But even if you're a budget-minded traveler who changes airlines and hotels with almost every trip, or an independent type that prefers staying at non-chain hotels, you have another option for loyalty programs. No matter where you fly or stay, there is often one consistent beneficiary of your travel expenditures: your home airport.
Because travelers often have a few different gateways to choose from, some airports have been inspired to offer small perks and enticements to their regular fliers -- knowing that a little home airport love can result in very loyal local customers.
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About Airport Rewards Programs
As airport clubs are a nascent marketing tool, the type and scope of programs and rewards available varies considerably. For example, the Copenhagen airport has recently launched a CPH Advantage program, of which the most obvious and attractive perk for many travelers is free Wi-Fi airport-wide. (Non-members pay around $7 per half-hour to log on at the airport.) But beyond Internet, the program covers most aspects of getting through the airport, including discounts on parking (plus points when you pre-reserve online), discounts in airport lounges, discounts and points when shopping at airport stores, and free gifts at many stops along the way. The more you visit (and spend, of course), the more perks you earn through the program's tiered membership.
Italy's largest airport in Milan has a similar program, in which you accumulate points for making purchases at airport shops, parking and eating at restaurants, and can cash them in for lounge access, expedited check-in and Internet access.
In the U.K., the British Airport Authority offers a loyalty program that applies at all U.K. airports, called BAA WorldPoints. You collect one point for every one pound you spend at an airport, and can redeem them for airport shopping vouchers, discounts on parking and the Heathrow Express train into London, or points with several airline loyalty programs.
Stateside, the Gainesville airport in Florida leads the way with its Ultimate Road Warrior program, in which members log each trip through the airport, and at month's end, the airport gives away prizes to the most frequent travelers. Additionally, prizes are given randomly to members who take at least one trip in any given month; these range from Nook e-readers and football team souvenirs to attraction and concert tickets, right on down to free cups of coffee at local coffee shops. Gainesville also has a new private lounge exclusively for the use of Ultimate Road Warrior members; this could be a sweet little perk.
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Some more stateside airports with airport programs:
- Lehigh Valley International Airport in Pennsylvania has a preferred parking program for travelers who fly out of the airport 15 times in a calendar year.
- Outagamie County Regional Airport in Appleton, WI, offers the ATW Rewards Program, which allows you to earn points toward free parking, prizes and more.
- Lafayette Regional Airport in Louisiana offers the Fly Lafayette Club in which you can earn free meals, gift certificates to local stores and other goodies.
- The Harrisburg International Airport's Flyer Rewards program offers access to the front of security lines during peak travel times, as well as access to the airport lounge.
- Greater Binghamton Airport has a Business Travelers Rewards Program based on days parked at the airport that offers free parking, coupons for food and drink, frequent flier miles, and more.
But There is No Program at My Home Airport...
While in Europe, this trend seems to have been taken up by some of the biggest airports, in the U.S. you will find the strongest programs located in smaller, regional airports, as you no doubt noticed from the list above. It is simply a matter of competition; these regional airports are often located within reasonable driving distance of much larger airports, so they need to entice folks to consider their smaller facilities. The airport in Lehigh, PA, for example, is only 80 miles from Newark and 65 miles from Philadelphia, so it's a viable option for many travelers who live just outside these major urban centers --who might otherwise just go to the more well-known airports in the absence of any incentive to go to Lehigh.
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That said, in the U.S. at least, airport programs are not phenomenally widespread. If your favorite home airport doesn't have a loyalty program, you have a couple of other options.
The first is to check for programs at your most frequent destinations -- including at alternate airports near these destinations. Think of it this way: every destination airport is your "home airport" when your trip is over -- so if you end up flying into one airport frequently, by default you are flying out of that airport just as frequently. Having a place to take it easy for a bit before your flight, or pile up some amenities, points, and perhaps expedited trips through check-in and security, can make your return home a lot more pleasant.
Failing that, more than 100 airports across the U.S. -- including biggies like Chicago's O'Hare, LAX and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta -- now participate in the Thanks Again program (see ThanksAgain.com), in which you can earn miles for shopping, dining or parking at the airport. One upside to Thanks Again is that the company offers the same perks at museums, sports venues, zoos, aquariums and many other travel-related attractions, as well as at neighborhood businesses (often by using gift certificate programs such as those offered by Restaurant.com).
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Beyond the Airport
If your airport proper does not offer a program, look beyond the airport to the companies offering support services. At Pittsburgh Airport Valet Parking, for instance, you can earn points toward oil changes, car detailing and more. Admittedly valet parking is an upscale habit, but at Pittsburgh, it is not priced that badly; it costs $25/day to have someone valet park your car, and the special offers of free car washes and the like can make this a great deal very quickly. I have seen similar offers from airport shuttle companies as well; it becomes a lot of stuff to track, but can pay off if you use the airport frequently.