Don't Poo Poo Points Programs
Updated: Sep 1, 2019
During my career, I did a fair bit of travel for the job. Living in California and having the office in New York City means you are going to rack up quite a few airline and hotel points. So along the way, I signed up with American Airlines and Hilton Honors for their rewards programs and got their credit cards as well -- you can't pass up the bonus points.
This post isn't about specific companies, even though I would recommend these two highly. It's more about using the tools available, to most employees, to maximize your hard-earned dollars. Points earned can replace cash paid for future travel and hotel accommodations. It's almost like the company 401K match -- Free Money! You earn points on the companies dime and time.
You will find, most great travel-related companies have reward programs, the successful ones greatly appreciate their loyal customers. With the high cost to acquire a new customer, they choose to reward the loyal ones and keep them happy for as long as possible. You should take advantage of that.
Many employers, will allow you to use your personal rewards account when traveling for the company, and have you pay for the travel as well -- then they reimburse you when you submit your expenses. Paying for the travel allows you to use your rewards card for additional points, to grow your points balance.
For most of you, this isn't new info, but for those who haven't had the opportunity yet make sure to speak with your boss before the next trip. I encourage you to make the most of your company travel.
The best rewards programs will provide some method for maintaining your points for multiple years. Some programs, the points never expire, as long as you are active. American Airlines keeps them active for 18 months, as long as you are active and occasionally redeem some points. With Hilton, that period is 12 months.
If you're within 5 years of retirement, I advise redeeming just enough points each year to keep the account active. The goal should be to earn as many points as you can for retirement.
I'm sure most companies would prefer you not build up millions of points in your account, but If you play your cards right, you can build up a nice amount. When I left Bluefly in Feb., I had a ton of banked points between the two programs.
Now, for the reason, I'm writing this post. I would never embark on a 12-month road trip of the U.S. if I had to camp or sleep in my car every night. I do like the occasional night under the stars, but for the most part, I prefer the comfort of a nice bed and hot shower. Heck, with Hilton, I even get a nice breakfast each morning. I'll still do my share of sleeping in the car and bumming a couch from friends and family, but only enough to keep me from having to go back to work after the trip. Points help me do that. :)
I'm using, the points I've banked over the years, to make this trip in relative comfort. I can use them to pay for each night's stay or just to reduce my bill; keeping points for the next night. I am a Diamond member with Hilton, so I get the best room prices. I also get bonus points, for any credit card purchases during the month, so I continue to build my points back. The goal is to keep within my monthly budget for housing while on the road.
Here are three tips:
Plan your paid stays around your billing statement, so you have enough points for the next month. For example, if your statement is on the 15th, make sure your paid stays are before that date; otherwise, you will have to wait another 30 days to use them.
Put all of your monthly bills on that credit card so that you earn the additional points. Just make sure you pay those monthly bills off each month. Credit is a great tool if used wisely.
This tip won't add to your points balance but will save you money on your hotel, car rental and airfare. Sign-up with Acorns.com and Rakuten.com for their cash back programs. You can start off with $10 at Rakuten by signing up here With Acorns, your money goes into an investment account and builds over time. You can start your accunt with $5 by signing up here. with Rakuten (formerly ebates) you get cash back. I get 2.5% cash back from Rakuten every time I book with Hilton.com and 1.8% from Airbnb.com when I book through Acorns. Every little bit helps.
For this trip, there will be several months where I book an Airbnb or VRBO property for the entire month, just so I'm not in a different place each night. They don't yet have loyalty programs, so I'll write about how to maximize savings with them in a future post. See Tip #3 above for a preview
If you have the opportunity to travel with your employer or if you are self-employed and need to travel for the job, make sure you pick the right hotel chain, rental car company, and airline and use each of those company's services every time you travel.
If all goes as planned, you will have built a nice point balance during your working years, and be set to start checking items off your bucket list.
Just my two cents