Features

Loyalty programmes: Points make prizes

1 Jun 2023 by Hannah Brandler
Virgin Red Room

Use your frequent travel perks for benefits beyond reward flights and room upgrades.

Many of you will have amassed thousands of miles and points over the years, redeeming such travel currencies for flight discounts, upgrades or hotel stays. That is, until the year of 2020, when earning and redemption cycles were scuppered due to the grounding of flights, closure of hotels and restrictions on global travel as a result of Covid-19. Thankfully those days are now behind us, but they did shine a light on alternative ways to redeem your loyalty, from discounted transport to once-in-a-lifetime experiences and charitable donations. Here we look at some of the non-traditional opportunities to use your hard-earned miles and points with frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programmes.

On the go

Accrued miles and points can make your life more comfortable from the moment you leave the house. Members of airline loyalty programmes often get lounge access by joining or achieving a certain rank: Silver and Gold members of British Airways’ Executive Club, or Sapphire and Emerald oneworld members enjoy this perk, for example. Some hotel groups additionally provide this benefit. Radisson Hotel Group’s loyalty programme, Radisson Rewards, for instance, enables members to redeem 160,000 points for Priority Pass Standard Plus Membership, which includes ten free visits a year to more than 1,000 airport lounges in 500 cities across 130 countries.

You could also use your points to secure free transport to and from the airport. The Miles+More programme, which has 40 airline partners including carriers within the Lufthansa Group, gives members the option to exchange miles for Avis car hire, provided that they have at least 7,500 miles. Meanwhile, Avios, the currency for reward programmes of British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, Vueling and Qatar Airways, can be used for Avis or Budget car rental at thousands of worldwide airport and non-airport locations.

Avios can also be used for an end-to-end trip experience. Since March 2023, customers can use points as part payment on British Airways Holidays packages. BA Executive Club members, can reduce the price of their next holiday from as little as 1,000 Avios.

With Marriott Bonvoy Moments, you can bid on or buy experiences at sporting events including F1 and tennis (credit LAT Images for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix)

Eager to experience

With demand for experiential travel on the rise, airlines and hotels are also increasingly offering loyalty members a range of exclusive experiences – from tickets to sports championships and stadium concerts to cultural attraction tours or cooking lessons.

Marriott International’s loyalty programme Marriott Bonvoy has a platform dedicated to such experiences. Marriott Bonvoy Moments gives members the option to bid or buy experiences (up to five per calendar year) and search for these based on their interests, date and location. Upcoming experiences include the chance to be both a player and spectator at London’s The Hurlingham Club, complete with VIP hospitality and an afternoon of tennis at The Giorgio Armani Tennis Classic, plus two nights’ accommodation in London (June 29-July 1). At the time of writing, bids stand at 50,000 points and close on June 14.

Car enthusiasts can also catch the Formula 1 action at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on July 9, benefitting from prime seats in the Grandstand thanks to the group’s support of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team. Bids run until June 8, with further F1 Moments set to go live in the Netherlands and Italy this summer.

Accor’s All Live Limitless (ALL) has a similar platform, Limitless Experiences, which has the tagline “Money can’t buy” – though apparently loyalty can. Members can make the most of the hotel group’s collaborations with global sporting events, from the Rugby World Cup 2023, which kicks off in France in September, to the forthcoming 2024 Olympics and Paralympics in Paris.

The group has also been a major partner of football club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) since 2019 and reserves a number of tickets for ALL members. Last year Accor extended its commitment to the club for a further four years, with a focus on providing unique experiences to ALL members worldwide. You can score opportunities such as meeting high profile players over a game of karting or yoga, or secure early-bird tickets for certain PSG matches at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. Points can also be used for access to the ALL VIP box, where guests enjoy high-end hospitality services.

If you’re more of a music fan, miles and points can also be used for front-row tickets to concerts around the world. Members of ALL benefit from packages at the hotel group’s Accor Arena in Paris and festivals such as British Summer Time Hyde Park in London. Virgin’s rewards club Virgin Red, meanwhile, gets you access to the private Virgin Red Room at AO Arena Manchester. This month’s line up of events includes comedian Jack Whitehall (30,000 points) and musician Peter Gabriel (65,000 points). If you prefer the classical genre, the Miles+More programme is offering the opportunity to see Madame Butterfly at the Areni de Verona opera house in Italy on August 12 (79,000 miles).

