5 Tips for Clients to Turn Business Travel “Lemons” into Lemonade

By Merriah Harkins

As an advisor, your goal is to help your clients become more financially secure. At the same time, you hope to give them peace of mind and, ultimately, make their lives better and easier every day. One way you can add that little extra touch is to help clients who travel—senior executives, salespeople, consultants, and more—transform the “lemons” of business travel into a tangible financial benefit that is, yes, as sweet as lemonade!

From the outside, the fancy dinners, big cities, and ritzy hotels may seem exotic and exciting. But for most seasoned business travelers, the reality is quite different. Talk to any frequent business traveler and they have a sad story to tell about the important events they’ve missed while on the road. Reunions, parties, and family birthdays. A child’s first words, first steps, or first day of school. This list goes go on and on. Those personal sacrifices can wear down even the most stalwart road warrior. But while the downside of business travel is inevitable, by arming your clients with smart strategies to make the most of travel loyalty programs, you can at least help turn those sacrifices into some pretty spectacular rewards. Creating a strategy is the key.

I speak from experience. In my role at GWG Holding, Inc., I’ve created a lot of fond memories traveling across the US, and I’ve certainly been blessed to enjoy conferences at some of the most beautiful resorts in the US, Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico. But my travels haven’t always been so pleasant. A few years ago, I found myself a newlywed with a consulting job that required me to be on the road five days a week, every week. Worse yet, I was traveling to a single city that I didn’t particularly enjoy. Going back to that ugly, brown hotel all alone every evening made me acutely aware of how much I missed my husband and our social time with friends back home. I knew that to make it work, I had to create a silver lining. Luckily, I realized that by taking a strategic approach to earning travel rewards, I could at least begin to enjoy the level of luxury with my husband that I was enjoying (though not so much!) alone on the road.

You can give this gift of luxury to your road-warrior clients by sharing these 5 tips:

  1. Get loyal. Pick one airline, hotel chain, and rental car company and use them whenever possible. Choose the airline that has the most flights from your home airport to the cities you travel to most, and pick the hotel chain with the most options. Loyalty leads to elite status and more comfortable travel.
  2. Add a credit card. Once you’ve made your pick, earn even more loyalty points with a rewards credit card. Airlines and the major hotel chains offer cards with excellent sign-up bonuses, elite status, and free perks at airports and hotels. Whichever card you choose, use it to pay for everything you can, and then pay off the balance each month. The rewards will add up fast without the need to change anything except how you’re charging and paying your bills.
  3. Opt in on promotional offers. With only three loyalty programs to manage, it’s much easier to track and manage opportunities to earn extra miles and points. Open those promotional emails (and be sure they’re not going to spam) and always register for bonus promotions. Most programs have multiple major promotions each year, but you can only earn those extra miles and points if you take the time to register.
  4. Spend your points and miles wisely. You may not be paying cash for your flights, but remember that reward miles and points are still a form of currency. To get the best bang for your buck, book international award flights 8 to 10 months in advance, when availability for international award travel is plentiful. And before spending those valuable miles and points, be sure the value of your purchase is greater than what the miles and points are worth. Simply divide the cash-cost by the number of reward miles or points to determine the value of the reward and to see if cash is a better option, or if you’re getting a good deal, a great deal, or even an “I-can’t-believe-it” deal using your reward miles or points. Use these valuations (based on my own experience and industry research) as a simple points-to-dollars guideline:
    Hotels (value of one reward point): IHG – 0.7 cent; Hilton – 0.5 cents; Hyatt – 1.8 cents; Marriott – 0.7 cents; Starwood – 2.2 cents
    Airlines (value of one reward mile): Alaska Airlines – 2 cents; American Airlines – 1.5 cents; Delta Airlines – 1.5 cents; United Airlines – 1.5 cents
  5. Mix points and cash to stretch your spending power. Combining points with cold, hard cash can provide excellent savings and stretch your reward points. IHG, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Starwood all offer particularly nice cash and points awards that are available for almost every hotel category. This option can make it much more affordable to travel in luxury at a fraction of the rack rate.

In 2015, my husband and I traveled to Malaysia, Bali, Singapore, the Maldives, Oman and Dubai. Last year we celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary in Spain and France. This year, we’re headed to Vietnam. On each of these trips, we stay in luxury hotels and fly business or first class on every international flight. When I do the math (because I always do the math!) our savings have averaged an amazing 80% off the retail value. And the emotional and physical benefits? Priceless.

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