Top tips to maximise hotel and flight rewards points

Scoop up those loyalty points from major hotel stays and don't let them lapse.
Scoop up those loyalty points from major hotel stays and don't let them lapse. Photo: iStock

They were sitting in my account in December: a stack of shiny, waiting-to-be-used reward points from a leading hotel chain.

Not a soaring tower of points, to be sure, but a nice little bundle all the same.

One month later, they'd disappeared and my account balance reset to zero. And I had only myself to blame.

I'd broken the cardinal rule of the point-savvy set and done something the experts always advise you should never let happen. I'd let my points expire.

If a maxim of points collectors is to think of points as cash – after all, they are a form of currency and when converted into an airline ticket or hotel rooms  they have a real-world value – then I'd just gone and thrown money down the drain.

It wasn't thousands of dollars worth of points, to be sure. But it would have been sufficient for a free night in a suite at one of the group's five-star properties.

Managing your points portfolio

That's part of the challenge for many business travellers – being mindful of their 'points portfolio'.

It's a little easier with airline frequent flyer points. You'll probably be flying with only a few airlines, and if you're jetting about often and in business class, the points grow to a level where you can't 'forget' about them.

And because you're flying often, the points won't expire.

(Qantas allows for 18 months of inactivity before resetting the counter; Virgin Australia doubled that to 36 months.)

However, like many road warriors, I don't stay often enough with any single hotel group to amass a mountain of reward points at any. As a result, I have small piles of points scattered across a dozen hotel schemes.

Here are a few ways to stay on top of your points spread.

Playing favourites

Whenever you can, fly with the same airline or stay within the same 'family' of hotels.

For example, Starwood has 11 different hotel brands where you can earn SPG points; Accor has 12 core brands, some of which have their own offshoots.

If you're flying on partner airlines, consider funnelling points back into a single account.

The aim isn't just to accrue more points in a single currency: your repeat bookings help build the customer status that can deliver free upgrades, lounge access, late hotel checkouts and other practical perks.

Track your points

There's no need to become an Excel super-nerd about this, although I know some number crunchers who assiduously tally their points via very detailed spreadsheets.

AwardWallet is a popular and free online service to manage your points balance across hundreds of airline, hotel, hire car and credit card reward programs.

You'll receive updates as newly-earned points are posted and, more importantly, as any expiry dates draw near.

Use them or lose them

In most cases, almost any activity on your account – no matter how small – will keep all of the points in that scheme 'alive'.

That's a doddle for airlines, especially with frequent flyer partners where you can earn points for your everyday shopping or by filling the petrol tank in the family car.

Hotels might not offer so many of these 'escape hatches', but each hotel chain has ways you can redeem even a small number of points, and in some cases you can buy points to top up your account.

Most hotel groups also let you convert their reward points into airline frequent flyer points, so even if you can't get that free stay at a five-star suite you'll be closer to your next flight or business class upgrade.

Do you get the most out of your flight and stay reward points? Do you have any tips to share?

Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of Australian Business Traveller magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of Executive Style readers.

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