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The Secret Benefits Small Businesses Can Get Through Airline Programs

By Ramsey Qubein

May 25, 2017

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Here’s what you need to know to double dip on frequent flier miles.

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Bet you didn’t know: Many large companies work directly with airlines to get discounts for their employees, thanks to the large number of seats the companies buy each year.

Those of us who don’t work for one of these big companies are left with feverish airfare searches and price comparison sites. But if you work for a smaller business, there’s some good news when it comes to collecting miles. Even though you may not buy enough to score a bulk discount, airlines still vie for the meaningful business of small companies through small-business programs.

These programs are separate from the standard frequent flier program and awards miles or points to companies, which can be spent on free travel for anyone. That means you can double dip when you fly. Whether you own a business or work in a company with a few other travelers, this is important news; you could be leaving free miles on the table.

How to join

Small-business loyalty programs are designed to encourage repeat business with one airline even at a time when loyalty among fliers may be experiencing some turbulence due to recent changes in the way travelers earn miles. Each airline has its own requirements to join. Delta’s SkyBonus, for example, requires having a minimum of five travelers flying per year with at least $5,000 of cumulative spending. These programs also require having either a Social Security number or tax identification number to set up the account.

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The way airlines define a “traveler” is fairly loose. For example, one traveler can do the bulk of the flying while others may only hit the tarmac a few times a year. What’s most important for the airline is to see loyalty and a commitment to travel on its flights. Eligible companies are those that do not have any type of sales or discount agreement with the airline and meet its entry requirements.

What’s in it for you

Double dipping on miles is a great way to stay rewarded when you’re loyal to one airline. You earn the standard frequent flier miles for flying plus a number of points or miles based on how many dollars you spend. These points or miles (separate from the frequent flier program of each airline) can then be redeemed for free travel, airline lounge passes, and upgrades. The best part is that these awards are transferable, meaning they can be given to anyone.

It is a lucrative perk that companies can use however they like, and if you are the one who manages travel, there could be ample treasure coming your way. Points can be earned for air travel on an airline’s partners, too, which is good news for those who travel often overseas.

The biggest programs and what they offer

The world’s largest airline, American Airlines, has a substantial small-business program dubbed BizExtrAA. Once you sign up, you simply enter the membership number in your reservation details when booking a flight. You can also earn credit retroactively by emailing the program.

For each $10 spent on air travel (excluding taxes and fees), a company earns two BizExtrAA points. This includes flights on American and its joint venture partners British Airways, Finnair, and Iberia. Rewards include domestic flights for 2,000 points or flights to Europe at 7,200 points. Cheaper options include drink or headset vouchers or Admirals Club day passes for 300 points.

It’s important to keep track of your flights to make sure the proper credit is given. The BizExtrAA program is the least restrictive of the major legacy airlines because there is no minimum spend or number of participating travelers required.

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Delta’s SkyBonus is a bit more regimented in that $5,000 must be spent cumulatively by at least five travelers each year for the account to remain active. The earning structure varies depending upon the type of ticket that you book, with flights originating in hub cities penalized with fewer points (presumably because there are more desirable nonstop flights and less incentive is needed to book them). Pricier fares can earn as many as 30 points per dollar spent, and companies that earn two million points in a calendar year are given “elite status,” which earns even more points per dollar spent. Awards include Sky Club memberships for 125,000 points or long-haul flights to South America for 460,000 points. This sounds like a lot, but when you have many people traveling, the points can add up quickly. Points can be earned for travel on Delta, Delta Private Jets, or its joint venture partners Air France, Alitalia, and KLM. Even if you forget to enter your number when making reservations, you can retroactively request credit using a simple online form.

At United, PerksPlus has a higher threshold for entry because it requires a minimum of five participating travelers and a spend of at least $25,000. Points can be earned on flights with United and numerous partners, including ANA, Austrian, Brussels, Lufthansa, and Swiss International.

Two points are awarded per dollar spent except for those traveling from hub cities where there is less competition. In those instances, only one point per dollar is awarded. More expensive fares can earn as many as six points per dollar spent.

True to its name, there are some great perks like a United Club membership for 65,000 points, drink or headset vouchers, and the ability to gift elite status to travelers for as few as 60,000 points.

Frequent fliers have to be creative if they want to continue earning a decent number of miles in their travels, and small business programs with airlines provide an exceptional value.

>>Next: British Airways Lets Kids Fly Free This Summer

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