Birthday Benefits from Airline and Hotel Loyalty Programs
Today, TPG Contributor Mitch Berman delves into the variety of birthday benefits you can earn from airlines, hotels and more.
My family goes to one of our favorite restaurants several times a year. If we let them know it's one of our birthdays, we get a free dessert, but I cannot recall ever getting any kind of birthday celebration on a flight. Could it be that as long and often as we've been flying, we've never flown on one of our birthdays? Or have we simply been missing out?
After scouring travel loyalty programs for birthday benefits, I've learned that some do offer birthday benefits in various shapes and sizes, but very few of them are in writing. In this post, I'll explain which perks you can bank on for your next birthday and, more importantly, how you can garner special treatment on your special day even if it's not company policy.
Discretionary Rewards and How to Get Them
Most people who receive a birthday benefit get it not because they're entitled to it, but because someone (a flight attendant, a gate agent, hotel front desk staff, etc.) chose to give it. They didn't have to, but they wanted to, and probably wanted to because the birthday guest was nice and someone in the party asked politely. IHG Rewards Club even gave one member 1,000,000 points for her birthday. Naturally, you shouldn't expect anything like this, but there are numerous reports of discretionary rewards (even seat upgrades) from United, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Ritz-Carlton and many other airlines and hotel chains.
I've received some great rewards on anniversary trips, like when the staff of the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa graciously baked and decorated a cake and upgraded me to a Park Pool Villa on the beachfront with a private infinity plunge pool. TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen covered a staggering list of rewards he had received for special occasions on just a few trips, and explained how he got each one. The gist is that these rewards do exist, but you can't always earn them the conventional way.
So how does one score such a reward? As TPG often says, it never hurts to ask.
Let's say you want a birthday upgrade at a hotel. You might begin by reserving any dining, spa or other optional services you plan on using — especially if you're redeeming free nights — to let the hotel know that you are indeed a paying customer. Then, anyone in the party other than the birthday boy or girl should send the staff a request in advance about the special day. Remember, there's almost certainly nothing in writing, and you're at the mercy of the staff's discretion, so the language of your request should reflect that reality (e.g., "Is there anything you might be able to do?").
Tell them if you belong to their loyalty program, and be sure to mention if you or someone else in the party has special elite status. Finally, don't forget that you get two passes to try this whole process: one when you make the reservation, and another at check-in (if you haven't already been accommodated). Most of the above advice applies to airline reservations as well. Again, it's discretionary, so results are not guaranteed. However, your chances are good if your request is reasonable and the staff wants to help you.
Actual Hard-Wired Birthday Benefits
Though there isn't much written down, several travel companies do offer birthday benefits, including the following:
|ANA||Diamond elites receive birthday gifts with membership in Club Concierge.|
|British Airways||According to many accounts but no publicly stated policy, Executive Club members at various levels receive bonuses of 4,000, 8,000, 15,000 or 30,000 Avios on flight bookings (usually made during their birthday month).|
|Cathay Pacific||Cathay Pacific doesn't publish this benefit, but there are numerous reports of passengers receiving birthday upgrades on long-haul flights, from economy to business, or business to first.|
|China Airlines||Dynasty Flyer Program members get a 5% discount when they purchase tickets in their birthday month.|
|Diners Club||If you live in or frequent Singapore, you get 50% off Club Rewards premiums, in addition to partner promotions (such as free restaurant desserts).|
|Jetblue||JetBlue offers many hard-coded bonuses, but there are also reports of flyers getting 500 points for "unwrapping the TrueBlue birthday badge" by flying during their birthday months.|
|Kimpton||Kimpton offers a "month long celebration of you" including 20% off the daily rate for one Thursday-Sunday stay during your birthday month, which must be booked in advance using the appropriate code. You can also expect a surprise gift, but you must opt in to emails.|
|KLM/Air France||Flying Blue offers 1,000 bonus miles if you fly Air France or KLM within 100 days of your birthday.|
|Lufthansa||Miles & More offers either a free upgrade or complimentary breakfast for your entire stay on Swissôtel bookings. This benefit is valid for a full year, making it among the best benefits on this list.|
|Marriott||Earn one elite-qualifying night during your birthday month. To get it, add your birthday to your profile, and if you don't receive the elite night via email, call customer service.|
|Ukraine International Airlines||Get a 20% birthday discount for bookings made within one month of your birthday.|
|Virgin America||It's not official, but there are numerous reports of members receiving 500 Elevate miles for birthdays.|
In addition, Alaska Airlines has previously offered birthday discounts as high as 10%, though the most recent offer (earlier this year) was for 5% off. Delta used to offer 2,500 miles and $100 off a Delta Vacations package for booking a round-trip flight during your birthday month, but I don't foresee that bonus returning, since it was already scaled back from previous years.
One word about birthday perks: Please don't tell anyone it's your birthday when it isn't. Not only is it unethical, but also (at least in the travel world) the person you're lying to probably has damning evidence to the contrary in his or her hands. You know, like a passport.
Of course, if you have accumulated enough birthdays, the rewards can be rich. I won't cover senior discounts in detail, but they're available (often by simply clicking a drop-down menu while making a reservation).
Starwood has one of the best age-related promotions — when you pay the best available flexible rate for your first night, you pay an amount "equal to your birth year" (don't worry, they drop the first two digits) for the second and (almost always) third nights. There's limited availability and a complex set of rules that apply to some properties, but it's worth looking into.
Other Birthday Benefits
Plenty of other companies offer birthday freebies and discounts. While these aren't related to travel, you might take advantage of them while you're traveling:
- Starbucks has offered a birthday drink or treat with a Starbucks card since time immemorial.
- David's Tea offers something similar.
- Farrell's Ice Cream serves free birthday sundaes — for better or worse, they also bring the wait staff together to sing to you.
- Godiva Rewards Club members get a free chocolate every month and a birthday gift.
- For New Yorkers, restaurants such as City Crab and Big Daddy's give free birthday meals.
You can discover many more birthday benefits collected in a massive post at Freebie-Depot called 700+ Birthday Freebies 2015. I can't vouch for every entry on the list, but it seems to be kept current.
Finally, while many airlines don't give you things for your birthday, they might give you something for their birthdays! Southwest Airlines recently declared the company's own anniversary a "drink holiday," offering a free drink to passengers who fly on June 18th in addition to other (more widely celebrated) holidays. Along similar lines, Spirit Airlines offered a racy fare sale earlier this year to celebrate the launch of its 69th plane.
Companies seem reluctant to publish birthday benefits, but those that do add a nice touch of customer service. While few of the advertised perks are worth going far out of your way for, they can certainly add value to your next trip if your plans line up right.
Your birthday means a lot more to you than it does to anyone else (except maybe your mother). For the most part, airlines and hotels don't care enough at the corporate level to celebrate it with you. However, when asked nicely, the people who represent those airlines and hotels will often be willing to help you out.
What travel benefits or rewards have you received for a birthday or anniversary?