Pro traveler secrets: How to save on EVERY trip
Times might be tough, but there’s nothing more valuable than a vacation. The once-in-a-lifetime experiences, the quality time with friends and family, the irreplaceable memories – they’re priceless!
Lucky for all of us, travel is one area where you can still save a few (or a lot of) bucks, even when prices are higher than usual. For example, did you know that you can save towards your next trip every time you hit the grocery store? Or that there are ways to take a plus-one for free when you fly? Yep! Welcome to the wonderful world of loyalty programs.
In this week’s episode of Out Travel The System, we dive into the world of points, credit and miles with money hack expert Katherine Fan. And because we know most people take no more than one or two trips per year and aren’t loyal to any specific hotel chain, we’ll be sharing tips and tricks that even a once-in-a-blue-moon traveler can start reaping benefits from.
Katherine is a senior reporter at The Points Guy and Nerdwallet who specializes in making the most of flight and hotel loyalty programs. She’s also an expert in getting special perks like lounge access, free food and drinks, and anything else to help you travel better for less.
While traveling for work is very much part of her day-to-day now, Katherine’s jetsetting know-how dates back to when just one international trip per year was her norm, much like the average American traveler. This is where loyalty programs come in, she says. Rather than saving all your money for a whole year, figuring out creative ways to use your yearly spending to earn rewards is an easy way to help fuel your journeys.
Here are Katherine’s top tips on how you can start traveling smarter:
Use third-party booking sites
If you’re not a frequent traveler, rewards programs via third-party booking sites – like Expedia – can give you that same feeling of VIP elite status that you’d get with a frequent flier or booker program. When you’re logged into these sites, you can often save an extra 10% or more on select hotels, and you might get bonus points on certain properties that are trying to attract newcomers or repeat customers.
Double, triple or quadruple-dip
Many credit card and cashback portals will pay you back a percentage of their affiliate income if you purchase with Expedia or other travel providers via their link. Rakuten is a big player in this space. So you can use a combination of cashback portals to earn credit card points, Expedia points AND your airline or hotel loyalty points all on a single purchase.
Look for flexibility with airlines
If you know you need to make it somewhere on a specific date, look for airlines that have flexible fare options. Since the pandemic, a lot of airlines have started offering cancellations or reschedules for less that they would have cost a couple of years ago. Book a flexible fare that looks like a good deal right now and then you can change or cancel it if you find a better deal elsewhere.
Keep it simple
For those wanting to get started with loyalty programs, pick one and stick with it until you have a thorough grasp of it before branching out with more. Otherwise you’re going to be learning everything from scratch every time you book.
Sign up for the right credit cards
There are lucrative programs in the U.S. that can reward you for money you’d have to spend anyway on everyday items like groceries or gas, as well as airline-specific credit cards with perks that can include “companion passes” that cover some (or, sometimes, even all) of the airfare for a plus-one on your trip. Nerdwallet has pulled a list to help you easily navigate these options.
If you’re looking for info on loyalty programs and budget-travel tips, figure out your preferred social media channel and go from there. For example, if you’re an Instagram fan, reels are an effective way of getting that tidbit of information, which you can Google for more details later. For Facebook fans, Level Up Travel is a group where people are kind, inclusive and keen to share their recommendations.
Lean on aggregator tools
Autoslash.com is a great tool for global car rentals. There’s a quick questionnaire on travel dates, destinations, and your loyalty programs – including things like AAA and Costco memberships – and after you fill it out, you’ll get an email with a list of tailored options for various rental car companies, with different links to book. They also offer discount and coupon codes, as well as price tracking.
Keep track of flight prices
Keep a running list of places that you’d like to go and whenever you’re bored, run them through a flight search tool to see if there are any good deals available. If you’re an Expedia member and looking at flights on the Expedia app, keep an eye out for Expedia’s Price Tracker tool. It’s available on select flights and will help you keep track of price changes as well as letting you know when it’s best to book. Just remember that price predictions are not a guarantee.
Bonus hacks for making the most of Expedia’s rewards program:
• Expedia Rewards lets you earn and redeem points on everything you book on Expedia, which includes flights and hotels, as well as car rentals and activities. So if you have some points from a hotel stay, you can redeem them on anything from a future car rental to a sunset catamaran cruise.
• Download and use the Expedia app – you’ll earn bonus points on every booking you make.
• Remember to use your frequent flier number when you book a flight. That way you can earn frequent flier miles on top of your Expedia Rewards points.
