flight. But if you do have a few options to pick from, American Airlines or Southwest may offer you the best rewards. American Airlines really benefits travelers in the eastern, central and southern American cities while Southwest helps out those travelers based or frequently traveling to cities in the southwest. However, with the merger between Southwest and AirTran, their locations are expanding. Airline rewards can help you earn free flights, upgrades, and those little extras like free checked bags or priority boarding. Other airlines have switched to a rewards program based on the amount you spend instead of how often you fly so be sure to look at which program will be the best fit for your type of travel. Frequent short trips may not earn you as much as a few long legs or even international flights.

Picking the right rental car company can depend on what your needs are: do you always book a car during the week, are you looking for a weekend rental, or a one way rental? Many business travelers like to use National or Hertz for their quick pick up and flexibility to pick from several vehicles available. Hertz was also rated the rest rewards program by FlyerTalk for the last several years, with National winning the 2015 outstanding benefit award for being able to bypass the rental counter and pick your car. Be sure to check with your insurance company as well for discounts that may help lower your costs.

Don’t forget to look beyond the big three types of travel rewards programs – many services you use like off-airport parking or restaurants you frequent while traveling have rewards programs. These programs can offer many benefits like upgrades or free items that will ultimately save you money and make your next trip a little better.