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TRAVEL CENTER

Be a Rewards Card Romeo

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By Dayana Yochim (TMF School)
January 13, 2005

Are you a swinger? No need to reveal your dating history -- the way you handle your frequent flier miles reveals a world of information about your style. "Swingers," for example, work all the angles to their advantage -- racking up points, transferring them to different accounts, doing whatever it takes to get the payout they've eyed all along.

According to a Priority Club Rewards quiz (free registration required), there are six types of reward-card carriers (the "reward" being bounty such as airline miles, hotel and retail discounts, and even cold hard cash). At their best, card carriers hoard points, work the system, and get a lot of loot for free. At their worst, loyalty card customers are less than loyal and swayed only by an instant payout such as a free in-room movie.

Where do you fit in the Priority Club Rewards spectrum?

Maybe you're a "Stasher," someone who meticulously saves their hotel receipts and boarding passes to make sure the miles are reflected in their statements. Most Stashers accumulate points for a dream vacation. Tip: Watch out for point expiration dates (some providers wipe out points after 18 months). And don't let your accumulation frenzy creep over into your habitat. Stacks of old newspapers are a fire hazard.

If racking up airline miles makes your heart soar, you are a "Shepherd." Textbook shepherds "fuel their free flight fixation" with everything, including hotel, rental car, and credit card miles. Tip: Look for programs that give you a large selection of hotel and airline partners.

Roll out the red carpet, room with a view and first class seats for the "Snob." Snobs use their points to get the service to which they'd like to become accustomed. Tip: Look for reward programs where your points can get you elite status, not just a free night in a hotel like the rest of the reward card riffraff.

No points? No purchase. That's how "Sherlocks" play the game. These sleuths seek the biggest reward payouts for their purchases. Tip: Seek out a program that is linked to larger hotel chains and that has multiple point-earning partners.

Dangling thousands of air miles in front of a "Slacker" does no good. Slackers aren't wooed by some distant payoff. They're more likely to be swayed by a program with immediate gratification. Tip: Next time you check in a hotel, see whether there's an instant perk -- such as free room movie for signing up, or extended checkout and a weekday newspaper.

And finally, we come back to the "Swingers." This savvy credit card customer prowls for free nights, flights, gift certificates, or whatever they can find. They'll transfer points and cash in on instant redemptions without breaking a sweat. Tip for the players: Join programs that offer a wide variety of rewards -- from airline miles to merchandise.

Me? I'm a card-carrying, cash-back Fool. But every checkout clerk can clearly see that without quizzing me.