How I travel in luxury and comfort on a budget

Tanwa Hostel Chiang Mai Thailand

I sometimes get the question how I afford my travel habits and have the “business travel” perks without spending tons of money. I wrote this article to explain my personal experience with hotel loyalty programs and airline frequent flyer programs. If you’re a beginner, read on!

2 other blog posts that may come in handy: how to book cheap flights and how to book cheap hotels.

 

A) Choose the right Frequent Flyer Program

1. Earn miles & spend miles

Do you fly on occasion? Some people choose the frequent flyer program they get offered during booking. Belgians will mostly choose Miles & More frequent flyer program because it is offered by Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian and Brussels Airlines. However, if you register for Miles & More and you don’t fly frequently , your miles will most likely expire and you get nothing in return for your loyalty. Your best bet in this case is to find a frequent flyer program where your miles don’t expire quickly or where your miles don’t expire if you connect it with a credit card. Belgians have limited options:

  • Without Credit Card
    • Aegean Miles+Bonus – Program I use – Click here for my whole explanation
      Star Alliance (Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian, Brussels, Aegean, South African Airways, Ethiopian, SAS, United, Thai Airways, …)
      Miles do not expire – your account may become inactive if you do not claim any flights in a 48-month period.

      This is a huge difference with Miles & More, where your collected miles expire after 36 months of a flight except if you have frequent flyer status or have a credit card linked to it.
  • With Credit Card
    • Miles & More Brussels Airlines Credit Cards
      Star Alliance (Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian, Brussels, Aegean, South African Airways, Ethiopian, SAS, United, Thai Airways, …)
      Miles do not expire as long as you use the credit card – on top of that you earn miles while you use your credit card. Changing your spending habit (e.g. paying fuel, groceries and other expenses) with your credit card, can earn you miles but you have to pay an annual fee. On top of that, you have to prove a significant annual earning. Travel insurance is included.
    • Premium Flying Blue World Mastercard
      Flying Blue (SkyTeam: KLM, Air France, Aeroflot, Alitalia, Delta, Kenya Airways, etc…)
      Same as Brussels Airlines credit cards but for a different alliance and easier to request.
      It all depends which airlines you personally will use the most in the future whether you choose for Star Alliance or SkyTeam.

So do you wonder what you can do with your miles? The best way to use miles is to book flights. As you still have to pay taxes and fees on award flights, it is mostly interesting to book business class or first class award flights with them. For example, a flight from FRA (frankfurt) to SIN (Singapore) may cost you over €250 in taxes, which is nearly the price you’d pay for a ticket by booking the ticket in economy. €250 however is a very good deal for a business class ticket and a steal for a first class experience (Lufthansa). Some airlines are known for their low taxes and fees such as Singapore Airlines, Air India, Thai Airways, Ethiopian Airlines and a few others but these taxes also depend on your departing and arriving airport. Business Class is amazing for long haul flights. You’ll get a lie-flat seat and you’ll be able to sleep during the flight and awake fresh at your destination!


My starter on a Brussels Airlines flight to FNA (Freetown) in Business Class

2. Travel in comfort with your airline status

A frequent flyer status with your favourite alliance can give you great advantages. The greatest benefit is definitely lounge access. A gold status allows you to invite one additional guest to the lounge. Getting a status is generally not very easy, but with some tricks, it might be much easier than some people think. I chose Miles+Bonus as it is the easiest program to get Gold status. I’ve already written an article about Aegean’s frequent flyer program.  Another fairly easy program is Miles&Smiles by Turkish Airlines, but I do not have any experience with them.

the bar at The Loft by Brussels Airlines – a very nice lounge… if it is not too busy!

  • My first time to get my Silver status
    To get Silver status for the first time, you need 2 Aegean flights and 12,000 miles OR 24,000 miles
    As I flew BRU-ATH-BRU (Brussels to Athens and back) I already had my 2 flight segments with Aegean and 2600 miles. I then flew BRU-CPH-PEK (Brussels to Copenhagen to Peking) in Premium Economy with SAS, which earned me 200% of the miles flown, resulting in 10,140 miles. I had Silver status and 740 miles were transferred to my next goal: to get Gold status. It is therefore interesting to look at “sweet spots” of mileage earnings.

