One by one: You count them religiously. Miles and points from flights, hotel stays, online shopping, and credit cards equal free travel and perks that can make your next trip that much better. But did you know that you can earn miles and perks from airports, too?
Like other travel companies, airports are competing for your business and loyalty, especially in heavily populated areas where there are plenty of options. That’s where loyalty programs can make a big difference for airports, and the perks are ready and waiting for you.
Perhaps one of the most prevalent types of these programs rewards travelers for spending money at shops and restaurants at the airport. Heathrow Rewards has long led an effort to reward travelers, through a smartphone app, with points that can be redeemed at other vendors.
Duty-free shops have launched their own programs—like RED by Dufry, which includes World Duty Free and Nuance shops around the world and Hudson retailers in North America, among others. Managed via a mobile app, RED by Dufry provides an instant 5 percent off your purchases for joining. Shoppers who spend enough to attain RED elite status can save as much as 10 percent on their purchases. And the program’s platinum level even offers free one-way transfers to the airport for travelers at several European airports.
Thanks Again is a rewards program that is most prevalent in the United States. You join the program and register your credit cards, and anytime you make a purchase with a partner vendor, you earn miles.
Some airport restaurants even have their own programs, and it is always wise to ask your server if they offer one. For example, Ruth’s Chris Steak House at San Antonio airport (and its city locations) offers 10 percent off food and beverages plus points that can be applied toward future meal discounts.
Other programs may steer clear of miles and points altogether in favor of perks with more immediate benefit for travelers, like free wireless Internet or onsite discounts. For example, Copenhagen Airport’s paid Wi-Fi is free for members of its CPH Advantage program. Other instant goodies include parking and shopping discounts, access to airport lounges, and even gifts. The more you spend, travel, or use the program, the more perks and free goodies you can earn.
Auckland’s Strata Club has its own elite tiers based on your spending at the airport, with bonuses like faster wireless Internet and discounts for parking, dining, and lounges. The My Paris Aeroport program provides similar benefits for its members, and Milan’s Via Milano program points can be cashed in for lounge access, free parking, and even meals. Members are also eligible for fast-track access at security checkpoints.
Florida’s Gainesville Regional Airport has its Ultimate Road Warrior program, with prizes given to the most frequent travelers each month. The airport has opened its own executive lounge for the exclusive use of its members. Similar lounges for airport-program members are available at other airports, such as Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They aren’t as glamorous as some airline lounges, but you still find free coffee, soft drinks, and light snacks.
While some programs are free, more perk-heavy programs come with annual fees. Amsterdam’s Privium program costs as much as €215 per year (about US$250) but offers such sweet perks as priority parking spaces and line-cutting privileges at security and immigration. The Premier membership at Colorado Springs airport includes priority security access, free valet parking, and lounge privileges. Istanbul Ataturk Airport, home of Star Alliance member Turkish Airlines, offers the TAV Passport, giving paying members free lounge and priority security access, which is a huge plus at this crowded and bustling hub. Also included are discounts on airport chauffeur services, dining, and shopping.
Preferred parking benefits
No one likes to park far away or pay a fortune to leave their car. Savvy, smaller airports know this, and they work hard to point out the ease of use of a regional airport while enticing travelers with loyalty programs.
New York State’s Buffalo Niagara International Airport gives points for frequent parking that can be redeemed for future parking vouchers and other perks, as do airports in Binghamton, New York; Dayton, Ohio; and Fort Myers, Florida.
Don’t have a car? Thanks Again also partners with ride-share giant Uber to give points to riders who use the service for airport transfers.
Never leave a stone unturned when it comes to the points and miles game. They are easier to accrue than you might think, but as airlines make the miles game more and more difficult for travelers to win, creativity counts.
>>Next: Perk Up With These Under-the-Radar Loyalty Programs
Ramsey Qubein Ramsey Qubein is a freelance travel journalist covering hotels, cruises, airlines, and loyalty programs from around the globe.