I don't know about you but I love reward programs! These days you can pretty much sign up for some type of rewards program just about anywhere you do business. Some of the bigger ones are credit card rewards, frequent flyer programs, and hotel loyalty. Even your small business like your local nail shop probably offers some type of loyalty program though. Sure I get it that the idea behind them is to build brand loyalty but it is also nice to feel valued by a company (and free stuff doesn't hurt). Some of the key points for loyalty programs to me are - is it easy to join (free is key), is it easy to understand the system for earning points/miles (or whatever they call it), do you get rewarded often.
Here is my look at 3 of the main travel related rewards programs:
First let's look at one of most of thought of loyalty programs, frequent flyer. We all want to get those miles to earn things like free flights or maybe a first class upgrade, however if you are just a regular person that usually only flies for vacation you can end up feeling pretty unimportant to an airline. Personally I might travel on vacation a little more than most people because you know I have to do research (it is a tough job) but I certainly am not coming close to getting above the entry level for most airline programs. Even though I have taken 3 international flights with Delta in the past 4 years I still have yet to even earn enough miles for a free domestic flight or any kind of upgrade deal mainly because I do not do a high volume within one year. I am a big fan of Southwest and Jet Blue and while they are not taking me anywhere international I have actually earned free flights from them. I earned free flights though both of them by just simply flying with them not anything else. You can try to boost your miles with some airlines by getting their credit card or booking hotels and other things through them but I rarely do that. Now I did make one exception this year and I took advantage of the Southwest credit card offer that gave you a free companion pass for the year once you spent a certain amount. I knew I had a big purchase coming up so the timing was perfect and I hit that spending mark with just that one purchase in February so that meant 10 months of a companion pass which I am taking advantage of the best that I can. In this case I kind of look at this one as a dual reward program - one I am getting stuff from Southwest but the card is through Chase so I think of it as their program too. In the future I will mostly only use the card for purchasing Southwest flights since that is what I get the most bang for my buck with that card. We cannot always go out and open new credit cards just to get rewards but that is also another type of reward program to consider when it makes sense.
To me signing up for a hotel member program is a no-brainer as they tend to always offer you something easy to obtain like maybe free wi-fi or member only rates even with your first booking. Personally I sign up mostly for the extras you get with that first stay and I cannot think of any hotel program that really makes choose their hotel over another when I am shopping for a hotel. I will almost always sign my clients up for a hotel's program when booking them too so that I know they are getting the freebies. Hotel program are generally easy and straightforward and similar from brand to brand. For the most part hotels are like the airlines and you are only ever going to get to the upper levels by staying a lot of hotel nights in one year. Also many hotel points tend to expire after a year if you are not active. I tend to look at these programs as an in the moment type of reward and I am not in these for the long haul.
Here is a link to a US News comparison of airline and hotel rewards programs
Cruise Line Rewards
These days just about all the cruise lines offer some type of loyalty program and for the most part you will be enrolled just by going on your first cruise with that line. Some are really easy like Disney, who calls theirs Castaway Club, your cruise counts as 1 point no matter the length of the cruise or price you paid. Disney has 3 levels - Silver, Gold, and Platinum. You are silver for 1 - 4 cruises, after your 5th you become Gold, and then Platinum after your 10th cruise. The rewards are simple but do the trick. You feel important getting to book things earlier based on your level and get a freebie onboard. Other cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, NCL, mainly give you one point per day of your cruise and they have 5 - 6 levels that you can move up to earn more stuff. Again pretty easy to follow and I like that you get rewarded based on the total number of nights you have sailed vs just how many cruises you take. MSC has the most complicated where you earn points based on multiple things such as your room type and experience add on you choose. So you end up needing 10,000 points to top out on their program vs the 10 needed on Disney. One interesting thing about MSC is they offer to level match you based on the other loyalty programs you might be long to. So if you are let's say Diamond level on Carnival, then MSC might make you automatically Gold with them on your first cruise. Some of the other cruise companies have multiple cruise line in their family and might also offer reciprocity with their sister line's program. For example if you have sailed on Royal Caribbean many times and are Emerald level but decide to try out Royal's other line Celebrity you could enjoy upper level program benefits on Celebrity even though it is your first cruise with them. Even though they all offer something pretty different I think they are all great programs and to me more interesting then the airline or hotel ones, but that could just be because I really like cruising most!