Want to learn more?
Nisreene Atassi, Expedia Global Head of Social Media, and host: I’m Nisreene Atassi and this is Out Travel The System. This week we’re speaking to travel hack expert and writer Katherine Fan. We’ll talk trends…
Christie Hudson, head of Expedia PR for North America (sound bite): Infrequent travelers feel a bit alienated by the idea of a travel loyalty program. Free flights and upgrades and room nights can feel unattainable.
Nisreene: ..hear from some serious experts…
Katherine Fan, loyalty programs expert and writer (sound bite): One of the best things about these sites is that if you’re not a frequent traveler, it can kind of give you that feeling of still having some VIP elite status.
Nisreene: ..and really get down to business.
Katherine Fan (sound bite): Loyalty and points and miles really made a humungous difference for me. I could either save all of my money for that whole year or I could figure out creative ways to use my spend that year towards earning the rewards.
Nisreene: So here we go.
Nisreene: On our last season of Out Travel The System, our loyalty, travel hacks and tips episode was one of the most downloaded of all time. So clearly you all are really, really keen on finding new ways to get upgrades and save as much as possible. But one thing that we are seeing, especially with questions coming in through our social media channels, is that there are still a lot of unknown things about how our loyalty program actually works. And because our loyalty program, along with other loyalty programs, are really, really great ways to save, we wanted to just make sure that we could dig into that and give you as much information as humanly possible. So we’ve got our trusty data correspondent, Christie Hudson, with us here today, who’s going to try and teach us a thing or two.
All right, Christie. So in today’s episode, we are talking all about loyalty programs in general. But at Expedia we also have our own loyalty program that a lot of people may not know a ton about. So can you tell us a little bit about Expedia’s loyalty programs today?
Christie: So here’s an interesting stat: Most people take just one to two trips per year and they aren’t loyal to a specific hotel chain. And, often, these infrequent travelers feel a bit alienated by the idea of a travel loyalty program, where the benefits, like free flights and upgrades and room nights, can feel pretty unattainable.
So today, instead of talking about trends, I’m going to cover what you need to know in order to get the most out of Expedia Rewards – which is our loyalty program – whether you’re a frequent traveler or just an occasional one.
First, a couple basics on how Expedia Rewards works. So, first of all, Expedia Rewards lets you earn and redeem points on anything you book on Expedia – that means flights and hotels, yes, but also car rentals and activities. So, if you have some points from a hotel stay, you can then redeem them later on a car rental or a sunset catamaran cruise, for example.
There’s also no minimum needed to start redeeming points, so you can start saving after just one trip.
And then, the third thing to know is once you collect enough Trip Elements, you earn Silver and, eventually, Gold status. And this doesn’t actually take long. In fact, it’s completely possible to get to Silver in just one trip. And members with status earn points faster and get perks like free breakfast and room upgrades at thousands of hotels on Expedia.
So, those are all the basics, but there are a few additional ways to maximize on the program.
So, number one, always use the Expedia app. You’ll earn bonus points on every single booking.
Number two – and this is truly my favorite hack – you can still earn your frequent flier miles ON TOP of your Expedia Rewards points. You just enter those mileage plans in at checkout and then you’re double-dipping.
Nisreene: That’s great, Christie. Even though I work for the company, a lot of this I still don’t even always know about, so this is great.
Nisreene: All right, so money-saving and travel is something that is really, really important to all of us, and I know it’s super important to all of you. So I am so excited about today’s episode. We are joined by senior reporter for The Points Guy and Nerdwallet Katherine Fan. Katherine’s been on the show before and you all have really loved her content. She has this amazing combination of understanding not just travel trends and what’s going on in the industry, but also how to really maximize using your points, your miles, and all the different loyalty programs that are out there. She knows that it’s super confusing and tough to navigate, so she’s going to give us amazing tips for how you can really make the most out of your next trip.
Katherine, welcome back to Out Travel The System. I’m so excited to have you back on the show.
Katherine Fan: Thank you, Nissy. It’s lovely to be back.
Nisreene: I’ll tell you what makes it so great every time you come on. There’s always at least, like, one absolutely phenomenal nugget of information that you drop with us on the show. I feel like you always just casually drop something and it always blows my mind. I think the last time we had you on, we were talking about road trips and you were telling me about how you go the opposite direction of the most popular car rental route, and you do it for, like, a dollar. And I feel like that was probably the tip of the season. So I’m super excited to have you back.
