As a freelance videographer, I travel A LOT, and when I first started traveling for work, I realized that it is completely different than traveling for leisure. Tight turnarounds, spending weeks in hotels, having to navigate through tons of travel sites to get good deals…it can all be draining. But as I talked with fellow business travelers, I learned a few survival tips that made flying all over the country a little bit more comfortable. So, this is the first post of my series, A Freelancer’s Guide to Business Travel. Please let me know what you think, and if you have a few tips of your own, please send me them in the comments section.
All views in this article are completely of my own opinion and have not been biased by offers, financial incentives or gifts from any of the mentioned companies or vendors. I just think they do a great job! 🙂
A Hard Conversation
On a recent business trip to Texas, I was talking with my fellow videographer, Dominic, about the benefits of traveling for work: seeing new places, sampling local cuisine, and of course, getting all those rewards points saved up for a free vacation. That’s when the conversation changed. Over all the years we had been traveling together, Dom had never joined a rewards program, and now, sitting in the Atlanta airport, it dawned on him that he had missed out on, essentially, free money. D’oh!
This was not the first time I’ve had a conversation like this, and only a few years ago, someone had this talk with me in airport bar. While the landscape of rewards programs, credit cards and membership plans seems endlessly confusing and muddled with empty promises, there are good programs out there that will reward your hard working business travel.
Earning That Next Trip
One of the most well known rewards program is the Frequent Flyer programs airlines offer to encourage loyalty from their customers. Unfortunately, airlines purposefully make their system complicated and vague. The Simple Dollar wrote a great breakdown of their favorite programs for 2015. There are many sites out there willing to teach you how to cheat the system (often for a price), but for the business traveler, this can be just as complicated and time consuming. And while some would call the heyday of frequent flyer programs is coming to an end with the adoption of price-based rewards becoming en-vogue, there are still many benefits to joining. Besides, it’s free!
SkyTeam Skymiles: This one I have been with for awhile and use quite often, however, in 2014 they changed the program to require minimum amount spent on tickets. Basically, rewarding only those who spend a minimum of $3000/year, which if you are traveling frequently (especially internationally) it’s no problem. However, don’t sacrifice your production budget just to get some points.
AAdvantage: This is one of the largest frequent flyer programs. Under the Oneworld Alliance partnership, you can gather points by flying airlines such as American Airlines, US Airways, British Airways and more.
Southwest Rapid Rewards: This is one of my favorite airlines! (and no, they don’t pay me to say that) Whenever I book personal travel, I always try to fly Southwest because of their SUPER friendly customer service, open seating and great track record of being punctual. Their frequent flyer program changed from a punch card style to a mileage system, which actually made it better with no expiration on points! They also get high ranks from all the flyer program watchdog sites including US News 2015 Best Frequent Flyer Programs.
MilagePlus: Much like SkyMiles, this frequent flyer program for United and Star Alliance awards points based on fare and on mileage. As you move up in status, you gain more “miles” per transaction.
Overall, rewards programs are easy to sign up for and there is no real commitment. While I would recommend signing up with any airline you are flying with, to really get the benefit these programs pick an airline you like and try to consistently fly with them. Before you know it, you’ll be taking that Bahamas vacation courtesy of your airline.
Enjoy the Road
I’ll admit not every video production has me jet setting away to an exotic location. Most actually have me humping it in a rental vehicle packed with video equipment. That being said, I still find a way to get the most out of my rentals. Joining programs with rental car companies like Avis and Enterprise can get you perks like free upgrades or unlimited mileage. When your having to drive from state to state, an upgrade to a premium SUV or minivan with leather seats and satellite radio for free can make the drive a little more pleasant.
Double Up On The Rewards with Credit Cards
Using credit cards that offer cash back or points is where I have really succeeded in the rewards game. Most of the productions I work on pay for my travel and expenses. Rather than paying for flights, hotel, etc. out right, I typically use my points card and then immediately pay off the balance. Also, by using my card in combination with rewards programs, I effectively increase my points earnings. Some cards even have special promotions for certain vendors in which you earn double or triple rewards just for using them i.e. American Express offers a Skymiles credit card with extra points for Delta flights.
Of course, availability, program options, interest rates and cost (yes, some charge annual fees ~ $85) will all differ depending on your credit score and history. Also, be aware that credit cards can be dangerously addictive and can lead to poor financial management. I recommend only carrying one card. This helps you build good credit and easily manage payments.
Earn Points While You Sleep
When I started working with the Army, I had never really been partial to any hotel brand. That all changed when once we started traveling from base to base. For us, we always stayed in a Marriott brand hotel because they typically had government rate rooms available, were clean and where in close proximity to the bases. Plus, they’re nice! Every Marriott I have stayed at has been above average quality. Plus, they have a great rewards program! There are other programs from Holiday Inn, Hilton, etc., but I highly recommend Marriott’s.
That being said, their are also programs from online bargain hunters like Hotels.com. My wife and I love using these for personal trip, but they are also useful for the business traveler to gain free hotel night stays.
That’s Not All…
These are just the main programs I would recommend signing up for if you are a freelancer or business traveler. However, there are TONS of programs out there from grocery stores to restaurants (Panera is a favorite of mine). All of them have their benefits so keep an eye out. You may be surprised by how many free perks you’ll accumulate.