Article originally posted to Bloomberg.
It’s pretty much a full-time job to stay on top of the ever-evolving world of travel hacks. Trust us, we would know.
There are constant shifts in loyalty programs, rules, partnerships and bonus earning opportunities, as well as mergers and acquisitions. On top of it all, a mass of fine print can contain little-known perks that credit card companies would prefer to keep under the radar.
If it feels as if you could be more efficient at earning and burning points and miles, that’s probably true. Here are six main ways to do just that.
Take advantage of discounts for young travelers
You don’t have to be a young adult to benefit from flight discounts for students. You just have to be the one ponying up the airfare. See United Airlines’ Young Traveler program, which offers 5% off flights booked via its app for flyers aged 18 to 23. And Qatar Airways’ Student Club extends discounts of up to 20% to any enrolled college student up to age 30; further perks of that program include a higher bag allowance, free onboard Wi-Fi, a companion pass, and, as a graduation present, elite status in its loyalty program.
Also valuable is Frontier’s Discount Den, which costs $100 to sign up for your first year ($60 subsequently). It allows each paying adult to bring one child under 15 for free on certain round-trip, domestic US flights. If you sign up, aim to fly mid-week; there are many blackout dates, with most of the designated “kids fly free” flights on Tuesday and Wednesday, though it doesn’t take much to recoup your investment.
Here’s a phrase not enough casual travel hackers throw around: reciprocal status. It means benefiting from your loyalty with one brand when doing business with its partner.
If you have United Gold status or higher, for instance, you’re eligible for instant Gold status with Marriott—so long as you link your accounts. And if you have Titanium status with Marriott, you’re eligible for United’s Silver tier. This means more bonus points and a better chance for an upgrade.
Plenty of companies double dip this way. American and Hyatt members earn points for both loyalty programs simultaneously any time they do business with either brand. Marriott’s partnership with Uber means you get bonus points on certain rides or food orders. Delta has special relationships with Starbucks and Lyft; you can gain additional SkyMiles for any Starbucks purchase or airport ride on the day of a scheduled flight.
Delta goes a step further with a few other brands, too. You can earn SkyMiles with Airbnb if you make reservations through a dedicated portal; that goes for Qantas, too.
If you enter your SkyMiles number onto your Instacart profile, you can even earn a mile per dollar spent on anything from groceries to pet food. If you bought all your groceries this way, it would net you an easy 5,000-plus points per year, based on average consumer spending patterns. That’s at least a head start on your next upgrade.
Don’t overlook the free breakfast
Turning points and miles into free trips can test your patience. But enough instant rewards can add up to the cost of a flight. Leaders Club, the loyalty program for Leading Hotels of the World, for instance, offers free breakfast to all its members (plus certain other perks, such as early check-in or late checkout). At La Mamounia in Marrakech, Morocco, the fabulous breakfast buffet costs the equivalent of $40 per day; that adds up to more than $1,100 for a family of four staying a week.
And while you may need to save tens of thousands of points to get that free overwater bungalow vacation, you don’t need to accumulate anything to earn 20% off every stay with Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors. Both programs refund you for a fifth consecutive night—though they don’t commonly advertise it.
Cash in by dining out
Many of your favorite restaurants may be part of the Rewards Network, which allows you to earn miles or points in different loyalty programs for every dollar you spend. It’s free to join and register your credit card. Then, every time you use it at one of the more than 12,000 participating restaurants in the U.S., you’ll automatically earn free miles. (That’s in addition to whatever miles or points you would also earn with any swipe of your credit card—yet another double dip!)
And don’t forget about shopping portals, something that most airline and credit card programs have. One example is United Airlines MileagePlus Shopping, where you can earn points with more than 1,000 online retailers, sometimes at rates that exceed 10 miles per dollar.
If you have to adhere to a travel budget for work, who says you can’t cash in those points for a little luxury later? For instance, members of Choice Privileges can use their Choice Points for stays at Preferred Hotels & Resorts around the world. This includes such luxury boltholes as the all-inclusive Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico or the Hotel Savoia & Jolanda in Venice. (Book either for as few as 25,000 points per night.)
World of Hyatt and Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) also have a partnership through which travelers can earn and redeem Hyatt points when staying with SLH—another combo that can suit separate business and leisure needs. Although Hyatt has its own luxury brands, the portfolios are rather small; SLH adds such boutique options as the Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik in Croatia or the new Anam Mui Ne, a tropical oasis in Vietnam. Hyatt continues to add partnerships to bolster its range of luxury redemption opportunities. Among its recent additions are the all-inclusive juggernaut AMR Resorts, which includes the new Impression by Secrets Isla Mujeres in Mexico, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a collection of indie, design-driven hotels such as the Pulitzer in Buenos Aires.
Score points on every part of your trip
The titans of hospitality understand that you want to earn and spend points on every type of travel, not just hotels or flights, and are developing ways to help you do just that.
Booking a cruise? Most airlines have a cruise arm that invites you to earn miles for every dollar spent on a voyage at sea. United Cruises sometimes offers as many as seven miles per dollar spent if you use a United co-branded credit card. With the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, you can earn and redeem Marriott Bonvoy points for a sailing. World of Hyatt has a connection with Lindblad Expeditions for the same benefit.
Want to ditch the hotel? If you prefer an estate, villa or residence, you can also earn (or redeem) Marriott points on your booking by using Homes & Villas by Marriott.
Don’t forget that you can earn or redeem points for tours and activities at your destination, too. Both Marriott and Hyatt have platforms that allow you to earn or redeem points for spa treatments, tours, airport transfers and even private guides. (Look them up on FIND Experiences by World of Hyatt and Marriott Bonvoy Tours & Activities.) These offer a wider range of experiences than you might think, with everything from foodie tours in Barcelona to a sunset catamaran cruise on San Francisco Bay.