Katherine: Wow, that’s such a flattering recommendation. I’m going to text my mom right after this.
Nisreene: All right. Tell me a little bit about your background and what you’ve been doing for the last couple of years.
Katherine: For my background, I am a writer who talks a lot about hotel loyalties, flight loyalties, points and miles in general. I talk a lot about credit cards and how you can utilize them to get hacks beyond just everyday flights. You can get lounge access, you can get special perks, free food, great things that take a little bit of a deep-dive into this very niche world of travel, but are really beneficial for anyone from casual travelers up to weekend warriors and people who travel on a near-daily basis.
Nisreene: So let’s dig right in. What are some of the ways that people can save on travel right now given the current trends and given the current environment that we’re in? What are some things that you’re seeing that might be helpful for our travelers to pick up on?
Katherine: Yeah, I think one of the biggest things to recognize right now is that travel is a little bit all over the place. Just keep in mind it won’t always be like this. One of the main reasons why I don’t believe travel will continue to stay as pricey as it has is because, as you know, the cost of gas, oil everywhere has been very fluctuating based on geopolitical world issues. Those won’t always be in place. So I firmly believe that costs will drop again once we have a little bit more stability in the economy. So I would say now is a great time to get a little bit creative with travel. If you just want to go somewhere a little bit more remote, consider driving there.
Nisreene: Yeah. Because you mentioned that gas prices and airline prices and things like that are likely to go down… If you had to be a betting woman, would you recommend to people to maybe not look at booking super, super far out right now and maybe waiting a little bit just to see if the prices go down? Or do you still think that booking really far out is going to get you a better deal?
Katherine: I think there are a couple of different ways to look at this. One thing that is a really good outcome from the pandemic is that a lot of airlines have gotten a little bit more flexible with change fees, cancellations and stuff like that. So, these days, I would actually recommend that people who know they need to make it back to somewhere at a specific date – let’s say to you’re headed home for a family wedding next summer. I would look into airlines that have really flexible change fees, if any. So, a lot of airlines are offering cancellations or reschedules that may not cost you the fees that they would have cost you a couple of years ago. So, personally, I would suggest going ahead and booking the fare that looks like a good deal right now and then make sure that the fine print allows you to change it or cancel it when the date comes. So if you find a better fare between then and now, cancel the one you already made.
Nisreene: Yeah, I think that’s a good piece of advice. Also, some airlines have, like, price matching and, you know, and things like that available. So I know that’s a feature that I use on Expedia a lot when I’m going to a place that I know is probably going to get more expensive – like, especially if I’m going back home to Chicago because that’s, just, like such a popular destination. So I’ll book it. You can pay, like, $5 extra or something to get, like, a price-match guarantee. So if the price drops, they will just, like, automatically refund you. So I definitely recommend people look for things like that.
Are there any destinations in specific where you’ve started to see some good deals lately?
Katherine: Well, I think some of the typical trends you’ll see when it comes to sale fares is just kind of think of it from the bigger picture. If these are countries or destinations that heavily rely on tourism and have been really impacted by the pandemic the last couple of years, they’re going to be very motivated to offer rates that are encouraging for travelers who may not have been there in the last couple of years. So I think one reason we saw Croatia and Amsterdam being such wildly popular places to go again this past summer was precisely because of that. You know, a lot of people not only went into a little bit of a doomsday mindset of, “Oh, maybe I’ll never get to travel overseas again” to just catching up on life in general again. Seeing a couple of pictures and having time to dream about where they wanted to go really impacted a lot of the ways in which people saw destinations that they’d never been to before. So I would encourage travelers to keep a running list of places that you would like to go. And whenever you’re bored, honestly, just run them through a flight search tool, plug them into Expedia or something like Hotels.com. One of my favorite ways to travel is to scrap the agenda whenever I can. If I find a good deal, I’ll take it and I’ll build my vacation time around it. If I want to do a friend trip, in particular, I’ve noticed that people are a lot more likely to make plans if I’m already saying, “I’m going to be in this place from this date to this date, who wants to join me?” instead of doing that text chain where everyone’s like, “Oh, well, maybe I could do this, but I think I’ve got something that weekend. It’s so annoying and yet we all do it. So those really good deals like you’re talking about are such a great way to get people together because everyone just wants someone to make a decision. So, again, flexibility – top, top, tip always.
