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How to earn rewards when traveling for an employer

Businessman with baggage crossing the street while looking at cell phone, top view
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Businessman with baggage crossing the street while looking at cell phone, top view
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Traveling for work can be fun and exciting, but after a while, it can also be exhausting. Either way, business travelers always have the opportunity to earn rewards for themselves, from both travel providers and credit card issuers, while their employers foot the bill. Like so many other aspects of travel, it takes a certain amount of skill and knowledge to earn the most rewards.

Earn rewards from travel providers

Earning rewards for business travel begins with participating in the loyalty programs offered by travel providers such as airlines, hotels and rental car companies. That’s why it’s essential to enroll in the best airline frequent flier programs, as well as hotel and rental car rewards programs, making sure to add your loyalty account number to every reservation.

In fact, you can even look for loyalty programs offered by other companies you use when traveling for business, such as rideshare providers, airport parking companies and even your favorite restaurant chains. Online travel agencies can also offer loyalty programs.

Once you start participating in these programs, you should take a little time to learn about their in and outs. For example, most programs offer some form of elite status, allowing you to earn more rewards while enjoying additional benefits. For example, airline passengers with elite status can receive priority boarding, waived fees and even first-class upgrades. Hotel guests with elite status can also receive hotel perks such as priority service, free breakfast and room upgrades. Rental car companies also offer their frequent customers priority service, vehicle upgrades and credit towards free rentals.

These loyalty programs frequently offer promotions that allow you to earn additional rewards for completing certain requirements. For example, you may earn double points for staying at a particular hotel brand, or a free day’s car rental when you rent twice within a certain month. Therefore, it can make sense to opt-in to receiving promotional emails from the loyalty programs you participate in.

Earn rewards from credit cards

Business travel is expensive, and employees often have the opportunity to charge some or all of their travel expenses to their personal credit cards. When you’re able to charge your business expenses to your personal credit card, you can earn valuable travel rewards or cash back.

Just as with your personal charges, the key to earning the most possible points from your business expenses is to use the right credit cards. This starts with choosing between generic travel rewards cards and those offered with a co-brand partner.

Using generic travel rewards cards

One common type of travel rewards cards are those offered by the card issuers that aren’t co-branded with travel providers. For example, cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offer double points on dining as well as all travel purchases, including airfare, hotels and rental cars, even parking and tolls. These points are earned in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, and can be redeemed directly for travel reservations made with numerous hotels and airlines. Alternatively, these rewards can be transferred to airline miles or hotel points with several different travel partners. Merchandise, gift cards and cash back rewards are also options.

Other card issuers that offer similar travel rewards programs that aren’t co-branded with an airline or hotel American Express Membership Rewards, Citi Thankyou points and Capital One MIles.

Using co-branded travel rewards cards

Instead of using a credit card that participates in a bank-sponsored rewards program, you could use credit cards that are co-branded with airlines or hotels. The rewards you earn with these credit cards are in the form of airline miles or hotel points.

These cards typically offer bonuses for purchases from the co-branded airline or hotel, as well as other travel and dining expenses. In addition, these cards will offer perks when traveling. For example, most airline cards offer cardholders a free checked bag, and many offer a faster path to elite status. Some hotel cards come with basic elite status, and give you the opportunity to earn more credits towards the next status level.

Using cash back cards

There are some business travelers who would rather earn cash back from their credit cards, rather than travel rewards. For example, frequent business travelers might earn enough points and miles directly from their hotel and airline loyalty programs to meet their leisure travel needs, and might prefer to essentially supplement their income through cash back.

The most competitive cash back cards now offer 2 percent cash back on all purchases, and there are some cards that can offer bonuses for purchases such as dining and travel.

Book work travel to maximize rewards

When your employer asks you to travel, you may have the option of paying for your reservations yourself or having them charged to your corporate travel agency. The option you choose will affect the amount of rewards you can receive, but can come with other advantages and drawbacks.

Charge travel to your personal credit card

The most important advantage of paying for your travel yourself is that you can accrue more credit card rewards. However, you will have more items to complete on your expense reports, and it may take a few weeks to receive a reimbursement check from your employer. And if you make charges on a credit card you’re carrying a balance on, then you will incur additional interest charges from your company expenses that won’t be reimbursed by your employer.

Charge travel to a corporate travel agency

Many companies now require that your travel reservations be booked and paid for by their corporate travel agency. These policies can allow companies to better manage their travel expenses, while relieving employees of the burden of having to lay out funds ahead of time.

While booking your business travel through an employer’s travel agency can also mean that you have to fill out fewer items on your expense reports, you’ll also miss out on rewards that you could have earned by charging the travel to your personal credit card. So if you have the option to charge your travel to your personal credit card, it will be the best way to maximize the rewards you earn from business travel.

And while most airlines will still allow you to apply your frequent flier number to reservations booked through a travel agency, many hotels will only offer benefits and rewards in their loyalty program when you book your room directly through the hotel chain.

The bottom line

Between the points and miles offered by credit card issuers and those offered by travel providers, there are many ways to maximize the rewards you earn from your business travel. By understanding all of the ways that you can earn points, miles or cash back, you’ll be able to earn the most valuable rewards whenever you’re asked to travel for your company.

Written by
Jason Steele
Travel Rewards Expert Contributor
Jason Steele is a professional journalist and credit card expert who has been contributing to online publications since 2008. He was one of the original contributors to The Points Guy, and his work has been appearing there since 2011. He has also contributed to over 100 of the leading personal finance and travel outlets.
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