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FoundersCard is a membership for entrepreneurs and small business owners that provides networking opportunities and also offers a bunch of discounts and travel perks. I used to be a member several years ago, but let my membership expire, though I’ve noticed within the last few years they’ve really upped their perk and benefit offering and I’m considering signing up again.
I already have a lot of airline and hotel elite status, but I know many travelers don’t have the time (or interest) to do what I do, and so I’m always on the lookout for tools that will make earning elite status and finding the best deals easier.
Founded in 2009 by Eric Kuhn and headquartered in Austin, Texas, the FoundersCard is a membership program that has worked out partnerships with various travel providers to fast-track its members to elite status, and to get special benefits such as discounted stays, negotiated hotel rates and VIP perks.
Along with the benefits program, membership to the club also allows access to networking events and an online networking community, which includes CEOs, presidents, company founders, innovators and entrepreneurs. FoundersCard currently has over 10,000 members around the world and plans to host events in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, London and Paris between September and December. The invitation-only FC Signature Events are complimentary to members.
How It Works
To join, you must receive an invitation from an existing member and submit an application. If approved (referrals have 70% success rate), you then pay a one-time initiation fee of $95 as well as an annual membership fee, which is usually $595.
However, I contacted the FoundersCard team directly and have been given a sign-up link that drops the annual membership fee to $395 when you use promo code FCPOINTS13 – a $200 discount – and it is lifetime guaranteed never to go up. I have been guaranteed that this is the best rate out there, but if you know of a better deal, please feel free to share and I’ll update this post. I do receive compensation for any approvals and appreciate if you use my link if you decide this makes sense for you.
So for year one, TPG readers will pay $490 ($395 + $95 initiation), then year two through as long as they continue their membership they will be able to renew at $395.
Before you do, though, let’s get into the specifics of all the benefits membership confers, and then you can decide if FoundersCard is right for you.
Benefits of Membership
Complimentary Elite Status: The FoundersCard opens the door to elite status with various hotel and airline programs such as:
Hilton HHonors: Complimentary Hilton HHonors Gold Status Membership, through March 2015, which includes:
- Complimentary WiFi
- Preferred Room Upgrades at select properties, subject to availability
- 25% bonus on all HHonors Base Points earned
- Complimentary Continental Breakfast at select properties
- Late Checkout at select properties
Virgin Atlantic: Complimentary Flying Club Silver Elite Status, which includes:
- An extra 50% of miles flown on qualifying Virgin Atlantic flights
- Access to Premium Economy check in on every flight regardless of class of travel
- Priority standby on all eligible flights
Members also receive:
- Up to 20% off base fares of US-originating flights to the UK
- Fast-track to Gold Elite Status, which offers additional benefits such being able to earn 100% bonus on base flown miles with Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines, receive a bonus 2,000 miles on your birthday and a supplementary Silver membership for someone 18 or over sharing your house address
Cathay Pacific: Complimentary Marco Polo Club Silver Tier Status, which includes:
- Access to Business Class Cathay Pacific airport lounges
- Priority Check-in
- Advanced Seat Reservations
- Extra Baggage Allowance
- Recognition throughout your journey
- Special invitations to Club events
In addition, members receive:
- 5-25% off flights
- Preferred Pricing for Businesses
American Airlines: Every few months, American Airlines will provide members a new offer or benefit. The current offer is a Gold status challenge with the usual fee of $120 waived:
- Reach AAdvantage Gold status faster and keep it through February 28, 2015
- Simply register for the Gold status challenge before August 31, 2013 and then earn 5,000 elite-qualifying points for travel on select airlines during the challenge period. To be eligible, you must first enroll your company in the American Airlines Business Extra program or link your existing account to the challenge
AVIS: Complimentary Avis First Membership, which includes:
- Free one car-class upgrade on all rentals, subject to availability.
- Ability to earn two-day weekend rental rewards with no blackout restrictions for every fourth qualifying rental of two or more days
- Avis Preferred Service to skip the lines and go directly to your vehicle
- Access to a members-only website to track rewards, rental activity and program information
- Exclusive access to special offers and promotions
- Up to 25% off rentals
- Up to 15% off Hertz Daily, Weekend, Weekly, and Monthly Rates in the United States
- Up to 20% Discount in Europe
- Complimentary Hertz #1 Club Gold or #1 Club Gold FIVE STAR® membership
Preferred savings: Members also receive preferred rates with business brands AT&T Wireless (15% off most plans), Apple, and UPS (savings up to 32%), as well as discounts with several fashion and lifestyle brands.
