Dear Lifehacker, I saw Up In The Air on the weekend and it got me thinking about all of the loyalty programmes that are out there. I currently am involved in a slew of different hotel programmes due to random work travel requirements and am also a member of both Virgin Blue and Qantas FF programmes.
Has Lifehacker ever done any sort of analysis of the different programmes and perhaps how best to capitalise on a single programme to get maximum benefit when travelling, but also when at home (e.g. Fly Buys)? Cheers, Gus
While we've run a couple of guides in recent years on how to get the best value when booking flights on Qantas' frequent flyer scheme and who the main players in the two biggest store loyalty programmes are, we've always stopped short of a comprehensive "this is the best value" guide for one simple reason: there are far too many personal variables to make it possible to be comprehensive.
Single people will have different incomes and expenditures to couples. Regular business travellers will score more points from flying, while large families will rack up value from their grocery bills. Being told to always fly Virgin Blue doesn't make much sense if Qantas is the only option at your local airport. While it's easy to state that no-one's likely to get a free flight purely from supermarket shopping without spending an absolute mozza, those points can be a useful supplement.
That said, there are two general principles that will serve you well when using any scheme:
Don't do something purely for the sake of earning points. It's easy to get addicted to running up points on a particular scheme, but it doesn't always make sense. Taking an inconvenient flight just for the points benefits, or using a supermarket that's 20 minutes drive away, is rarely going to be worth the handful of points you might accrue from any individual transaction. In the same way, while the emailed offers for extra discounts that come with schemes such as Everyday Rewards can sound appealing, the old truism remains: a bargain is only a bargain if you needed the item in the first place.
Set an overall goal. With frequent flyer schemes, having a goal in mind is a good incentive to maintain points balances. Many people I know stash up their points for a holiday, and often aim to fly business class to increase the pleasure when they do so. That's a good model (though you'll likely need to book a long way in advance when you do get the right points total, emphasising the need for flexibility). My own approach is to keep points for use on upgrades rather than extra flights, since to me that represents better value -- but again, I don't imagine that would work for everyone.
The bottom line? Only you can judge the effectiveness of a loyalty program for your own needs. With that said, if readers have any particularly clever tricks they use with particular schemes, we'd love to hear them in the comments.