Getting the most out of your travel rewards during the holidays

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The holidays are an expensive time for travel, but thankfully with a little bit of planning and saving, you can make your loyalty points work for you.

North Americans use loyalty programs to book countless trips and can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars. During the holidays, however, it can be a challenge to navigate blackout periods and ensure you have enough points to book flights, hotels or other travel related expenses. There are ways, however, to plan a great trip during the holiday season without blowing either your cash or loyalty point budget. We spoke to Jennifer Corwin, Associate Practice Leader at J.D. Power Global Travel & Hospitality, for her suggestions on navigating your points and planning a seamless travel experience.

Plan for the blackout dates

Blackout dates can pose a special challenge to travelers who want to book trips during peak seasons like the holidays. The key is to understand your program and plan ahead – something many program members don’t do. In fact, the recent J.D. Power 2017 Hotel Loyalty Program Satisfaction Study found that nearly half of loyalty program members indicate a less-than-clear understanding of how to earn their points, and only half know how to redeem them.

“Be aware of when the blackout periods are,” says Corwin. “It’s not that you can’t travel, but you need to have enough points. If you know when you’ll be travelling and want to save some money, plan accordingly and prepare for that.”

The good news is that the industry appears to be moving away from the true blackout period, so be sure to check the rules of your particular program or choose a program that better suits your needs.

Points aren’t just for hotels

The J.D. Power survey found that frequent travelers want to use their points on more than just hotel stays. Satisfaction was higher for redemptions involving product purchases, special events, car rentals and dining.

If you are planning to use your points to save money during the holidays, research the different categories where you can really maximize your points. You might have to pay a premium for a hotel stay, for instance, but other areas like car rentals might come at a discount during the same period. Look and see where your points can give you the best return per dollar and use them to get the best savings.

Shop around for the program that suits your needs

Each program is different, so shop around for the program that works best for you and your lifestyle. If you plan to do the majority of your travel during the holidays and do not want to deal with blackout dates, read the fine print and choose a program that doesn’t have them. If you want variety beyond hotel stays, look into the different redemption options available. Finally, service is key so do your research and choose a program that has a strong customer service rating.

Traveling during the holidays can be a fun, relaxing way to wrap up a busy year. Travel rewards can help make the experience easy on your wallet too. Plan ahead, budget your points and enjoy a well-deserved getaway.

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