Travel used to be so simple. The type of travel experience you could expect was pretty much aligned with what you paid. Want a nice leather seat and a glass of Champaign on your flight? Pay for a first class ticket. Want a corner hotel room with an included breakfast? Pay for a top hotel. And rental cars? Well you didn’t expect a whole lot of options there anyway.
But nowadays, the travel industry has become very competitive. Companies will go the extra mile to keep their best customers. Loyalty programs have sprung up to identify and keep track of frequent customers. Based on the number of flights, hotel stays, or car rentals booked, customers are grouped into different status levels. The higher the status level attained, the better the perks and amenities that are offered on the trip.
As a customer, it makes sense to review and take advantage of these programs. After all, it can make the difference between a cramped flight between screaming children or a peaceful nap with first class accommodations! The main amenities offered are listed below:
Travelers accumulate mileage, points, or hotel stays and then redeem them later in the form of free trips or other benefits. As various status levels are achieved, companies will allow for extra mileage or points accumulation. Typical programs include a 10-20% points bonus at the lowest level and up to a 100% points bonus at the highest status levels. These bonus points really add up and can be quite valuable upon redemption.
Lounge Access or Discount (Airport or Hotel)
Hotels that have lounge areas typically offer complimentary access to customers with status. This is a nice benefit as it normally includes a free continental breakfast and free drinks for an hour or two in the evening. Airport lounges are typically offered at a discounted rate for customers with status. This is a nice benefit for frequent flyers who want to get away from the commotion of an airport terminal.
Rental car companies typically offer a complimentary upgrade to the next car class for their best customers. This may mean an upgrade from a small car to a midsize, for example.
Companion Flight Upgrade
Airlines typically offer upgrades from coach class to business or first class to their best customers. A even nicer touch is a complimentary upgrade for a companion on the same flight. This always goes down well with the spouse or co-worker of a frequent flyer.
Airline Seat Upgrade
Airline seat upgrades are one of the most coveted and closely controlled perks in the skies. With a particular status, flyers can be moved from coach class to business or first class areas. This is typically done on a priority basis. First priority goes to those of the highest status. Typically, the upgrade is not made until a few days before the flight, to allow availability for customers who wish to purchase first class tickets.
Expedited Car Rental
Car rental companies are notorious for long lines and slow customer service. Most companies will offer some sort of expedited service for their customers with status. This typically includes bypassing the rental desk, a huge plus for those travelers in a rush.
Many hotels offer a complimentary breakfast for their best customers.
Companies typically offer some type of preferred reservation priority for customers with status. At the top status level, some hotels offer guaranteed availability, which is a controversial practice as it can mean canceling existing reservations. This amenity is a godsend though, for last minute travelers who often run into availability issues.
A later check out time is a typical amenity offered to hotel guests.
No Blackout Dates
Experienced users of rewards programs know that one of the biggest “gotchas” are blackout dates. These are high volume dates (think holidays and weekends) in which companies do not allow the redemption of mileage or points. Of course they happen to coincide with those dates you would most like to redeem points! With certain status levels, blackout dates are waived.
Preferred seating allows early access to airline seating selection and the ability to select exit row and other preferred seats. This is a typical amenity offered even at lower status levels.
Priority airline boarding is an important perk offered at almost any status level. It allows the flyer to board first and have access to empty overhead luggage space.
Priority Baggage Handling
Priority baggage handling means that the traveler’s baggage will be loaded last. This causes the bags to be first off the plane, allowing for a quicker getaway from baggage claim.
Airlines offer special check-in lines for flyers with status. This is of less importance in the age of online and kiosk check-in for flights.
Priority Security Line
One of the most coveted perks. In the age of long airlines security lines, the ability to use the expedited line, along with first class passengers and crew, is a huge time saver.
A key perk for those who change flights at the last minute, priority standby puts flyers with status to the front of the queue for standby flight availability.
Hotels typically offer customers with status a room upgrade. This could mean a larger room and on a higher floor.
The service desk is offered by many companies, typically for the highest status level. It is a special phone number that provides expedited service for high status customers.
How does one obtain a particular travel status and its related perks? The standard way is to simply use a particular travel provider enough and accumulate the required amount of points. Some shortcuts are possible, however. Many airlines and hotels will match a status level that has been obtained with a rival firm. This practice is common, but not widely advertised in the travel industry.