By Ramsey Qubein
Airlines value business travelers because they travel frequently and pay higher fares. While frequent flyer programs were started a few decades ago to reward the loyalty of individual travelers, airlines have created new loyalty programs for small and large businesses to encourage their fealty.
These programs reward both the individual traveler with traditional frequent flyer miles and the company with points (rather than airline miles) that can also be redeemed for free travel and other perks. Essentially, it is double dipping. The best part is that anyone with a small business can apply (yes, your "work from home business with one employee" counts). All you need is a federal tax identification or VAT number. It doesn't matter if you have one employee or 500.
The primary difference between these programs and those of standard mileage-based programs is that they are revenue-based, earning points based on the amount of money you spend rather than how many miles you fly. It takes longer to earn rewards unless you are buying expensive tickets, and the rewards are more expensive to "buy" than with traditional frequent flyer redemptions. But, since the programs are free and you get to double dip, earning your own miles and company reward points, there is no reason not to participate. Points add up if you fly one airline a lot, and even if you don't, you can redeem points for smaller prizes like airline lounge day passes and free drink or headset coupons.
It's easy to register and manage the account for your company. Be sure that all of your colleagues' and employees' tickets have your company's reward number attached.
Here is a rundown on some of the most popular small business frequent flyer programs:
Delta SkyBonus (skybonus.delta.com): Delta's SkyBonus is one of the largest and easiest to use. Enter your SkyBonus number when booking a ticket on delta.com; all fares qualify for earning points. In addition, you can earn points on Air France, KLM, and Alitalia. Flights to or from hubs in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Memphis, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Salt Lake City earn three SkyBonus points per dollar spent. All other flights (including those to/from any New York airport) earn six points per dollar spent. Business or first class fares earn more points than economy fares.
Your points balance and history are detailed on the SkyBonus web site, allowing you to keep track of your progress and request awards online. Plus, there are few restrictions on redeeming the awards making them easy to use. Possible redemptions include a roundtrip economy class ticket to Hawaii for 160,000 points; a roundtrip business class ticket to South America for 460,000 points; or an annual Delta Sky Club lounge membership for 100,000 points. You might be surprised how fast the points add up if you fly regularly. For example, after spending $1,667 (which after a few roundtrips is easily possible), you could earn ten free drink coupons.
American Airlines Business ExtrAA (www.BusinessExtrAA.com): American's program is straight-forward and easy to use although award redemptions must be made through a dedicated phone line rather than on the website. Travelers earn one point for every $10 on air travel with American, British Airways, Iberia, and Japan Airlines. Double points (two points per $10) are earned on all flights originating from any airport except American's Dallas/Ft. Worth and Miami hubs.
The Business ExtraAA website keeps track of your points and flight history. Rewards include an economy class ticket anywhere in the continental U.S., Canada and Mexico for 2,000 points; a business class ticket to Europe for 7,200 points; or AAdvantage Gold elite status for 2,400 points. For example, after spending $10,000, you earn a free domestic economy class ticket. American's program is a little buggy posting the credit for flights properly, so it is wise to keep boarding passes after travel and insure your Business ExtrAA number is in the reservation.
United Perks Plus (www.PerksPlusPartners.com): United's program is a bit more restrictive since it requires a minimum spend of $20,000 per year. This is easily doable, however, for business travelers flying overseas a few times a year in paid business class. Still, individuals with primarily domestic travel may find this program less enticing. Points can be earned for paid travel on United and Lufthansa when the Perks Plus number is added to a reservation. Most economy class fares earn one point per dollar while first and business class fares earn two to four points per dollar depending on the type of ticket.
Redemptions include an annual membership to the newly branded United Clubs for 20,000 points; a one-way upgrade to first class within the continental U.S. for 10,000 points; or a business class ticket to India for 320,000 points. Since United has a high "spend" requirement, their business program one may not be worthwhile unless you travel frequently on premium fares.
Continental RewardOne (http://rewardone.continental.com): Continental also has its own program entitled RewardOne, but it is not clear which will stick around in the United-Continental merger. Since the trend has been to stick with most United products (including their Mileage Plus program for the new merged airline), it may not be wise to start collecting with Continental since it takes awhile to rack up points.
Amtrak Guest Rewards for Business
And if you do some of your "flying" on Amtrak, the national railroad has its own business reward program. You'll get 25 percent additional points on top of the normal points awarded, and the cost of rewards are the same as for personal accounts (for example, 10,000 points earn you five one-way upgrades from Acela business class to first class).