Showering during transit (CPH SAS Lounge) is the most refreshing experience before or after air travel…

  • My first time to get my Gold status
    To get Gold status for the first time, you need 4 Aegean flights and 24,000 miles OR 48,000 miles
    I was in Beijing/Peking (see post about Silver status) and returned by flying PEK-ARN-CPH-BRU which earned me 11,340 miles. I then visited Beirut with a very good Aegean deal by transferring in Athens, earning 4 Aegean segments and 2821 miles. As a silver member, I had 2 upgrade vouchers so I flew (and reviewed) the flights from Beirut to Athens to Brussels in business class. To get the final miles for gold status, I flew a cheap fare with Ethiopian Airlines BRU-ADD-JNB-ADD-BRU, which earned me 12,208 miles. As Ethiopian Airlines uses PlusGrade, I was able to upgrade some of the segments with the lowest offer available.


Ethiopian Airlines Business Class known as Cloud Nine – I make the seat look small but there’s plenty of space as you can see the sleeping person next to me

If you manage to get a frequent flyer status, it is much easier to retain the status. I need 4 Aegean flights every year and to fly 12,000 miles which is half of the required miles to earn Gold for the first time. As you get 4 upgrade coupons, flying 4 Aegean segments in business for the price of an economy ticket makes it much more enjoyable. As a half-Greek I travel to Greece anyway. Other travellers use it as an excuse to make a short trip to the Greek islands. A return trip from Europe to one of the Greek islands with transferring in Athens gives you 4 Aegean segments already!

If I travel with a Star Alliance Member, I can use most priority lanes, visit the lounge, take extra luggage with me and get priority in case of overbooked flights and eventually, free upgrades to business class. Getting the Gold status earned me about 55,000 Aegean miles, just enough to book a one-way First Class Lufthansa flight to Dubai or Delhi, a flight where they serve caviar and Dom Perignon, awesome!

B) Choose the right Hotel Loyalty Program

Staying loyal to a certain hotel chain can give you a lot of benefits. There are a lot of options on the market: Hilton Honors, SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) and IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group). I have explained IHG benefits already in this post and another post about InterContinental Ambassador. You can earn points fairly easy with IHG, by staying and by participating to the quartal bonuses (Accelerate). Being an IC Ambassador gives you a guaranteed room upgrade. In IC Sandton Towers I even got an upgrade to their small but cosy Club Lounge!

IC Sandton Towers – Club Lounge during the day

Another way to maximize benefits with Ambassador is by booking a room with Club Lounge access and extend it with your annual weekend certificate. I ended up with a very nice room and an amazing Club Lounge in InterContinental Berlin for two nights, for the price of one night!

IC Berlin – Club Lounge drinks selection


IC Berlin – Club Deluxe Room with complementary fruits and jar of mixed nuts as ambassador

You can save points and use them to book reward nights for up to 60,000 points. One of the most famous redemptions for IHG Points is at the IC Le Moana in Bora Bora, a place I didn’t manage to visit yet, but it offers Overwater Bungalows! Because of the popularity of it, it is hard to book a reward night. Americans earn much more IHG points because they have credit card bonuses with them.


IC Le Moana – Picture from ihg.com

 

C) Combine tricks and get the most out of your (travel) expenses

You can start combining the tips and tricks I explained above. If you have a credit card and book a flight, you will get points for your expenses on your credit card, miles for your flight if you are eligible to earn miles and eventually use other tricks to get the most out of it!

As a Belgian, I can book an Aegean flight, add my A3 frequent flyer number and earn miles for the flight. I will get an additional 20% award miles because I am Miles+Bonus Gold. If I paid this flight with my Premium FlyingBlue Mastercard, I will also earn miles on my FlyingBlue account.

I can book a hotel in Athens with IHG, which earns IHG Points. Paying my stay with my FlyingBlue Mastercard earns me Flyingblue miles too. If I book this on IHG linked from TopCashBack, I can get a small cashback on the expenses of the hotel! This gets me points on two different accounts and programs and some money in return! Other combinations are possible too. I can earn miles on Miles+Bonus by using their affiliate link to Booking.com.

You can read about my own tips & tricks to book cheap flights and to book cheap hotels.

If you’re a Belgian citizen you might be interested in flight deals from Belgium. Take a look at www.vliegverniet.be

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: