The lot of the small business entrepreneur is often not a glamorous one. The trade-off for the sense of accomplishment and the joy of being ‘in on the ground floor’ of building a business is long hours, sometimes razor-thin margins and frequent sacrifice.
For travelers who fly frequently for large corporations, rewards programs have long been a perk of the job. The points accrued go to upgrades, lounge access and even family vacations. Meanwhile the traveler for the small to medium size enterprise has been relegated to the floor in the gate area, swilling cold coffee and plugged into one of the only free outlets in the entire airport.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Over the past several years carriers have been working harder to attract small and medium enterprises (SMEs). One way many airlines are doing that is with loyalty programs dedicated to the SME flier, allowing collected miles or points to provide a variety of benefits for both the firm and for its travelers.
Being able to take advantage of an airline SME scheme is relatively easy. According to the federal government’s Small Business Administration, a small business can be defined as anything between one employee and 1,500 – which covers about 98 percent of the companies in America.
But airlines apply their own, simpler, criteria. For example, American Airlines sets the bar at a minimum of two traveling employees for a firm to join its Business Extra program, while others, such as Singapore Airlines, sets a minimum on the dollar amount ($50,000 US). The upper limit of the business size may also be determined by the airlines; for example, Etihad putting a top number of 50 staff per company on its Business Connect.
An important point for anyone considering joining such a program is that they are separate from those of individual travelers. These days, there’s no such thing as a single-minded ‘business-only business traveler.’ It’s increasingly difficult to categorize the nature of any trip, so business class cabins are just as likely to be filled with flip-flop-clad ‘bleisure’ travelers as they are silk-suited execs.
As a consequence, most programs, such as BA’s Executive Club or SAS EuroBonus, are set up so it’s possible for an SME to join and earn points without affecting each employee’s own personal awards benefits. Taking the time to register your company for a corporate program allows you to amply collect both individually and for the company.
So here we offer an even dozen airline programs that are either tailored specifically for SMEs or offer significant benefits for all comers, regardless of size.
BlueBiz not only earns “blue credits” for your company when employees fly with Air France or KLM, but also when they travel with Alitalia and Delta Air Lines. Blue credits can be converted into tickets or upgrades. The program is free and open to businesses of any size.
Visit bluebiz.com for details.
American Airlines’ travel rewards program ensures that employees continue to earn their AAdvantage miles as businesses buying the tickets earn points towards traveler awards. Different awards and upgrades are available by region and points can be used on British Airways and Iberia as well. This is specifically an SME program.
The details are at businessextra.com.
BA’s business frequent flyer plan is not only free to join, but is available to companies of all sizes. Travelers can also earn On Business points when flying with American Airlines and Iberia. Not only will businesses earn points, but the individual travelers can still earn personal Avios points as well.
For more information visit ba.com.
CATHAY PACIFIC AND DRAGONAIR
Corporate Travel Solutions
Cathay Pacific and Dragonair have developed a corporate frequent travel program that allows travelers to not only have added convenience but also to allow businesses to gain rewards for their travelers. One detail to note is that your company must be registered in Hong Kong or Macau to be eligible but the program does accept companies of all sizes.
Learn more at cathaypacific.com.
DELTA AIR LINES
Delta’s SME program is free and you must be a small to medium-sized company for eligibility. For every $1 spent, Skybonus rewards your company with points that can be redeemed for anyone the company chooses. Flying with a joint venture partner, Air France, KLM or Alitalia will result in SkyBonus points as well.
For details visit skybonus.delta.com.
Etihad Business Connect
Etihad’s SME program merges Etihad Guest accounts for individuals with business connect accounts so that both the solo traveler and the business earn miles. Made specifically for companies with between two and 50 travelers, the more employees enrolled, the more benefits the company receives. This is specifically an SME program.
Visit etihad.com to learn more.
This customer loyalty program gives travelers the chance to earn benefit points on up to 12 airline partners. The program is free and businesses of small to medium-size can redeem flights for free flights, upgrades and a number of other benefits.
For details visit partnerplusbenefit.com.