Nisreene: That is 100% true, because I feel like trying – at least, with my family and my sisters, we’ve been trying to schedule, like, a girls’ trip for, I swear, it feels like two years. But, then, when I already have trips planned for work – because I’m lucky enough to get to travel a lot for my job, so, I get to go to Singapore or London or, you know, Austin and things like that. And so they’re always like, “Oh, when are you going to London next? Can I come?”
Katherine: I love that.
Nisreene: And I was like, “Oh, okay, yeah, of course you can come.” You know what I mean? It’s… all of a sudden, the weekend is free. So you’re totally right. That is absolutely a thing that they do.
Let’s shift into loyalty programs really quickly, because loyalty is obviously an amazing way to save. You have to spend a little to get a little, but it’s sort of totally worth it. And there are so many people who are just so big into this. And, obviously, you know this after working with The Points Guy – it’s, like, an entire business based off of that. What are some of your favorite loyalty programs these days?
Katherine: I love what you said about, you know, we’re really fortunate to get to work in industries where we travel a ton. But I still remember when I had a desk job and I could maybe get one international trip a year. Specifically to your question, there are a couple different ways that I would say people on that less-traveled end of the spectrum can get into the game without feeling too far behind. An easy one is by signing up for the right credit cards. We’re fortunate here in the U.S. to have really, really lucrative programs that reward you generously for money you’d have to spend anyway. The easiest example is just groceries or gas, you know, especially with everything going up 10% this year.
Katherine: That does kind of soften the blow a little bit when you’re realizing that, oh, well, maybe it still kind of offsets the family vacation this year.
Nisreene: 100%. I will charge a pack of gum on my credit card ’cause I was like, “$1. That’s one airline mile. I’ll take it.”
Nisreene: What about, like, partner-specific loyalty programs? Why don’t we start with hotel loyalty programs? Have you seen any major shifts in those or, you know, are there any hotel loyalty programs that you’re really loving these days?
Katherine: Well, I’ve always been a really big fan of the Hotels.com program. So back when I didn’t travel very much per year, it was so hard for me to hit the necessary 25 nights a year in a hotel. I couldn’t even guarantee I would stay 25 nights in a hotel, let alone a specific chain. So one of the reasons I really love Hotels.com is because I get a free night for every ten nights I stay. So that doesn’t matter who I bought the room for. Sometimes I’ll book my parents a room if they’re doing a longer drive to a faraway airport. They’re just a little older, and I want them to have a place to crash for a couple of hours before they hit the road again. So that also counts toward my credit. Expedia also has a really helpful program that’s just basically designed to help you earn a little bit for everything you do. So whether you’re booking a cruise or a rental car or a hotel room or a flight, each of those counts as an instance, essentially. They call them trip elements. So after ten trip elements, you get one tier-status up. After 25, you reach the next one. So I really like the way that a lot of these programs are allowing everyday travelers who are kind of just dipping their toe into the loyalty world to still feel like they’re earning something as well. Southwest is another really great example of a very beloved U.S. airline that makes it pretty easy for people to feel like they’re earning certain perks. If you’ve got the credit card, they’ll sometimes send you drink coupons in the mail, which… You know, they add up to a $30-equivalent over four tickets, but, “Ooh, free drinks!”
Nisreene: And I think what I’ve noticed, especially with the airlines – and I feel like at one point Southwest was the only one who did this, if you got the Southwest credit card, you automatically got, like, a free companion ticket for, like, everywhere you were going. And I feel like Southwest was the first one that did that. But now even – I’ve noticed Alaska now is offering a companion ticket. So I feel like they’re really trying to sweeten the deal when you get an airline-specific credit card. What’s your perspective on those types of credit cards, especially with the airline industry? Because I feel like they really, really push those versus just joining their loyalty program.
Katherine: I use, myself, my companion pass religiously. So I think it really comes down to how often people are utilizing that program and how best they would do it. For instance, if you’ve got a family of two or four people, so maybe one kid gets added on as each parent’s companion and you travel pretty consistently – you know, you’re flying to see grandparents every couple of months – signing up for something that allows you to earn dual companion passes for both parents might make sense. But if you don’t usually spend that much money, it’s going to take a decent amount of earning and effort to reach those companion passes. So I think travelers really have to stop and think, “Where is that sweet spot where we have spent enough money that we would have spent anyway to get these savings?” Because it’s so easy to spend way more than you should have under the, you know, justification that you’re saving toward the family vacation or holiday, whatever’s coming up.
