Should I participate in a travel loyalty program? By Christopher Elliott | August 25, 2014 FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest Thinking of becoming a frequent flier or frequent stayer? Here’s what you need to know before you do. Sign up for my YouTube channel. FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest Christopher ElliottChristopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at email@example.com. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus bodega3 23 seconds on the advantage and the rest on the negative? Fair and balanced report? There are additional advantages to joining a frequent flier program and one very important one, is that you have priority on a flight over someone who isn’t a member which can be helpful if you need to be reaccommodated on a flight. Christopher Elliott Yes, like my friends over at Fox. I report, you decide. Or is it the other way around? Can’t remember. bodega3 I get that these videos have a small amount of time to get your message across. However, that is all the advantages you could come up with or were you wanting to stress the negatives? Christopher Elliott You don’t get to be America’s number-one critic of loyalty programs by stressing the positive. I let the ads, the flight attendants and the bloggers who are incentivized by generous referral fees do that. sirwired Travel providers don’t need your FF or other program number to figure out who you are; most of them collect your basic contact info (name, address, phone, CC #) as part of the transaction anyway. Just two of those pieces of information is enough. You lost your privacy with the travel providers already… Valuable hint: For non-travel loyalty programs, like drugstores, grocery stores, etc., they usually let you do a Phone Number Lookup. For virtually every retail loyalty program out there, some smart-aleck has signed up using “Jenny’s” phone number for the local area code… (*singing* Eight Six Seven Five Three Oh Niiiinne… from “Jenny” by Tommy Twotone) Comes in real handy if you are on travel and shopping at a regional chain. bodega3 Yep, I never use our actual phone number. bodega3 So these videos are not to help people, but to spread your views? PsyGuy Hence the term consumer “advocate” and not consumer “mediator”. PsyGuy I always use international numbers. bodega3 Oh, very clever! bodega3 So this is the consumer critic website? I guess I got confused on what you do. Christopher Elliott I love you, too. BillCCC Join or do not join there is no should. MarkKelling To answer the question: Yes, you should participate. Membership in the travel programs by itself does not cost anything extra (the cost has been factored into the prices charged to every customer). Providing the information required to join the programs is the same you would provide if you were booking any of these travel services anyway. And if you think the airlines, hotels, auto rental, and other companies don’t know exactly who you are when you do repeat business with them, you are fooling yourself. Even if you do walk-up cash transactions they collect the same info as if you joined their programs. And at least when you are a member they give you the option to opt out of information sharing (whether or not they honor that choice is a whole different topic). There are many benefits to membership beyond the possibility of “free” stuff, depending on the program. For airline programs it is things such as priority rebooking, access to the extra cost seats on a plane without paying extra, priority boarding, free checked bags, access to discounted prices not available to the general public. For hotels things like upgrades to the “better” rooms, booking refundable rooms at the non-refundable prices, and booking last minute rooms at otherwise “sold out” locations. For car programs it is no waiting in line to pick up a car, and upgrades to larger cars at no extra cost. All of these depend on the program and may depend on the level you reach in those programs. But all of these benefits, and there are probably many more I haven’t thought about, add value to the transaction for the consumer each and every time. Many just provide simple time saving and that may be the most valuable thing about the programs. The “free” things are just an added benefit as long as the purchasing decisions are not made based on program membership over cost, convenience and all the other factors you would normally consider. What is the source of the research mentioned that members of frequent traveller programs spend more? While there are some fools in every program who spend excessively to get more points, my belief is that the majority would be spending more with the companies where they have active memberships anyway because that just happens to be their provider of choice. I know I do and it has nothing to do with the points. You should not become a crazed point hog doing everything possible to earn points just to be earning points. You should not base your choices on whether or not you get points in your programs over actual cost. You should just be sensible.