Just over 3 years ago I asked the question on this blog Are Store Rewards Cards Worth The Effort. That seemed to be a valid question, and still is, because many of those cards have caveats that make it illogical for most of us to use them. For instance, Staples will send you coupons that you can only use if you buy a certain amount of stuff, and most of the time you’re buying way less than that amount.
So, in my mind those types of cards are a waste of time. Three years later I’m ready to talk about different types of rewards cards, and these are cards related to travel in some fashion. As I’m traveling a lot right now I ca honestly say that some of these cards are definitely worth it, even if not in the full manner you might hope for.
For instance, I have the U.S. Airways card as it’s the airline I use most of the time. I also have the American Airlines card, since they’ve just merged. Anyway, once I had so many flights behind me I moved up to silver status which meant automatic upgrades to first class if there’s a spot available and the ability to move further up the aisle on planes with available seats without having to pay for it. I also get one suitcase for free, although I don’t have to use that as often. And when I finally hit the next level I get 3 suitcases for free if I need them; wow!
I also accumulate lots of airline miles but this is where the downside comes in. It seems that trying to use them for flights when you don’t have a few hundred thousand miles is useless. I was going to use them for a trip to Orlando and on to San Diego but even with the miles I had it only covered “most” of the one way to Orlando, and I’d have had to pay full price otherwise. I decided against using the miles since I get to write them off anyway but after flying so much in 16 months you’d think that mileage would have accumulated quicker. Still, no gripes.
After testing different rental car companies I finally decided to go with National, and after so many rentals I was sent their rewards card. What that allowed me to do was not have to stop in to register if the car was booked in advance and there was a special row I could go to and select any vehicle in that row. That was kind of cool because I no longer had to get those smaller cars, but sometimes the choices were limited. Now I’m at the executive elite level which means I get to select from a premium row of cars; oh yeah! I don’t know if there’s another level but I’m happy at this level.
Also, with more rentals I now start earning free days, and I’m already up to 3 free days, which could come in handy if I decide to use it in San Diego, where I’ll be for 3 days. There’s no limit to how many days you can accumulate either.
Finally, I stay at Hilton Hotels, most of the time enjoying Homewood Suites because I like the extra space. As you accumulate points you jump into different levels of membership, and with each level you get special perks. Right now I’m at their highest level, diamond, which means that I’m guaranteed a room at any Hilton family hotel in the nation, and if they don’t have one they’ll pay for me to stay at another brand; isn’t that cool?
I’m now up to over 500,000 Hilton Honors points, which is the equivalent of having 10 to 20 free nights stay at hotels across the country, depending on the level of the hotel in that city and how many points a night they cost. I’m using my points for my Orlando stay and my room will have a whirlpool bath in it; oh yeah!
Of course there’s a downside. If you’re not using these services all that often at some point you only stay at these levels for so long before they start burning away. The airlines drain your miles pretty quickly, and so will the rental car people. Hotel rewards last longer and it’s actually economical to book a hotel room every 9 months or so, even if I’m not traveling, to keep all my points to use at a later time. Strange as that sounds, I’ll book a room at one of the local hotels that I know has a whirlpool bath and have a relaxing night with my wife.
I would recommend hooking up with as many of these cards as you can, even if you’re the occasional traveler. Having a rewards number can always help you reach someone who will take your call if you have a number as opposed to not having one.