Culture seekers, meanwhile, can access a variety of unforgettable experiences using Avios. Film buffs can explore iconic James Bond filming locations during a private taxi tour, including a photo-stop outside Pinewood Studios (from 85,500 Avios). Stateside, they can tour New York’s Hudson Yards development followed by a dizzying sky-high visit to The Edge, the city’s new observation deck (from 16,950 Avios). Further afield in Tokyo, members can take part in a Samurai course at a real dojo (from 20,200 Avios).

Adrenaline junkies

With experiences becoming an increasingly important part of membership schemes, groups are starting to up the ante and compete to offer even more extreme packages, with some out-of-this-world (literally) opportunities emerging.

Virgin Red gives you the chance to channel your inner Maverick from Top Gun and fly an ex-military T67 Firefly fighter aircraft (105,000 points), complete with aerobatic stunts in the sky. If that altitude is not quite high enough for you, and you happen to have collected two million points, you can enter a prize draw to win a trip with Virgin Galactic. Winners will experience a two-hour space flight with at least five minutes of weightlessness – that is, once commercial flights launch. (Unsuccessful bidders will not lose any points).

Meanwhile, Members of Hyatt’s World of Hyatt programme can embark on a different kind of Earth-based adventure by spending their points on Lindblad Expeditions, a luxury adventure travel company that takes ships of fewer than 150 guests to areas like the Galapagos, Amazon and Antarctica.

Window shopping

Now that your calendar is packed with experiences, the rest of your points can be redeemed for material goods. Members of BA’s Executive Club can use Avios to reduce the cost of wines, beers and spirits at The Wine Flyer, with a sliding scale enabling you to choose how many points you’ll part with for a bottle, from 100 to 100,000 Avios.

Hilton Honors customers, meanwhile, can redeem points for purchases at Amazon, while ALL and Miles+More members can put their points towards products including sunglasses, headphones, games consoles, luggage and smart watches.

You can even purchase inflight snacks and drinks, fragrances, accessories or, for the real avgeeks, flight merchandise. Value-wise this might not be the best option, but it’s better than letting them go to waste.

Fairmont and Make A Wish

For the greater good

With hectic travel schedules, it’s easy to forget about your valuable points, or simply not have the time to spend them before they expire. But instead of letting these go to waste, travellers can donate miles and points to non-profit organisations and charities around the world. It’s as simple as visiting the page of your preferred loyalty programme, whether it be an airline or hotel group, and searching for the donation page.

In some cases members can contribute to a fund from which the company will allocate the donations to the project most in need at that current time, or they can select the charity that is closest to their heart, from emergency aid and disaster relief organisations such as Red Cross to climate-focused companies like Fly Greener, health research charities including Stand Up To Cancer and Make A Wish International, and social enterprises that fight for diversity and inclusion, such as UN Women. Partners and programmes do change, so stay up to date by reading our Smart Traveller guides online: ‘How to donate unused frequent flyer miles to charity’ and ‘Donating hotel points to charity’.

Often there will be a minimum donation, for instance 2,000 points, which will increase in increments. The company converts those miles/points into cash contributions on your behalf, and occasionally promises to match these up to a certain cap, meaning double the donations. Marriott Bonvoy recently matched its members’ 18 million points donations to charities supporting those impacted by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, bringing the total to 36 million points donated. This has enabled organisations such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Rescue Committee, UNICEF, and World Central Kitchen to provide food and shelter for communities in need.

On the environmental side, some hotel groups also give guests the opportunity to offset the carbon footprint of their stay through points. Radisson Rewards members, for instance, can offset a night with 325 points, with Radisson stating that it allocates the points to projects that help reverse climate change and aid positive sustainable development.

While flights and hotels are no doubt still going to be the main bread and butter when it comes to miles and points redemptions, it’s worth exploring alternative options, particularly if the expiry date is within sight. All that’s left to do is earn them!

POINTS PROMOTIONS

Hilton Honors

Members have options to score extra points for upcoming stays, with the ability to earn 4,000 bonus points at any of Hilton’s 270+ resorts around the world, or 2,000 bonus points on all other stays. The promotion runs until September 5, 2023.

Marriott Bonvoy 

Members can earn an exclusive bonus on purchases of 2,000 or more Marriott Bonvoy points until July 2, 2023. Members can redeem their points for free nights in extraordinary destinations and unforgettable experiences.

British Airways Executive Club

BA has extended its offer to Executive Club members, enabling them to earn double Tier Points on flights taken as part of a five-night package holiday with British Airways Holidays when they travel before December 31, 2023.

Virgin Red

Virgin Red members can earn up to 10,000 Virgin Points if they refer ten friends and family to the programme. Once they join, complete their first earn transaction and receive their first points, both the new member and the original member will receive an email with a unique promo code for the 10,000 points.

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