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Airline Loyalty Programs for Small Businesses

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For many business travelers, their company makes the decision to purchase tickets from one airline over another — so why not reward the company making the decision, in addition to awarding the traveler with frequent flyer miles? That’s the idea behind the small-business rewards programs operated by several airlines. In today’s post, I want to take a closer look at three of the these programs to help you determine whether or not your company can benefit from them.

Program Basics

All three of the remaining US legacy carriers offer a business rewards program, although the qualifications for joining vary. In each case, the program is complementary to the airline’s existing frequent flyer program, so travelers and businesses earn rewards in separate accounts.

These programs also require businesses to designate an individual administrator who will have control over adding and removing employees, and the authority to redeem awards. These programs all offer points, not miles, based on the cost of tickets (this started long before frequent flyer programs went in that revenue-based direction, although thankfully flight awards are for a fixed value based on travel zones).

AMERICAN AIRLINES BUSINESS EXTRA

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American’s program is the most straightforward, with a flat earning rate of 2 points for every $10 your business spends.

American offers its Business Extra program to companies for travel on American Airlines, American Eagle, British Airways and Iberia, as well as on American Airlines codeshare flights operated by Finnair, Japan Airlines or Qantas. To enroll, your company must have two or more employee travelers and cannot have a corporate sales agreement with American or its partners. Companies must be based in United States, Canada, Anguilla, the Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, St. Kitts/Nevis, St. Lucia or St. Vincent.

Earning Business Extra Points

Businesses earn 2 Business Extra points for every $10 spent (1/5th of a point per dollar), while employees continue to earn AAdvantage miles as they always do. As of August 1, redeemable miles (issued directly to the traveler) are awarded based on revenue fares.

The program offers occasional promotions that can be quite valuable. For example, a current promo features the chance to earn 400 bonus points per transatlantic round-trip in economy and 1,600 bonus points per transatlantic round-trip in business or first class, for travel between May 1 and August 31, 2016. You must register here for this promotion.

Redeeming Business Extra Points

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The Business Extra program offers rewards such as free flights and the ability to redeem for AAdvantage Gold status.

You can redeem points for a variety of awards including flights, upgrades and Admirals Club passes and memberships.

Award flights — Points can be redeemed for award flights based on award charts unique to the Business Extra program. For a flight within North America excluding US transcons, a “PlanAhead” award (the equivalent of a MileSAAver award in the AAdvantage program) is 2,000 points, the equivalent of $10,000 of spending, while business or first class in a two-class cabin is 3,200 points, the equivalent of $16,000 of spending. When it comes to international award flights, you’ll need more points for partner awards than for American-operated flights.

Upgrades — One-segment upgrades cost 650 points for American-operated flights within North America or between North America and Hawaii or the Caribbean. Upgrade awards between North America and Europe, South America, Central America, Asia or the South Pacific are 3,100 points one-way for discounted fares, and 1,200 points for full-fare tickets.

Status Awards — AAdvantage Gold status is 2,400 points, and it can be gifted to a family member or employee.

Admirals Club — A day pass is 300 points, while an annual membership costs 3,000 points.

DELTA SKYBONUS

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The SkyBonus program can be lucrative or a waste of time, depending on your specific travel plans.

SkyBonus is marketed by Delta as “a business travel rewards program for small to mid-sized companies.” To be eligible, companies are required to spend a minimum of $5,000 a year on eligible flights and have at least five unique employees completing eligible travel each year. Last year, Delta even went so far as to unilaterally terminate the accounts of many companies it felt didn’t meet this requirement.

Earning SkyBonus Points

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Your earning rate depends on your fare class “level” and whether you’re flying into certain US Delta hubs.

You can earn and redeem points on flights operated by Delta, Air France, KLM and Alitalia. SkyBonus members earn a different amount of points based on their fare class and whether or not they’re flying to or from Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minneapolis or Salt Lake City, presumably the cities where Delta has the least competition for most nonstop routes. This program also defines three levels of fare classes, with the highest level designating full-fare tickets and the lowest level highly discounted, non-refundable tickets.

Companies can earn as much as 30 points per dollar for non-refundable fares that don’t go to or from ATL, CVG, DTW, MSP or SLC, and as little as 1 point per dollar for discounted flights to or from those hubs. You can also earn points through purchases from Delta Private Jets.

Companies that earn 2 million points during a calendar year also qualify for SkyBonus Elite status, which offers 10% more points on top of normal accumulation rates, plus priority reservations and access to special SkyBonus Elite flight certificates that have even more availability (and cost far more points).

Redeeming SkyBonus Points

Unlike the SkyMiles frequent flyer program, which no longer has published award charts, the SkyBonus program still has an award chart on its website, complete with “standard” and “enhanced” award availability. A standard economy-class award for travel within the US (excluding Hawaii) and Canada is 85,000 points, while the price of the “Enhanced Availability” award leaps to 200,000 points. Comfort+ awards for the same route are 150,000 points.

Other SkyBonus awards include systemwide upgrade certificates, beverage or headset coupons, Sky Club passes and Silver Medallion status. See the bottom of the above-linked award chart for the price of each.

UNITED PERKSPLUS

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You can earn PerksPlus points when you fly with United and select partners, including Lufthansa.

The PerksPlus program rewards companies whose employees travel on flights operated by United, United Express, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Swiss Airlines and All Nippon Airways (ANA). To join, your company must have at least five employees and a valid tax ID, and it can’t be enrolled in any other airline discount program with United or another participating carrier.

Earning PerksPlus Points

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As with Delta’s program, United awards points based on your fare class and whether or not you’re traveling through a hub.

Like Delta’s SkyBonus, this program offers a different amount of points based on the fare class and whether or not you’re traveling to or from a hub market. United hubs that receive lower rates include Chicago, Denver, Guam, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, Washington-Dulles and Tokyo-Narita.

There are also three booking classes that offer different levels of points. Non-refundable fares and premium-class tickets earn as much as 6 points per dollar spent when traveling to and from non-hub cities, while highly discounted fares to or from a hub earn just 1 point per dollar. All points earned by the company in the PerksPlus program are in addition to whatever MileagePlus miles the traveler earns.

Redeeming PerksPlus Points

As with both American and Delta, United publishes an award chart for its small-business rewards program, including both flights and other redemptions. For each type of flight award, there are three different classes of price and availability. For example, round-trip economy-class awards in the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, Caribbean, Mexico and Central America could be 40,000, 70,000 or 180,000 points, depending on availability. This means that you could earn an award flight with as little as $6,667 in spending on the most expensive tickets.

Non-flight awards include MileagePlus Premier Silver status for 60,000 points, Premier Gold status for 120,000 points and a one-year United Club membership for 65,000 points.

COMPARISON

Of these three programs, American’s is the only one that offers the same number of points per dollar spent, regardless of fare class or whether or not you travel through a hub. It also has the least complicated award chart, with just two classes of awards for most destinations.

United and Delta’s programs are very similar, with Delta offering a far more dynamic chart for earning that features greater rewards for non-hub travelers purchasing the most expensive ticket, but with paltry rewards for hub travelers on discounted tickets. If your company is based in one of the five Delta hubs that receives fewer points and your employees typically travel with advance notice, it will take a monumental amount of spending to earn any rewards with the SkyBonus program. While this is not such a strong program for those hub captives, it can be very rewarding for Delta flyers in other cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Seattle.

With no cost and minimal requirements to join these programs, it makes sense for business owners to sign up and participate in all of them to see which works best for their company.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

What’s your favorite airline business rewards program?

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