Explaining Frequent Flyer Programs for the Traveling Poker Player

Posted at 02:57 2012-03-08

Life as a poker player often comes with the bonus of travel opportunities. With my job, I get to travel frequently, far and wide. This has since turned me into quite the frequent-flyer-point-collecting freak, much like George Clooney's character in Up in the Air.

During my travels, I have shockingly realized that many of my friends who travel just as frequently are not taking advantage of frequent flyer programs because they don't understand the benefits. If you fall into this category, let me assure you that you’re throwing away potential privileges and free stuff. Lots of free stuff.

Why Should I Bother?

There is no denying that humans are motivated by reward systems. Think of the reward chart you may have had when you were a child. You know, the chart that tracked your good behavior at home and rewarded you with goodies at the end of the week? That was the ultimate motivation to brush your teeth at night. Well, that, essentially, is the same idea behind all of the frequent flyer/shopper programs that exist today. Companies want us to be loyal, and in return they reward us for that "good behavior."

The most obvious reward is a collection of points that you can later redeem for products such as free or discounted flights and upgrades, or items in that program’s store, such as technology, gift vouchers, etc.

The other huge benefit for the frequent flyer is priority status. The more points you collect with one airline, the higher your status will reach. This comes with all sorts of benefits such as priority access to skip queues, automatic upgrades, airport lounge access, and extra baggage allowances.

PokerNews Global Tournament Reporting Manager, and fellow point-collecting enthusiast, Donnie Peters, explains perfectly, "Why pay for first-class seats when you can use free upgrades? Why buy food and drink at the airport when you can find both of those in the comfortable airport lounges? Why pay for airport Internet when it's free in the airport lounges? Need to freshen up or get some rest on a long layover? Most airport lounges have showers, better bathrooms and very comfortable furniture."

It’s All About Consolidation

Airline loyalty is not always easy for those on a budget and/or for those traveling to various destinations. The key is to have an understanding of the airline alliances that exist, and then to develop a points strategy to use them to your advantage.

If you think you have been savvy with collecting points by signing up with each program and have managed to collect 50,000 points scattered across six different airlines, then I’m sorry to break it to you, but you haven’t been savvy at all. This will get you nowhere in terms of rewards. Taking full advantage of these programs is all about consolidation and collecting as many points in the one place.

Set Your Preferences

Collecting in one place doesn’t necessarily mean flying with just one airline. Your favorite airline won’t necessarily fly everywhere you want to go. This is when the alliances come into play for your strategy.

There are three major alliances: OneWorld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam.

Each alliance is a group of airlines that work together, servicing most regions of the world, creating code-share flights for ease of travel, and offering the ability to earn and spend miles within the network. They can also share airport lounges and priority status with each other's members for added benefits.

Take a look at the airlines within each alliance — WikiTravel offers a handy breakdown — and choose one preferred airline from each of the three alliances. You should have no more than one airline within each alliance — even if there are two you travel on frequently. This is where the consolidation works.

The airline that you choose doesn’t necessarily have to be the one you fly the most. Do a little research and compare the programs. Does the one that you love still award 1:1 points for flying with partner airlines? Do you already have a decent collection of points with one particular airline? Do they offer the benefits that you want the most, such as automatic upgrades or affordable award flights? Go for the program that ticks the most boxes for you, or of course, simply go for the one that you fly on the most or have already accumulated the most points on.

My Example

Qantas is my No. 1 favorite airline because I am from Down Under. I also travel quite frequently on American Airlines. Both of these airlines fall under the OneWorld alliance. Rather than opening a Qantas Frequent Flyer membership and the AAdvantage membership, thereby having two separate points collections, I only have a membership with Qantas, and I submit this membership number whenever I travel with American Airlines or any other airline in the OneWorld network. That way, if last year I traveled 30,000 miles on Qantas and 30,000 miles on American Airlines, I now have 60,000 miles of points in one account, which buys me a flight a lot further than what 30,000 in two separate accounts would.

Once you have your three airlines, one from each alliance, there is one more step. Of the three, you should rank them by preference of first, second and third. In my case, OneWorld partners are always my first choice because collecting points with Qantas helps me book major trips from Australia.

Choose one airline from each alliance, and sort your three airlines in order of preference.
Choose one airline from each alliance, and sort your three airlines in order of preference.

Now Your Ready to Book

I consider my priority ranking when booking a flight. I ask myself whether a Qantas flight is available. No? Then is there a flight available on a OneWorld partner where I can still earn Qantas points? No? OK, then is there a United flight available? And so on.

Spending an extra $1,000 for the sake of flying with your preferred choice is obviously defeating the purpose of free stuff, however you will find that sometimes it can be just a small difference in price, and in the long run very well worth it when being strategic in which airline you choose.

Take it Even Further

The points aren’t only collected through miles flown. Major credit cards also have partnerships with major airlines. When considering your No. 1 airline in each alliance, think about who your existing credit card is partners with, or perhaps consider new credit card options that has a great offer with an airline you fly with regularly. This can really add a huge boost to your points collection and get you that free stuff, faster.


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