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News & Advice

Richard Quest: Why business travellers should get miles ahead

The View From Here

Forgive me, but this article is really designed for a particular group of people: those of us whose professional lives mean we collect serious quantities of frequent-flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. We are the people who know our programme membership numbers better than our family's birthdays.

I always start the New Year with a commitment to right the travelling wrongs I made in the 12 months just past. The opportunities I missed out on to earn frequent-flyer points; the wrong airlines I flew which meant I failed to requalify for higher élite status on my preferred carriers; the poor choices of hotels I made; even those occasions when I stupidly opted for the dreaded pre-pay fuel option and ended up giving the car rental company back half a tank of petrol – a particular irritation.

Chief of my resolutions is to start racking up élite miles sooner rather than later. I am talking about those miles which count towards my gold status on the airline or hotel group. Starting early means I don't have that end-of-year rush to requalify just before 31 December, when most plans reset.

Even in the BA Executive Club, where tier points reset on the anniversary of joining the scheme, not the calendar year, this is a good time to bank extra tier points since February is an excellent month for travel – especially across the Atlantic. Fares are cheaper, upgrades are easier to get, hotels are quieter.

I am not suggesting, of course, that we become mendacious towards our employers and propose unnecessary trips. But if a journey has to be made, get those miles in the bank now, and be glad later in the year when fares are more expensive and you are busier.

The other resolution I urge is: study your corporate travel policy backwards and make it work for you – always remembering battling the bean counters is a waste of time. Those whose travel universe extends no further than the 7.40am to Waterloo are frankly both envious and suspicious of our travels, so don't bother trying to bend the rules. Rather, learn the nooks and crannies of the policies and work them to your advantage.

For example, if corporate policy is to fly on airlines belonging to the Oneworld alliance, next time you have a transatlantic trip build in a stopover in Madrid – hub for Iberia – on the way out. It probably won't cost any more (indeed it may actually save the company cash because Air Passenger Duty is only £24 in business, rather than £120), and you can take 24 hours to explore one of Europe's great capitals.

Loyalty programmes never stand still, and neither should you. For instance, BMI, the only home-grown Star Alliance airline, looks about to fall into Oneworld hands with the BA takeover. If Star is your alliance, travelling options may require more changes at Frankfurt, Zurich, or Vienna to stay on Star planes.

Finally, be ruthless. Never board a plane or a train, or rest your weary head on a pillow, or spend a dollar, euro or shekel on any credit card, without making sure a mile is being earned along the way.

Richard Quest is CNN's international business correspondent and presenter of Quest Means Business