As a business traveler one of the biggest perks is getting points from hotels, car rental agencies, airlines, and sometimes credit cards. These points can be used for upgrades to make travel for work more comfortable, to help pay for personal travel, or in the case of credit cards cash back. My main blog was started to talk about money and budgeting so I thought I would spend a little time doing a tie in on how work travel helps my budget.
Everyone where I work has their favorite perk, but mine is the hotel points. As a software trainer I stay 2-3 weeks in one location meaning I rack up more hotel points than airline points. At my company we share cars so I don’t get many car points either. Thus, hotels give me the biggest benefit. I have signed up for points with the major hotel brands so no matter where I end up staying, I will get some kind of benefit. However, Hilton happens to be my favorite hotel chain for now.
Because I stay with Hilton as often as I can while I travel, I have earned the highest status for the year (Diamond). As a Diamond member I can choose to have free breakfast at all the Hilton brands, even the ones that normally charge for breakfast. For example, at the Hilton Garden Inn they charge on average $10 for a cook to order breakfast each day; with my status that is free. This ended up saving me $210 over a 21-day trip. Since the company gives me a set food allowance while traveling what I save using points programs goes straight into my pocket.
If that were not enough, I also earned points toward future travel. I just completed a 3-week trip in January for which I received 66k point. This is where I get a lot of value for the time I spend on the road and the money my company spends to pay for the hotel. I use the points to pay for hotel stays for personal travel for myself and family members. Recently a family member wanted to attend a gamers convention in Pennsylvania; the nightly rate at the local Hilton Garden Inn during this time was $119 per night, the points cost was 30K per night. Of course, I am going to use my points to pay for the room and both of us get free breakfast. Doing the math, using the points from one business trip I get to save about $275 (before tax) on personal travel.
Airline points are the next biggest bang for the buck. It takes a lot longer to earn them since I do not fly every week. Airlines do make it difficult to earn status and the more status you have the more points you earn. But once I have those points and use them strategically, they sure add up to a huge benefit. It took me about 3 years to get enough points to pay for 2 tickets to England. All I had to pay for was the taxes. Instead of paying $1,200 per ticket I paid $200 per ticket. Using points to pay for $2K worth of plane tickets helped make a dream vacation a reality. Beyond earning tickets, if I get enough status in a given year, I have a chance to get a free upgrade on my favorite airline (Delta). In my case the upgrade is usually from economy to economy comfort but sometimes I get a first-class upgrade. The company pays for the cheapest ticket they can find so even economy comfort upgrades saves me about $100 or so per trip.
Car rental points are my least favorite, but only because we share cars on my project so it is more difficult to earn a meaningful amount. The nicest thing about car rental point programs is being able to use the status to get an upgraded car occasionally. Once in awhile I can earn enough to get a weekend rental for free.
Depending on the company a person works for, credit card points can be a good benefit as well. The company I used to work for required all employees to pay for travel with the company credit card (fair enough). But my new job lets us pay with a personal card and claim reimbursement. This means I am putting a lot more on the card and then I use the points for travel or cash back. The cash back adds up to a few hundred dollars a year, but that is a few hundred I would not have received if I did not travel for a living and used my credit card to do it.
In the average year the various points programs add up to a benefit of 2-3 thousand dollars. I get free breakfast, free hotel nights, airline upgrades, and a little cash back. The points used toward travel are an implied benefit because it assumes, I would have spent the money on a vacation or travel regardless of what job perks I have. But the money I get to keep from the food allowance is money straight into my budget that I can use on other things. Business travelers love their points programs. If we are going to live on the road we may as well get benefits that are there for the taking.
Disclosure: I have no affiliation with any of the companies I mentioned beyond being a normal member of their programs. They do not know I write about them.