Travel Brainstorm

Travel for Less Beginner Series: Step I – Join Some Loyalty Programs

Joining Loyalty Programs

by Jon Mohatt


I wanted my first blog (after the welcome) to be the start of a series for newbies, like myself, who want to learn more about loyalty programs and how to use them to reduce the cost of future travel.  I see this being a 4-5 part series with the steps that I took when I finally decided to start saving the points that I had been losing in years past.  I figured that if I would be traveling for work, family vacations and my girls cheer competitions (YES, I’m a cheer dad) that I should take advantage of any rewards that may help me do it more economically.

So what is the first step?

The first thing you need to do is join the loyalty programs that you are most likely to use.  Enroll in programs based on where your company normally books your travel, where you personally prefer to stay and fly, and your most frequent destinations.  A big difference is whether you primarily travel domestically or internationally.  There are plenty of articles already written on the pros and cons of each program (See Below).  Your job is to decide which program features are most important to you and then select the programs that offer those features.  I will simply give you my personal choice, some things to consider and resources to do more research.  One can spend hours upon hours researching to make sure they get every last point out of every opportunity but I don’t get into that as my time is too valuable.  I would rather spend it getting a good deal, maybe not the best, and then enjoying my travel and family knowing I did better than most.


Make sure you will be able to attain the status level that contains the features you desire most.  For me personally I was Starwood for years and always attained Gold status by spending 30,000 on the American Express Starwood Preferred card. I eventually changed to the Marriott Rewards program (2012) due to their greater selection and special promotions.  U. S. News & World Report seems to like Marriott rewards the best.  I’m not going to tell you the best one for you as you may value other features more, but it won’t hurt to join all the major programs (it’s free) so you never lose out on points if you have to stay outside your favorite network.  I like Hyatt as my second go to program as I can transfer Ultimate Reward points to them and book that “special” resort for trips with my wife.  The one area where Marriott falls short is that their facilities tend to all look-alike and their higher tier resorts take a lot of points to book.  For now, Hyatt’s best resorts are 22K a night so Hyatt points are pretty valuable and I don’t believe their points expire which is a bonus.  They just don’t have a ton of locations, but they do have some great ones in prime tourist spots.

Major Hotel Reward Programs
Marriott Rewards
Hyatt Gold Passport
Starwood Preferred Guest
Hilton HHonors
Wyndham Rewards
Choice Privileges
IHG Rewards Club
Best Western Rewards
Club Carlson


For Airline reward programs many view United MileagePlus and Southwest Rapid Rewards (U.S. News & World Report’s pick) as the best programs.  I would say MileagePlus if you like to fly internationally and Southwest if you mainly fly domestic flights and can earn a Companion Pass.  I personally try to stick to Star Alliance carriers if I can and default to American as they have many flights out of my home airport (IAD).  I personally feel that the dominant airline at your closest major airport will most likely determine your rewards program.  For most in the United States it will be United, Southwest, American or Delta.

Major Airline Reward Programs
United MileagePlus
Southwest Rapid Rewards
Delta SkyMiles
JetBlue TrueBlue
American Airlines AAdvantage
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Virgin America Elevate
Frontier EarlyReturns

Remember, I don’t claim to be an expert like many other travel bloggers.  I’m simply someone interested in saving money and making destinations a possibility that would otherwise not be possible.  My blog is called Travel Brainstorm because I want discussion, corrections and additions by others.  Let’s have a brainstorm!

Happy Travels! 

Your thoughts are always appreciated