Nisreene: I do find online resources do a really, really good job of evaluating some of these programs for you and showing you that cost-benefit analysis. Where do you get your information from or what resources do you use to help you make informed decisions about loyalty programs and credit cards and that kind of stuff?
Katherine: Well, I think these days, Nissy, it’s actually really easy to find much of the same core information. So I really like figuring out what’s your preferred medium of education and going from there. If you are a big Instagram fan, especially my friends who have really young kids and are just chasing them around all the time, little Instagram reels are such an effective way of getting just that tidbit of information you need to know about so you can Google it for later. So I would say find the educators in that space who really catch your eye. If you are a parent and you’re not traveling like the young and single business consultants, obviously follow the people who have a similar lifestyle to yours. The Points Guy has always been a really great resource for this, although they skew a little bit more toward the higher end. So I would say, you know, if you’re not big on figuring out exactly what the best business-class flight to Bali is, it might not necessarily be the best resource for you.
Katherine: There are a lot of really helpful websites out there that give you kind of a calculator that tell you what the average point is worth. These are all arbitrary evaluations, of course. You know, Nerdwallet has one, The Points Guy has one. But all of these tools are just kind of helping you understand, “Am I better off paying cash this time or should I use my points and miles?”
Nisreene: I recently stumbled across a Facebook group that was literally just about airline loyalty hacking. And it was basically… it was literally a community of people that just use their points to get upgrades and fly business and that kind of stuff, and they share their experiences and their tips. Go to Facebook and just sort of search for various types of travel groups and see if you can find one that sort of meets your needs or, you know, find those like-minded individuals. I find those to be super helpful.
Katherine: I couldn’t agree more. I am a huge Facebook group stalker, poster, commenter, and I don’t even have any shame about it. Two, I will say, that I really like, particularly for the attitude that group members have, are 10x Travel and Level UP Travel. Level UP Travel is owned by Upgraded Points and 10x Travel is run by 10x Travel. But I think what I like the most about these groups is that people are still really kind and helpful. They very much have that attitude of, “Oh, I was totally here once. I might still be here with you.” So, like, no question is stupid. And I think in this day and age where, you know, people can be pretty snarky on the Internet, it can be really off-putting to ask a newbie question and feel ashamed for it when you reasonably can’t know what a CSP SUB is unless you have, you know, really done some work in this space. So people are really kind. They’re about directing you back to previous threads where you can learn more. And I think, overall, the quality of learning I’ve gotten in those groups is really high as well.
Nisreene: What’s a CSP?
Katherine: The CSP is the “Chase Sapphire Preferred”.
Nisreene: Oh! Okay.
Katherine: Yes, Chase Sapphire Preferred. And the SUB is the “sign-up bonus”. So none of these are official acronyms. They’re just things that people in this space say all the time. So if you know what it is, you’ll know what it is. And if you don’t, you really can’t Google for it.
Nisreene: I mean, but what does that say about me? Because I have a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, but I didn’t even know that acronym. I use my Chase travel credit card to book travel on Expedia so I get Expedia loyalty points, I get my credit card points, and then I also get the airline and hotel points. So, like, I have so many loyalty programs, but I use it. I just, like, try to stack them on top of each other as much as possible. So, surprised I didn’t know that acronym. I feel like I’m an insider. Do you do, like, the triple-dip, double-dip?
Katherine: I do love that double, triple-dip. I will actually add another one for you.
Katherine: Cashback portals.
Nisreene: Ooh, okay!
Katherine: Because if you are earning, A, your credit card points, B, Expedia’s giving you points for what you spent, C, you’re still earning your airline or hotel loyalty and then, D, a lot of credit card portals, cashback portals will pay you a section of their affiliate income if you link to Expedia through their link. So, for instance, Rakuten is a big one that’s well-known, Ebates. I can’t remember, actually, if Ebates became Rakuten or not. But, yeah, so these are all sites that will pay you a little bit of their affiliate income because sites like Expedia, even Marriott, Target, Walmart, Best Buys, Sam’s Club. If you’re buying from, you know, many of the retailers that are popular in the U.S. and internationally, these sites will pay you a percentage of the income they earn when you go through their link. So that’s your quadruple-dip right there.
Nisreene: My God. I didn’t really know much about – I mean, I’d heard of cashback portals, but to be honest… I’ve heard of Rakuten, but I didn’t realize that was a cashback portal. Like, I didn’t really know the definition of that and I’d never even considered sort of layering that onto the whole sort of schema, I guess, of the points space.
