I’m writing this sitting in the First Class Terminal of Lufthansa in Frankfurt, waiting to board my flight to Mumbai. For a flight in first class, which is supposed to cost 5 lakh, I paid roughly 5,000. It is the last flight of a 15-day long luxurious international vacation, where I only paid for three hotel nights . The rest was all paid for by reward programmes.

I frequently notice people at airports checking in for their flights without a rewards membership number on their boarding pass. This makes me wonder why don’t more people play “the long game" of reward programmes? When I asked around, people said they don’t bother with signing up for “rewards programmes" because they don’t travel as much. This is a misnomer, because one can earn rewards for many every day activities, and not just from flying. Others said they thought these programmes were more prevalent in Europe and the US, which isn’t entirely true.

Reward programmes can defray the cost of your travel, which means you get a lot more money in your pocket towards other experiences such as dining or shopping. These programmes can also make your travel experience better. For instance, you could travel in business class for less than the cash price of an economy ticket, like I do.

There are a few basic things to keep in mind when it comes to collecting reward points. You can collect air miles for Jet Airways, Air India and Vistara flights in India. So, you should sign up for their loyalty programmes. You can book tickets with travel agents or directly to earn miles. In many cases, you can credit miles for flying one airline to another airlines’ rewards programme. For example, you could fly Air India and credit miles to another Star Alliance member’s rewards programme. A website that helps you get information on which programme to credit your flights is wheretocredit.com.

For hotels, it works differently. When you book hotels via an online travel agent (OTA), you don’t accrue the hotel’s reward points. I almost always book my stays directly with the hotel on their website. A large hotel chain such as Marriott and Hyatt usually doesn’t allow OTAs to deep discount their rates, so it’s best to book directly and earn rewards. You can then use these points for free hotel stays at the properties of the hotel chain globally. Imagine staying at inexpensive hotels across India, and then using points accumulated for a fancy stay at a luxury hotel in Europe.

One of the best ways to collect travel reward points on a regular basis is to put your daily activities to work. For example, you could earn JPMiles for all sorts of activities such as dining, hotel stays, magazine subscriptions, buying fuel and many other ways. However, the best and most frequent one is to use plastic money on an ongoing basis. For over a decade, plastic money has been my major source of miles and points. From low-end debit cards to high-end credit cards, plastic money or cards give access to some or the other reward programmes. Back in the day, these reward points got you nothing more than merchandise from a catalogue, but now, it can get you travel rewards. For instance, American Express Membership Rewards can be transferred to a plethora of other programmes, such as British Airways’ Executive Club, Emirates’ Skywards, Hilton Honors, Marriott Rewards and others. HDFC Bank and Citibank offer similar options to their credit card customers. Even if you are a credit averse person, HDFC Bank has a JetPrivilege co-branded debit card, which offers JPMiles every time you swipe it to make a purchase.

Some credit cards earn you air miles directly. For instance, you can earn JPMiles with Amex, HDFC Bank, IndusInd Bank and ICICI Bank co-branded credit cards and Air India points with an SBI co-branded card. Other cards earn you points which can be used to buy tickets or transfer to rewards programs. HDFC Bank Diners Club and Citibank PremierMiles cards are good examples. For instance, each Citi PremierMiles gets you a value of 0.45 towards travel bookings, and these could be on any airline. Alternatively, two PremierMiles can also be converted to one mile in 14 travel loyalty programmes.

Last but not the least, you can now also earn travel rewards for paying your credit card bills. A new startup, Cred, is offering travel vouchers and other rewards for paying your bills via their app.

Earning rewards is not as difficult as most think once you get the drift of it. All it takes is some patience to understand the rules and applying them.

Elevate Your Travel is a column for the business travellers by a business traveller.

Ajay Awtaney is founder and editor of Livefromalounge.com, a frequent-flyer website focusing on travel rewards programmes.

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