Premier travel partners include:
- American Airlines
- Cathay Pacific
- Hilton Honors
- Virgin America
Premier lifestyle partners include:
- Bliss Spa
- David Barton fitness
- Exhale Spa
- J. Crew
- John Varvatos
- MR PORTER
- rag & bone
- Soul Cycle
- Wine Library
Access to member-rates and privileges at over 200 hotels: FoundersCard individually negotiates rates and upgrades or amenities for members with carefully selected properties at both major brands such as Ritz-Carlton or The Standard Hotel, as well as boutique hotels around the world, with ongoing privileges throughout the year and flexible cancellation privileges – so having to pre-pay your entire stay to get the lowest rate out there.
Among their most popular properties are The Clift, the W and the St. Regis in San Francisco, the Ace Hotel and the Mondrian in New York, and the Park Hyatt in Buenos Aires.
The program’s hotel partners include:
- Ace Hotel
- Andre Balazs
- Joie de Vivre
- Mandarin Oriental
- Park Hyatt
- Waldorf Astoria
Benefits with new and innovative companies: As the FoundersCard targets entrepreneurs, they cross-promote many of the companies launched by current members to offer benefits to their other FC fellows, such as a complimentary membership with Tripit Pro ($49 annual value), HotelTonight, and Getaround.
Complimentary access to networking events: FoundersCard regularly hosts events at venues around the world such as London, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles – at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills – and Paris.
With the annual fee of $395, I wanted to do some cost comparisons to see when and why getting a membership with FoundersCard might be worth it and what you could expect to earn or save with the membership.
A Park room at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo costs 35,000 JPY ($360) per night plus a 24-hour cancellation policy with FoundersCard, as opposed to the standard rate of 61,000 JPY ($627).
I found a reduced non-refundable rate of 41,530 ($427) per night in September on Hotels.com, but you are still saving of $67 per night with FoundersCard and have the option to cancel up until 24 hours ahead of time.
At The Standard in New York, the FoundersCard offer is 15% off best available rate plus a complimentary room upgrade upon availability and 4 p.m. late checkout. When booking through the hotel’s website, room rates start at $595 per night in September, so the membership rate would be $505.75, with the option to upgrade to a deluxe room.
A Superior room at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles with FoundersCard costs $279 with a 24 hour cancellation policy. The cheapest I found on Hotels.com at that property was a non-refundable rate of $349 per night in September, so you would be saving $67 and have added flexibility.
I also wanted to check out the club’s airline partnerships.
FoundersCard members enjoy complimentary Flying Club Silver Elite Status with Virgin Atlantic, which normally requires having 15 tier points. Benefits that include priority booking, use of the Premium Economy Check-in area no matter what class you are flying, and you will earn 50% extra base flown miles on every flight you take with Virgin Atlantic or Delta.
FoundersCard members also get up to 20% discount on the base fares of US-originating flights to the UK. For example, an Upper Class roundtrip flight from New York JFK to London in mid September costs $4,452 through the Virgin Atlantic website, so a member would pay $3,793 – over $650 in savings – plus get the Silver status perks.
To rent a zipcar – the handy alternative to car rental – it will cost a $25 annual fee, which is 58% less than the normal fee of $60, the application fee of $25 will also be waived and 20% off standard driving rates. For example, to rent a Ford Escape SUV in the Westwood area of Los Angeles near UCLA would normally cost $8.50 an hour or $77 a day, costing $167 for the membership initiation and day rental. Instead, you could rent the same car for an initial payment of $86.60.
Worth It? As always, whether the FoundersCard is worth it to you depends on your travel habits and needs. If you are going to leverage the program’s specific partnerships by, for example, taking advantage of the Virgin Atlantic discounts, visiting Cathay Pacific lounges, staying at Hiltons with your Gold status privileges, and renting from Hertz and Avis, then you can easily reap many times more value than the annual fee from a few flights or hotel stays, as the examples above demonstrate- especially since many business owners can write off the annual fee, making it even more affordable.
That said, if you are loyal to other brands, only want top-tier status, or are unsure that your travel schedule will allow you to fully maximize these benefits, then you might want to consider before committing. I personally joined the program a few years ago when I was still a Wall Street road warrior and got tons of value from the program with a little strategic hotel stay planning, and the networking events can be valuable opportunities to meet other interesting entrepreneurs. I am not currently a member because I enjoy status with American, Delta, United, Hyatt, Starwood, Avis and Hertz based on my travel already. However, I might just rejoin for the hotel and flight discounts the program offers – like other travelers, I am weighing my options and deciding what is best based on my individual needs – since I know I will be able to get thousands of dollars a year in value out of them.