Katherine: I mean, you’re doing pretty well already. Like I said, this is where you get really, really nerdy.
Nisreene: Yeah, 100%. 100%. Katherine, can you just define for our listeners what an OTA is and who falls into that category?
Katherine: Yeah, an OTA is an acronym for an “online travel agency”. You know, many of us may not remember the travel agencies of yore where you’d walk into an actual office and a nice lady, probably with a scarf, sits down and types a bunch of gibberish into a computer none of us could hack. Sites like Expedia have made it so easy these days for the average person to have access to that same booking tool. And it’s fantastic.
Nisreene: The double-dip and the triple-dip is one of the great reasons, I think, why, OTA loyalty programs like Expedia’s are really great. What are some of the other perks that you’ve noticed about Expedia’s loyalty program that you think are good things for people to know about that they may not necessarily realize? What are some of your favorite aspects of that program or what are some of the things that you don’t love about the program?
Katherine: Sure. I think one of my favorite things about a lot of these third-party booking sites, which again, is like Expedia, it’s like Hotels.com – it’s pretty much anything that isn’t directly sending you to American Airlines, Southwest.com, Marriott.com. I think one of the best things about these sites is that if you’re not a frequent traveler, it can kind of give you that feeling of still having some VIP elite status. You know, a lot of times when you’re logged into these sites, they’ll tell you that they’re giving you an extra 10% more or 10% or more off on select hotels. You might get bonus points on certain properties that are really trying to attract newcomers or repeat customers. So those are probably some of the things I enjoy the most. You know, once you’ve been there for those ten trip elements or 25 trip elements, you’re going to get more points per dollar. And like you mentioned, you book through them a lot, so you’re probably pretty familiar with that nice double-dip of earning both your both your airline or hotel points as well as Expedia. You’ve also got various different aggregators that also show you the best rates for different bookings. So Autoslash.com, for instance, is a really good one for car rentals. It’s a quick little questionnaire you fill out. “I’m flying into, say, Orlando on September 1st, leaving on September 5th. I want to pick up my car at the airport at noon.” I put in all that information and then it asks me, do I have different loyalty programs? And that’s not just for credit cards or airlines or hotels. It’s also my AAA membership. It’s also my Costco membership. So sometimes they have partnerships for that. Yeah. And then about three to 15 minutes later, I get an email straight to my inbox and it gives me a list of options for various different rental car companies and booking through different links. So it could be Expedia, it could be direct from the rental car company, but they’ll have direct links that get me the best possible rates with the loyalty programs I do have. So that has been a tool that many of my more experienced peers have shared with me, and it works worldwide. I’ve booked rental cars in Croatia and Mexico on those rates as well.
Nisreene: I love that you’re such a big rental-car person. Like, I get so nervous about driving outside of the United States – I think because I always, like, end up with a stick-shift car. And I just really, really – it’s too much for me. So I get really nervous about it. But then, every time, I talk to you, I’m like, “You know what? Katherine really knows what’s up. You know, she’s really getting those rental cars all over the place.” I love it. It’s great.
Katherine: Well, I’ll say this too. I think I might have told you last year – renting cars was a new thing for me as of February 2021. I also don’t drive stick at all, actually. It’s one of my bigger shames in life. But there’s a toggle on Autoslash.com that says “Automatic transmission only”. So, obviously, my rates are pricier in Europe, but, hey, they shipped me a car to Croatia when I needed it.
Nisreene: So just sort of getting back into the loyalty programs. I’m curious, Katherine – how many loyalty memberships do you have currently?
Katherine: I don’t think I can even answer that for you without pulling out my spreadsheet.
Nisreene: (Laughs) Do you have a spreadsheet?
Katherine: Oh, gosh, yes, I have a spreadsheet. There’s no way I would track all of my loyalty numbers. My spreadsheet is robust. I was going to say, I think it’s two-dozen minimum. But the main ones I use a lot are probably three airlines I use very consistently, three more airlines that I use occasionally, and then for hotel loyalties, three to four with maybe four more occasional ones in there, and then two to five OTAs that I will use more often than I think I will. Again, like, if I’m renting a car, it’s often ending up with me booking through Expedia. So if I have to log in every time and “Forget password”, that’s really messy.