OK so now I have to admit there was a little more motive behind this article than just talking about my feelings on reward programs. If you have read this far you will be first to hear that I am excited to announce that I am rolling out a reward program for my own business! I am working on all the details now and I have put a good amount of research in to hopefully have a program that really makes my clients feel like a VIP! I will post all the information on the website soon and don't worry if you have been booking with me for years you won't be starting from scratch. If you have anything you would like to suggest for a reward please feel free to comment or send me an email (you might get bonus points too).
The more the merrier can be the theme for your next vacation but it is not as easy as it sounds. There are some vacation options that work better for a group such as cruises and all inclusive resorts but you can plan a group vacation just about anywhere. Here are some of the pros and cons to traveling as a group.
1. You get to enjoy a vacation and you get to hang out with a lot of friends or family that you might not see very often. Being on vacation together means you can really spend some quality time catching up and making new memories.
2. Save money. Most times you can score some nice group discounts for traveling together. I highly recommend working with a travel agent, not just because I am one, because an agent will know the ins and out of a group rate so that you don't end up paying more. I have worked with many groups over the years and it can sometimes get tricky making sure the group qualifications get met.
3. You might do something you never would have done if it wasn't for the group deciding to do it. There are also some things that might only be available to a group that you couldn't do if you were traveling on your own.
1. It takes a lot more planning. It can be hard to get a large group to decide on when and where to travel. Getting everyone to find dates they can agree on is one step then you have to agree on where to go too. Even once you are on vacation there might be more issues getting everyone to agree one what to do each day, like where to eat. As long as you plan far enough in advance you can avoid some of these headaches. Again this is where a good travel agent comes in. If you have one main contact person, like a travel agent, for the group that can help make sure no one feels like one family member is making all the decisions or having to do all the work.
2. You might have to do something you do not want to because you get out voted by the group. Sometimes in a group the majority rules so might end up going with the group to do something you don't want or it might take twice as long to do something because not everyone moves at the same speed. One way to deal with this is by picking a vacation that might offer multiple options to do each day so the group can split up if not everyone wants to do the same thing all the time.
3. More drama. With more people all spending time together there is bound to be more drama than your normal vacation. Let's face it spending a lot of time all together is just bound to end up in a disagreement or two. Planning for some downtime and having options for everyone so that you are not all together all the time can help diffuse the drama.
Some ideas for group trip can be family reunions, school reunions, milestone birthday or anniversary celebration, bachelor/bachelorette party, shared hobby or interest, or just a bunch of people that want to get together and vacation together. You can have a big group or a small group but either way the key to a successful group trip is planning.
Celebrate your independence! Solo traveling is becoming more and more popular as people realize the freedom to do your own thing on vacation is really nice. I have traveled solo a few times and I will admit the first time I was really nervous but then I realized you are never really alone when traveling.
There are a lot of pros and cons to traveling alone and here are a few that I ran into and how I dealt with them:
My favorite travel options for going solo are a tour group, cruise, and theme parks. In a tour group there will usually be a bunch of people and not everyone will know each other but you will all be going to the same locations throughout your vacation. Tour guides are usually very good at making the group all feel like they know each other really well after the first day and you will never feel alone. On a cruise you won't get as personal with all your shipmates as on a tour group, but there is always plenty to do and others doing the same things that you feel like part of a group. In theme parks there is just so much to do where you are always on the move so being solo is actually super easy.
If you have ever thought about traveling solo go for it - you won't regret it!
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