Apr 5, 2019, 09:50am EDT
Geoff Whitmore, Contributor, Forbes.com
There are plenty of loyalty programs available to consumers and the travel sector is no exception. With hotel, airline and rental car rewards programs available to frequent travelers, are other loyalty programs worth it? Even more so, are airport rewards programs worth it if you don’t spend much time there?
Think about it. Compared to the other time you spend traveling, you spend relatively little at the airport. When you are there for a lengthy amount of time, you likely spend those hours in an airport lounge (which you access via your airline loyalty program or credit card). When should you consider an airport rewards program worth it?
If you do a lot of shopping at the airport, then an airport rewards program could be valuable during your travels. There aren’t really any other rewards programs that offer you the ability to earn and spend points when shopping at the airport, save for a few select Middle Eastern airline loyalty programs.
However, airport loyalty programs like Heathrow Rewards give you points for shopping and airport dining. Then you can turn around and spend those points at the same retailers and brands.
If you just want to have the easiest travel experience possible and you don’t want to waste time with any airport hassles, then an airport rewards program could be valuable. Many give you little perks that, while you might not outright go looking for them, add up to make your flying experience much easier.
These little perks include free Wi-Fi, free parking and lounge access to non-airline-affiliated lounges. Keep in mind that often these lounges aren’t as nice, but they’re a good place to find some free food and drinks while you wait.
Flying Out Of Smaller U.S. Airports
Airport loyalty programs in the United States seem to cater to those that travel out of smaller airports, particularly business travelers. These airports are usually located near business hubs that are also small cities (many state capitols, for example). A business traveler could more conveniently fly into this small city even if it’s only an hour’s drive away from a larger hub, like Newark or O’Hare.
However, to ensure that those business travelers do make return trips, the smaller airports often offer more perks and better loyalty programs.
Flying Out Of Larger European Airports
The trend seems to be reversed in Europe. There, the airport loyalty programs are most likely to be found at larger airports versus the smaller ones. The most well known is the loyalty program at Heathrow, but you can find others at airports in Milan and Copenhagen. All of these are modeled after traditional loyalty programs such as what you’d find with any hotel or airline, making it an easy program to add to your roster and begin taking advantage of immediately.
Additionally, these larger programs often hold special promotions in partnership with other brands that you likely know and love, such as an airline that frequently flies in and out of that airport. This way, you get the most for your money.
Prefer Driving Your Own Vehicle
Most recently, more and more airport loyalty programs have been springing up and pushing their benefits in an effort to combat Uber and Lyft. Obviously, when travelers take ridesharing services such as these, they don’t need to bring their own car to the airport and then park it at a ridiculously high rate for a week or more. This results in lost revenue for the airport.
Instead, airport loyalty programs are pushing their discounted or free parking as a perk to travelers to make them reconsider using Uber or Lyft in the hopes that it will entice them to join and take advantage of their loyalty program.
Best Airport Loyalty Programs
If you’re considering joining an airport loyalty program, these are some of the best to consider.
As mentioned several times, Heathrow Rewards gives travelers at Heathrow Airport the ability to earn points. Members can then spend those points on shopping, dining and parking. However, you can also transfer your Heathrow Rewards points to airlines, such as British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and more.
Also in Europe, Copenhagen’s airport has its CPH Advantage loyalty program which gives you free Wi-Fi (a $7 saving), parking discounts, lounge discounts, shopping discounts and free gifts. The membership is tiered, however, so you can work your way up into better and better perks the more you visit and spend.
Thanks Again is a U.S. airport loyalty program that extends to over 100 small airports all over the country. Pair your most-used credit or debit card with your account and use it when you spend at participating retailers and restaurants that are part of the program. This is an easy way to earn points along the way of your travels. Points are then used to redeem gift cards with Uber, Amazon and Lyft. You can also transfer your points to major airlines including Southwest, American, United and Aeromexico Club Premier.