Nisreene: Yeah. I mean, honestly, I’m a part of a ton and it’s because I just I cannot stand the idea of leaving that money on the table. Like, it just seems like… You know, because a lot of the times you have to create an account anyway to, like, book something on a website, right? Like, especially with travel, you need to have that confirmation sent to your email, so you click that box to join the loyalty program. And even if you, like… I also just feel like you never know. Like, maybe all of a sudden you will become an IHG aficionado, Katherine, and you decide you’re going to stay… you love Kimpton, so, like, now you’re going to stay there all the time and so you don’t want to leave that money sitting on the table. I feel like… we just got back from vacation and my husband looked at me and he was like… I have a daughter and she’s three. And he goes, “Have you signed her up for her Alaska loyalty program? I noticed her mileage number is not on the ticket.” And I was like, “I didn’t.” And he was like, “Are you kidding me? She’s taken, like, four Alaska flights since she was born. We just lost all of that money. We left it on the table.” And I felt like such a dope because I was like, “Oh, my God, this is supposed to be my space.”
What are some other tips that you think are like…? Or are there one or two things that you think people often forget about when when it comes to the loyalty travel space that you want to remind them? Something like “Get a loyalty program for your child.” Right? Get them in and have them start early. Is there anything else like that you think people often like forget about or just don’t think about?
Katherine: Yeah. Well, you know, Nissy, I think that’s really cute and I imagine you investing for your child’s college fund someday, plus her, you know, future lifetime status. But I was going to say, she’s probably young enough in the sense that, like, you still have records of all of those flights you’ve taken that you might be able to get in touch with Alaska Airlines and just tell them, “Hey, I hadn’t thought about doing this before, but you see how often we travel.” They might just set her up with an account retroactively. A lot of times, as long as they can prove that, you know, she traveled with you… She probably won’t get credit for the flights where she was a lap baby, but once you had to buy a ticket for her, you know, that’s a revenue ticket. So I would say do not despair.
Travel insurance is way more important than it’s ever been. I think for most people it was a nice-to-have. We might not even have known about it before. But right now, it’s a really helpful thing to purchase independent travel insurance, especially if you’re going to a place that might still have COVID restrictions and quarantines, because that insurance plan is going to typically cost you between 4% and 8% of your total trip cost, but that’s buying you peace of mind and all those saved costs if anything goes awry. So that travel insurance is going to protect you more than pretty much anything else. There’s no real guarantee right now, but knowing that you may not have to pay out-of-pocket for everything is a really big relief.
One thing that I have also found a little bit more annoying but pays off when I’m actually on my trips is just going ahead and downloading the apps. How annoying is it to have to log in constantly through a browser, hope for wi-fi that’s fast enough? You know, all those other things – keeping track of the details we just talked about. So the apps are… You know, a lot of companies are really pushing travelers toward their apps now. In fact, Expedia offers, I think, an extra bonus point per dollar spent if you book through the app.
Nisreene: Sure does.
Katherine: And does Hotels.com. They waive the booking fee if you book your reward nights through the app. So, you know, if it’s all the same to you, why not?
Nisreene: Yeah, 100%. Also, I’m a big promoter of the apps as well because, couple of things. One, it’s just so nice having your boarding pass on your phone. Like, it’s just amazing having that. But then, also, I’ve noticed that it’s a lot easier to add yourself to, like, the upgrade waitlist on flights through the app. It’s really annoying to have to do that on, like, mobile web or that kind of stuff. So, like, having that on the app, even if… Sometimes I forget to do it until, like – this is my insanity coming through, but I’ll be, like, falling asleep right before my flight. I’ll be like, “Oh my God, am I on the waitlist for the upgrade?” And then I just grab my phone and I go to the app and I figure it out. So I feel like that’s a really good tip.
Katherine: Yeah, I can’t… Yeah, I agree with that entirely. One other thing I love about doing that for flights is I’m really nosy. I like to see how many people are next to me, because obviously my goal is to get a free row to myself if I can. So I’ll jump around sometimes and just, you know, wait to see if there’s a block of rows where there aren’t really any seats being taken and I’ll claim them. One of my favorite tactics, if I’m traveling with someone else, is one of us takes the window and the other one takes the aisle because very few people will willingly choose to sit in the middle seat.
Katherine: So you can almost always get away with that unless it’s a pretty full flight. So those are all really helpful little life improvements. None of them will make or break your trip. But they do take away a lot of that stress, especially in these little bit more confusing times.
Nisreene: Yeah. Also, sometimes they may be charging for seats a month out, but then the day before, all of a sudden, those same seats are not… they’re not charging for them.
