Incentives that can make traveling more comfortable, cheaper

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For most travelers, they’re small incentives to use a certain airline or stay in a particular hotel. Points. Miles. Status.

But for frequent fliers, getting those small incentives is a big deal.  An entire culture of playing the system to get perks on the road. So, is it worth it?

“We love to travel,” said Jim Begley, a frequent flier.

Begley and Tish Overman don’t have children. What they have instead are trips. They’ve been almost everywhere.

“We went up to Anchorage for the summer solstice, which is something I’d been wanting to do forever,” Begley said.

And each trip makes it easier to take the next one because there’s another thing they have a lot of.

“I had been executive platinum,” said Tish Overman, a frequent flyer.

“I still have this grandiose idea that we’re going to take a trip around the world on points. We could do it, it’s just a matter of finding the time now,” Begley said.

Between traveling for work and traveling for pleasure, Begley and Overman are almost always out of town.

Collecting points and achieving status has become an addictive game.

“Oh, it’s craziness,” Begley said.

They’re part of a world where status is everything. A culture of executive platinum, diamond medallion, rewards and mileage runs where you fly just to get miles for your status.

“Yeah, it was fun,” Overman said.

She flew from Las Vegas to Indonesia and came right back just for status.

“Jakarta was fun. The airport was lovely,” Overman said. 

“Points and rewards and loyalty programs have gotten more popular in recent years,” said Julian Mark Kheel, The Points Guy.

He is with thepointsguy.com.

“If you’re only flying once or twice a year, you probably don’t need to worry about elite status. But you can still collect points and miles,” he said.

Kheel says there’s an important distinction between points and status. Points and miles get you free things — trips or discounts. Status gets you the perks — fewer fees and better upgrades.

But as the economy improves, Kheel says getting those incentives is becoming harder. The exception is using credit cards for miles.

“They don’t want to give away their seats for free when they can sell them, or hotel rooms when they can fill them,” Kheel said.

“There’s the automatic upgrades,” Begley said.

He and Overman have noticed the changes as well. But they fly so much, it doesn’t really matter. For them, playing the status game is part of the fun of travel.

“Once you get used to first class, you really don’t want to sit in the back of the plane,” Overman said.

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