Use rewards programs to supplement your income, boost business and learn more about supplier products.
Are you getting the most benefit out of your supplier rewards programs? Travel agent rewards and loyalty programs offer a variety of benefits and perks for agents, from cash rewards and free nights at hotels to discounts on personal travel and more. But there’s more to these programs than simply accruing points or cash.
Savvy agents make the most of these programs by leveraging their perks and benefits to the fullest, gaining the ability to supplement income, boost business, learn more about the products they sell and sometimes even to improve their relationships with supplier partners.
“Travel partner rewards programs are a great incentive for building relationships between the partners and travel advisors,” says Kristen Lowrey Larson, a travel advisor with Artistico Travel Consultants, Inc., a Virtuoso Agency in Folsom, California. “The existence of a rewards program demonstrates that the partner values the travel advisor and, in turn, their clients. Advisors should focus on booking with partners that make sense for their clients, but also reward the advisor for their business.”
Today, loyalty programs are abundant throughout the industry, offered by travel partners ranging from rental car providers and cruise lines to destination tourism boards, hotel companies and more. With so many options in the market, agents have a wide variety of opportunities to reap rewards for both their clients and themselves—but incentive programs can sometimes be tricky to navigate, requiring some time and effort to leverage them to the fullest. Without proper prioritization and strategic use of these programs, it’s possible for agents to miss out on their most valuable personal and professional benefits.
With this in mind, shrewd advisors won’t simply create an account and wait for rewards to come their way. Agents should familiarize themselves with the programs—particularly the ones they will accrue rewards with most frequently or quickly—and make sure they are getting not just the most out of each one, but also the best returns for their particular needs.
Linda Kibak, an independent travel consultant with Frosch Travel in New York, New York, for instance, finds that rewards programs that provide gift cards are her best option. She feels programs that offer travel rewards can sometimes take too long to accumulate what is needed to redeem. “I prefer either cash (gift cards) or points that I can turn into merchandise that I want,” she adds.
For Jeremy Hall, who handles operations, sales and marketing for Cruise Vacations International, a Virtuoso agency in Rockville, Maryland, the key to finding the best agent rewards programs is looking for those that help him do better business.
“The most important thing is value—and not necessarily cash value,” says Hall. “I prefer programs that will drive business and keep clients coming back, such as those that offer education and experience with the product.”
Whether agents are seeking increased sales, supplemental income or personal rewards from their supplier loyalty programs, the following tips will help ensure those goals are met.
Larson is a member of at least 10 rewards programs, and feels that “there really is no downside to having a rewards account, even if you don’t think you will utilize it often.” However, if agents choose to sign up for a multitude of programs, it’s wise to be well organized in order to benefit fully. Larson keeps track of all her programs with a spreadsheet that includes points balances and when the points expire. It’s not a complicated tracking process, she says, but can pay off in a big way. “A few rewards programs really pay for my annual personal travel,” she says.
Hall, too, is a member of over a dozen rewards programs. He uses his digital calendar to keep track of when he expects to receive a reward, and keeps the programs’ names and log-in information in a document on his desktop to stay organized. “When I’m selling a product, I know where to go for rewards based on that document,” he says.
For agents who want to keep things even simpler, they can limit participation to just the most frequently used or most rewarding programs. “Focus on a few programs that you know you are going to use based on the types of clients you have,” Larson advises. “Try to book through a few programs as opposed to spreading it out.”
Consider Benefits and Drawbacks
When choosing their loyalty programs, agents can weigh the time and effort required for use against the value they will get out of each opportunity. Some programs can be overly complicated, difficult to track or simply not offer benefits that will be useful to the agent.
For Larson, two such considerations are the ease of signing up and the timeframe before the points will expire. “Rewards programs that require me to jump through hoops at the beginning make me think that reward redemption will also be difficult,” she says. “The few accounts that I redeem my rewards from are very transparent in the account balance, and make it easy to search for rewards.”
Ease of use is also important to Hall. “I make sure to put in my rewards number every time as long as it’s easy to do,” he says. “It is fairly important to have a rewards program that is easy to redeem, because time is money. Sometimes those points don’t hold the value of the time it takes to redeem them.”
Take Advantage of Multi-Partner Programs
Programs with multiple partners can also help agents rack up rewards. “A rewards program with multiple partners is a one-stop shop that provides travel professionals with a lot of convenience, so that they can focus their time and attention on other things,” says Charles Crowder, vice president of global accounts and cross border sales for Avis Budget Group. “Plus, there’s only one membership number to remember and they can accrue more rewards.”
Hall agrees: “The more products that are in a rewards program, the better the chance I have to benefit from it personally or professionally.”
Agents should keep track of all the participating partners in a program, so that they can lump rewards together and maximize their points whenever possible. “Some rewards programs allow you to transfer points to other accounts,” Larson says. She also points out that it’s important to look into all the partners’ offerings individually, because “some rewards programs might seem to overlap, but their redemption policies and offerings might be different.”
Watch for Promotions
One way to get the most out of rewards programs is to keep track of special promotions associated with them, according to Kibak. “I always check if there are any promotions that I can take advantage of to increase the reward amount,” she says. “Or sometimes, if the reward is given in points, I check if there are any ‘sales’ on items with a lower number of points needed for that one item.”
Larson also looks out for rewards promotions. “By paying attention to annual incentive programs, advisors can plan their marketing around reward program incentives,” she says. “If a partner always runs a gift card giveaway in June, or offers extra commission percentages at certain times of the year, advisors can try to guide their clients to book during those windows.”
Put Rewards Back into Your Business
For agents who want to put loyalty program rewards toward boosting business instead of personal use, a little creativity can go a long way. For instance, even rewards that an advisor might typically keep for themselves can be used to encourage client loyalty and drum up bookings.
Hall suggests finding “strategic ways to use reward gift cards to drive more business,” such as putting them toward giveaways that will reward clients and promote his agency. He also turns his hotel points into self-made fam trips, using free stays to experience properties firsthand, which in turn helps his business. “If I experience the product, then I have confidence in what I’m selling,” he explains.