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Best Rewards Programs for the Business Traveler

Posted on: December 16, 2015

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written by

Lauren Steed

Editor's Note: Updated March 2019

If you spend a lot of time traveling for business, it makes sense to enroll in a rewards program that allow you to earn certain perks. When it comes to choosing rewards programs, there are many things to consider. Different programs cater to different styles of travelers, so it is good to look into the options to see which ones will be best for you based on your typical travel behavior.

If you are someone who mostly travels for business, maybe first class seats, a hotel with a business center, and an easy breezy rental car pick up are most important to you. If you’re someone who travels for business and pleasure you may be more interested in earning free flights or hotels stays to save some money on your next pleasure trip. Both of these types of travelers are able to find different rewards programs that are beneficial to them while on the road.

There are so many different airlines to become loyal to, but some of the more major ones are:

  • American (AAdvantage)
  • Alaska (Mileage Plan)
  • Southwest (Rapid Rewards)
  • JetBlue (TrueBlue)
  • United (MileagePlus)
  • Delta (SkyMiles).

Each of these airlines caters to different types of travelers based on the destination or travel frequency. When joining an air rewards program, you can potentially get free or discounted seat upgrades, free flights, as well as perks with partnering airlines, hotels, rental car agencies, and sometimes retail locations.

Which Air Rewards Program Do We Recommend?

Being a member myself, I find that American’s AAdvantage Rewards plan is best. American Airlines (AA) offers over 2,000 flights a day all over the world. Anyone who joins this program has the opportunity to start earning points through not only American Airlines, but over 1,000 partnering companies. Once the points have been collected, they can be used on both hotel stays and flights.

AAdvantage has two categories, basic AAdvantage membership and elite AAdvantage membership. Once you reach the elite level, there are then three more classes: Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum.  Once you get to these levels you are granted benefits such as priority security check-ins, free seat upgrades and baggage checking. Elite Platinum members and higher have those benefits as well as access to the AA lounges while traveling.

Earning points with AAdvantage is as simple as snapping a finger. Taking flights on AA will automatically give you equal frequent flyer mile per mile flown. AA allows you to gain points by using their Citi AAdvantage MasterCard on everyday purchases as well by using any of AA’s partners, which include different rental car companies, cruise lines, and more. Many of the airline rewards programs are very similar in regards to what they offer, but where they tend to differ most is the locations that they service and how easy it is to use the collected points.

Hotel reward programs  offer room upgrades, free stays, as well as many other cool things. There are ton of hotel super chains, but some of the more popular ones are Marriott, IHG, Choice Brands, Hilton, or Wyndham. When it comes to hotel rewards programs, style of traveler tends to be more of a factor than it would for flights. I’ve found that almost all hotel rewards programs use a tier system, where you start as a Basic member and climb up to Elite status. Where the programs differ is in the number of tiers they offer and the amount of points you need to collect to start receiving free things.

Which Hotel Rewards Program Do We Recommend?

I’ve looked into quite a few different programs, and my favorite is the Marriott Rewards program (now called Bonvoy). U.S. News & World Report named Marriott Rewards the top hotel rewards program for 2018-2019 with a 4.88/5 star rating. With more than 29 affiliated brands in over 70 countries, Marriott has great geographical coverage. Signing up is free, and it is also rather easy to gain points with Marriott’s system. Any rewards member automatically gets the following perks:

  • Free standard WiFi in room.
  • Guest preferences stored in the hotel systems.
  • Hotel rate and partner discounts.
  • No blackout dates.

As you climb the tiers, you start earning  more perks, such as complimentary enhanced WiFi or discounted long-distance phone calls. Points that are gained through this program can also be used towards rental cars, flights,as well as sporting events and concerts. Points can be earned through a few different outlets. Marriott has three different Visa cards that allow you to collect points when it is used. You can also gain points through air travel or hotel stays. The number of points you gain from staying varies from hotel to hotel. For every dollar that is spent with Marriott you can gain up to 10 hotel or two airline miles.

Members can also purchase 50,000 additional points each year for $12.50/1000 points. Some of the cheaper point stays only cost 6,000 points, which mean the stay would only cost $75 if you purchased the additional points. Hotels in the bigger cities can cost much more than that, so that’s a pretty great deal. Using these gained points is no sweat! A free night can range from 6,000 to 45,000 points. If you haven’t collected enough to cover those amounts, Marriott offers a Cash + Points option, which allows you to pay the difference. To give you an idea of potential point amounts in different areas, one of the highest points amounts is 45,000 to stay at a Marriott in San Francisco, but a stay in the Houston or Atlanta area may only require 7,500. The points can also be used to pay for some sporting events, concerts, and travel packages, which is really wonderful!

The final piece of your trip is the rental car. Rental rewards programs are not as extensive when compared to the flights and hotels, but they are still beneficial to travelers.  Hertz (Hertz Gold), Enterprise (Enterprise Plus), and Avis (Avis Preferred) are all quite similar when it comes to their programs. As a member, you can earn free upgrades, the ability to skip the long lines at the counter, and members’ only discounts.

Which Rental Car Program Do We Recommend?

Avis has a really great program for business travelers. Nobody wants to wait in a long line to grab their rental car, and by joining Avis Preferred, you are able to go straight to your car. They make it super easy too, informing you of what car you will get through email. If you are an Avis Preferred member, you are able to sometimes even get free rental upgrades. The more you travel, the more points you collect, and the more points you collect, the closer you become to Avis Preferred Plus. Once you get to the plus level you automatically get complimentary upgrades (whenever available) and exclusive monthly email offers. To become an Avis Preferred Plus member you would need to complete 12 rentals or spend $5,000 in a calendar year.

Bottom line, do it. Rewards programs are awesome. It doesn’t make sense not to join if you are a business traveler. The perks are great, and after you’ve signed up, there’s not much more you need to do to get great rewards and benefits.

Lauren Steed
About Lauren Steed

Lauren Steed is a Travel Associate working in Barton Associates’ Peabody, MA headquarters. Lauren received her B.S. in Business Administration from the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire in May of 2013 where she also studied Information Technology. Lauren joined Barton in March of 2014, where she organizes and manages travel arrangements for locum tenens providers while on assignment.

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