Katherine: Exactly. And, you know, you might not even necessarily have to do it through the app. So many times, if the counter is not too busy and you’re really sweet to the gate agent, they will be like, “Okay, why not put you in this row?” You have a lot… you have a lot of things going in your favor if you can tell them, “I would rather be in 31D and F” instead of them having to go through and basically read the whole manifest to you, like, “Okay, well, we’ve got this window seat here, we’ve got this aisle here.” If you know what you want and you tell them, you know, you’re helping them help you.
Nisreene: Yeah. No, that’s great. What’s the best advice you think you can give someone who’s not super travel-savvy with, like, loyalty programs? Like, a real novice?
Katherine: Hmm. Pick one and stick with it is probably what I would say. I mean, I think so much of the time, when people talk about points, miles, credit cards, travel and all this stuff, it’s really overwhelming because there is so much out there, but there isn’t really a wrong way to go about doing that, even if some people on the Internet are really judgy. You know, if you like Expedia, use Expedia. If you like booking directly with an airline or hotel, do that. If you like using Hotels.com, you only want to find the cheapest flights, whatever. Stick with it until you have a really thorough grasp of what’s happening beyond your own experience and then you can start branching out. But, you know, if you’ve got a large family that you’re trying to travel with and coordinate with, figure out a system or a tool that works for you. Do a Google Form, a Google Sheet. Maybe one person books all the flights or every family books their own flights, but just set some kind of a system in place so that you then can say, “We used to do this, now we’re doing this.” Otherwise it’s just chaos every time you’re starting to book a new trip and you kind of have to learn everything from scratch.
Nisreene: Yeah. I feel like you’re a bit of like an early adopter, Katherine, in this space. Like, how long have you been an Expedia loyalty member?
Katherine: Honestly, I’d have to check. I think 2012, but that’s only because I opened that account back then, and I probably booked once every two years because I didn’t have a lot of travel money back then, or leisure.
Nisreene: Yeah, honestly, I feel like the average traveler who doesn’t work in the travel space, they probably only do travel like once or twice a year. So that kind of that makes sense. Well, thank you for being such a loyal member, Katherine. We appreciate you.
Katherine: Of course! Thank you for having me back, always.
Nisreene: As always, you have, you know, really just given us a lot of amazing nuggets of information and tips. And it’s always just so great having you on the show. So thank you for coming back today.
Katherine: Thank you so much for the warm welcome.
Nisreene: What’s so great about this conversation is that it really reminds me that loyalty programs are not only about upgrades and things like that. I think a lot of people sometimes associate being a loyalty program member with luxury travel, which is a lot of what, you know, people like The Points Guy really hone in on – how to get that first-class ticket or that business-class ticket. But signing up for loyalty programs really is sometimes just about getting more, right? It’s about sometimes getting free stuff. You can get that free night, you can get that free flight, right? You can get that late checkout, some of those perks and that kind of stuff. And, frankly, the more you travel, the more you get. So it really just reminds me that any human being can be a loyalty program member and really reap the rewards of it.
For more info on episodes, guests and to find travel inspiration, be sure to visit Out Travel The System’s blog at Expedia.com/stories/podcast.
All right, I want to thank you so much for joining us today. And let’s, of course, thank Katherine Fan for coming on the show again. It’s always such an amazing conversation with you, Katherine. And if you’d like to find out more about Katherine, you can follow her at @KatherineFanGirling on Instagram. Cute little name there, Katherine.
If you have any questions, comments, thoughts, or better yet, travel suggestions, please be sure to DM us. We are @Expedia, and follow, subscribe, and share.
Out Travel The System is brought to you by Expedia, with special thanks to PRX and Sonic Union. I’m the Executive Producer and your host, Nisreene Atassi. Special thanks to the following:
Additional writing by Rachel Sullivan
Producer Rishika Sharma
Associate Producers Syma Mohammed and Nathanael Taylor
Production Assistant is Alex Thiel and Carolina Garrigo
Theme music and original composition by Kevin J Simon
Music edit, sound design, and mix by Rob Ballingall
Music supervision by Justin Morris
Executive Producer and Writer Halle Petro
PRX Executive Producer Jocelyn Gonzalez
Out Travel The System is recorded with Sonic Union in New York City.
Join us next week as we speak to Yolanda Edwards. Yolanda is the founder of Yolo Journal and we’re going to talk all about the wanderlust gene.
Till next time, this is your host, Nisreene Atassi, for Out Travel The System. Find us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Happy travels!