Loyalty programs save time and money

Join up for every loyalty programme, even if the benefits are not immediately obvious. (Gallo)

Join up for every loyalty programme, even if the benefits are not immediately obvious. (Gallo)

Business travel remains an essential part of life for most organisations and this is where loyalty programmes across sub-Saharan Africa can become useful. Clever management of their systems can make your life substantially easier.

Not all customer loyalty programmes are created equal, some demand unreasonably high spend for minimal reward while others have fiendishly complex systems to redeem points,  and yet it is worth signing onto every one as you never know when they could come in handy. Their value may not be initially clear, but two years down the line could see you enjoying a list of free and convenient services that you had not expected.

Make sure that you have the loyalty cards relevant to your planned travel and accommodation, and try to register online for those that you don’t already have. Also check and see if any of them are running a special offer that could net you additional rewards or points. A great place to start is Business Traveller as it features deals from most airlines, hotel groups, schemes and car rental companies.

Travelling across Africa from the SADC to Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, has become almost generic. Most airlines offer ports of call across these countries, with the national airlines usually belonging to an alliance. The Flying Blue loyalty programme founded by Air France and KLM includes partner airlines such as Air Europa, Kenya Airways, Aircalin and Tarom. Virgin’s Flying Start programme is also worth joining as the airline covers most major destinations across the globe.

Emirates’ loyalty programme, Skywards, offers a similar system of tiers and miles as Flying Blue, and Virgin and SAA’s Voyager programme has redeemable miles for car rental, flights and even health spas and game reserves. The system is notoriously complex and the value per mile has dropped noticeably, but the discounts are worth the effort.

The best way to take advantage is to stock up on points or miles as much as possible to get the offers that deliver value for money. Although most business travellers don’t have much control over what airline they are using, it is a good idea to focus on gathering points from one airline per alliance and build up your status to the highest tier. The top level in any given programme will deliver financial benefits that easily compensate for the difficulties involved in redeeming points and earning them.

No loyalty programme would be complete without the requisite hotel accommodation. For most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the hotel chains include the usual suspects – The Hilton, Holiday Inn, Accor Hotels, and the Rezidor Hotel Group – and they all offer a variety of clubs and schemes. The majority of these chains now exist across the planet, and you can take advantage of loyalty points regardless of your destination. It’s worth applying for a loyalty card at every hotel you visit, even if they are not part of a group, as the benefits can make your life substantially easier as you rack up the points. The Club Carlson scheme, for example, nets you anything from hotel and partner redemption offers at the most basic level, to free breakfasts, room upgrades and a concierge.

Many of the flight and hotel loyalty reward schemes offer links to discounted or free car rental. To get the most out of these offerings, though, you need to be very loyalty point savvy, which is where sites like Flyertalk (www.flyertalk.com) or MilePoint (milepoint.com) come into play. Here you will find advice and ideas from seriously devoted people who take the use of loyalty programmes to an astonishing level.

Don’t forget your credit card and shopping rewards. MasterCard, AMEX and Visa offer spend and reward schemes, but make sure that you are getting true value for money. Research by Virgin Money* showed that the average spend for a free flight between Johannesburg or Cape Town was an astronomical R215 000 over six years. When you consider that it costs under R1k for an ordinary ticket, it’s pointless to even consider a credit card reward system for flights. However, there are other options, such as eBucks in South Africa, that will deliver on the reward promise when you shop locally and internationally.

If you happen to fly regularly to a specific destination, then invest in local reward cards and schemes. In Kenya the Kenol/ Kobil K-Card has reduced prices on fuel, Safaricom delivers Bonga Reward points on PrePaid cards, and the Nakumatt Smart Card or Uchumi U-card net you useful savings on day-to-day essentials.

Finally, don’t let all your hard work go to waste. According to a recent survey, in 2011 something like $16 billion of rewards went unused. Watch out for expiration dates, take advantage of promotions and keep your cards with you at all times. Simple tricks, easy tips, all these will set you firmly on the path of customer loyalty programme mastery. Don’t let the cards and miles use you, instead take control, grab the deals and earn the rewards.

This feature has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's adverisers. Content and photographs were sources independently by the Mail & Guardian's supplement editorial team. 


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