Membership in SAS Credits is free and there are no minimum requirements to join. Travelers earn up to 10 percent of the ticket price in SAS Credits, plus three SAS Credits per hotel room per night on stays with participating Radisson Blu and Park Inn by Radisson Hotel throughout Scandinavia, Europe and the Middle East. Travelers can also earn EuroBonus points at the same time.
Visit flysas.com for details.
Corporate Travel Program
Singapore Airlines has recently introduced a new corporate travel program, which has specific requirements and gives various rewards based on geographic location. It is available to companies of all sizes.
Find out more at singaporeair.com
The PerksPlus program is free to join and gives small to medium size companies points every time one of their registered travelers flies with United, United Express and other partners. Individuals will still receive benefits from United’s loyalty program.
The PassPlus program is a yearly pre-paid program that offers greater savings and more amenities, like priority check-in and economy plus seating. Points and discounts count toward flights operated by United, United Express, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Swiss and ANA. This is specifically an SME program.
Details on both PerksPlus and PassPlus can be found at united.com.
Virgin Atlantic’s corporate loyalty program is free to join, is available to companies of all sizes, and miles are earned by both the business and the individual. In the past, many SME programs would only allow points and rewards when booked directly through their site. However, Virgin Atlantic will still reward points when booked through a travel agent. A minimum of four people must be enrolled per company.
Learn more at virgin-atlantic.com
Small Business Staying Power
There’s more than one way for small businesses to manage and leverage the money they spend on their trips. Hotel SME programs may be one of the best-kept secrets in travel. Here’s a representative rundown of a few of the offerings especially designed for the entrepreneur.
Best Western Hotels & Resorts
Best Western Business Advantage
This program is designed for small to medium-sized businesses, offering a preferred rate plan with a 10 percent discount and automatic elite-level status. Businesses also earn bonus points from their travelers’ stays, which can then be used on future business stays or company incentives.
InterContinental Hotels Group
IHG Business Rewards
This US version of the program is open to individuals who book business accommodations, business meetings, and corporate events on behalf of others. There is no minimum qualifying threshold and members may earn up to 60,000 points for each qualified event. They can also earn Rewards Club points on personal stays.
Langham Hospitality Group
The Optimum Program
Langham’s corporate rates program for SMEs offers corporate rates and perks at all participating Langham Hotels and Resorts for companies that occupy between 20 and 50 room nights each year. Features include exclusive rate offers, airline partner miles for all travelers and an invitation to enroll as a Gateway member in Langham’s loyalty program, 1865.
La Quinta Inns & Suites
Bright Now Program
Designed for small businesses, the Bright Now program adds up to a 10 percent discount off the best available rates at any La Quinta property in the US, Canada and Mexico. Travelers who are also members of La Quinta Returns continue to earn points toward free stays and other rewards.
Marriott for Small Business
This program’s features turn Marriott properties into the SME traveler’s base of operations. In addition to accruing Marriott Rewards points, other options include discounts on advance purchase, ‘Park Here, Fly There’ complimentary parking with overnight stays, and free breakfast when a stay includes a Friday or Saturday night. Add in the Marriott Rewards Premier Visa Signature Business Credit Card for small business and get more points and benefits.
Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts
The Business Travel Program
This corporate loyalty program for SMEs rewards firms that book at least 50 individual rooms/stays a year at all hotels and selected resorts under the Shangri-La, Kerry, Hotel Jen and Traders brands, but requires no a monetary commitment. The dedicated online corporate account portal lets businesses enjoy up to 10 percent off the best available rates, in addition to complimentary amenities during stays.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts
No word yet on exactly how the Marriott-Starwood linkup is likely to affect the points programs, but Starwood’s SPG is touted as one of the crown jewels of the merger. So many of its features are probably going to be part of whatever new loyalty program Marriott cooks up, including perhaps some form of SPG Business. Until that happens, enrolled companies can enjoy discounted rates, easy-to-use tools and perks for their business travelers like bonus Starpoints, room upgrades and late checkout at more than 1,100 properties worldwide.