Some loyalty programs offer members fantastic benefits. Others amount to little more than another plastic card in your wallet. Tiana Templeman sets out to discover if it’s really worth filling out all that paperwork.

Hotel loyalty programs Some hotel loyalty programs are free to join. Some are not. Most hotel groups offer free membership to an in-house program with benefits such as free room nights, upgrades and late check out. These are worth signing up for but be careful to make the right choice when claiming points. I recently discovered that handing over my Hyatt Gold Passport to secure a 4pm late checkout precluded me from later claiming frequent flyer points, as these had already been allocated to another card.

Don’t automatically overlook programs with a yearly fee; many offer excellent value. An Accor Advantage Plus card, for example, costs $289 and includes perks like exclusive rates, up to 50 percent off dining, free breakfast at some hotels and a free room night at any Accor property. Use this for a stay at Sofitel Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane and you’ll have paid for your membership in one glorious hit. This card and others like it, including Starwood Privilege and Priority Privilege (which encompasses InterContinental, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn hotels), can also be used outside Australia.

Frequent Flyer programs
Generally speaking these are all much the same, so it pays to stick with the one program for best results and maximum points accumulation. Combine the points you earn flying with a frequent flyer credit card and you can earn even more points to spend on goods, services or flights. If you do sign up for a credit card, be sure the yearly fees don’t cost more than a free flight – and hold out for the right deal as new cardholders are frequently offered up to 10,000 points for signing on the dotted line. Even Woolworths is about to get in on the act, with a new shopper loyalty program that earns Qantas frequent flyer points. Frequent flyer schemes mean you essentially get something for nothing but keep an eye on terms and conditions as these change often (seldom in your favour).

Airline club lounges
Unlimited entry to Club Lounge Land, where food, alcohol and internet access is laid on and the toilets are clean, doesn’t come cheap. Travellers who sign up for yearly membership to Qantas Club don’t get much change from $800 after paying the initial joining charge and yearly fee (although membership fees become cheaper in subsequent years). The benefits are excellent but for leisure travellers the upfront cost is prohibitive, even for very frequent flyers.

Virgin Blue’s The Lounge also offers yearly membership (still pricey, albeit less so) along with single entry passes. Travellers with an onward Virgin flight can enjoy food, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, wireless internet access and entertainment areas including a hip mini-theatre for $30 online (or $35 at the door). A single entry pass to an airline lounge offers excellent value and is an ideal pre- or post-holiday treat.

Vacation clubs
Timeshare once involved spending a week in the same dreary Gold Coast flat year on year. But this concept has since gone out along with the white shoe brigade. It seems vacation clubs, as they’re now known, are enjoying a resurgence in popularity with The Australian Timeshare and Holiday Ownership Council (ATHOC) reporting occupancy rates consistently above 94.6 percent. There’s no denying that having a holiday guaranteed each year for the rest of your life sounds attractive.

John Osborne, CEO of Accor Vacation Club, one of the larger players in Australia, sees such clubs as a way for people to take a guaranteed break. “When the expense of their stay is pre-paid, it’s easier for them to cover today’s higher airline ticket costs or fuel surcharges and overcome other economic concerns that are currently impeding travel.” This is true, provided they can afford an upfront cost of around $20,000 and the yearly administration fees that apply to most. Vacation clubs are seen by many as a worthwhile investment in leisure but, like many things, they don’t suit everyone.

This is also the case with loyalty programs and clubs. Finding one that’s right for you comes down to research and asking the right questions. Do this and you’re sure to find some fantastic plastic that’s worthy of your wallet.

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