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Brian and Corin Mullins, makers of Holy Crap cereal, make extensive use of travel rewards programs.
Brian and Corin Mullins, makers of Holy Crap cereal, make extensive use of travel rewards programs.

REWARDS

The fine art of redeeming travel rewards points Add to ...

In the 20 years Trish Sare has been running BikeHike Adventures, a sport-oriented travel company based in Vancouver, she has learned a thing or two about redeeming points accumulated through travel reward and credit card programs.

To maximize her value, she’ll use points to fly anywhere but London, for example, since flights to Britain on no-frills airlines are so cheap. She has also found that she gets more bang for her buck when she flies business class.

By strategically using travel rewards programs – both her personal credit card and her business card are linked to her Aeroplan account – Ms. Sare has done more than build up a hefty bank of points. She’s also been able to grow her business.

“I put everything on them, even things that are five bucks,” says Ms. Sare, the day before flying to Paris with clients for a cycling trip to Ireland. “I pay for everything on credit cards so points are always accumulating.

“I get a couple of free [business] trips a year,” adds Ms. Sare, who this year alone has been to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Albania, Kosovo and Estonia leading tours and scouting locations. All of that money goes back into the business, which has four employees and hires guides all over the world.

More small-business owners are using rewards to fund business travel and enhance their firm’s bottom line.

Using rewards points for business travel isn’t as much of a priority for Andre Coetzee, director and co-founder of i-worx Enterprises Inc., a cloud computing company. He and his partner, Jose Gavina, spend the bulk of their time at their Vancouver head office. However, the pair plans to redeem points for possible business trips next year.

Mr. Coetzee gets the best value by using points for merchandise – gift cards or even the latest gadgets. “We’ve used rewards to purchase Starbucks cards that we’ve handed out to staff if they’ve worked more hours on a weekend than they should have on a project. We’ll order 10 at a time,” says Mr. Coetzee, who uses a Vancity Visa Gold card.

Calgary’s Patrick Sojka, founder of Rewards Canada, an online resource about travel rewards programs, says more small businesses are realizing the value of reward card programs.

“More employers are now issuing those cards and earning those points for the company. It’s up to the owner or finance department to determine how and when to use those points, but it’s key for any business, whether it’s two people or 200, to learn how they can utilize these points to save money for their company.”

Corin Mullins is the CEO of HapiFoods Group Inc., which manufactures Holy Crap: the World’s Most Amazing Breakfast Cereal. Based in Gibsons, B.C., the company has 17 full-time and three contract employees and has reached more than $22-million in retail sales since forming in 2009.

Ms. Mullins saves money on travel by using a cash-back rewards program.

“We use the HSBC BusinessVantage MasterCard, and all of our employees have company credit cards so they’re not out of pocket when they go to trade shows,” says Ms. Mullins, whose firm attends about 120 trade shows a year in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Europe, China, Hong Kong and Dubai, among other places. “We do a cash-back, so everything goes back to the company.”

Under the HSBC program, for every dollar charged to the business credit card, Holy Crap gets 1 per cent in cash credited to its account. Ms. Mullins redirects that money back into paying for her employees to travel to trade shows.

“That [1 per cent] cash-back really helps with your payments for flights,” she says.

Mr. Sojka recommends business owners look into other ways to save money on travel. Most airlines, including Air Canada, British Airways, United and Delta, offer small business programs that offer perks such as discounts after a certain amount of spending, free upgrades and lounge passes.

There are other promotions worth checking. American Express’s business gold rewards card for small business, for instance, lets business owners earn extra points with three suppliers they pick from a list of AmEx merchants, up to 250,000 points a year.

Although he’d prefer to use just one card, Mr. Sojka suggests having a Visa, MasterCard and AmEx on hand. Some cards offer double miles at certain grocery stores or gas stations, for instance. Other times, hotels or airlines and major credit cards will partner for a deal; using a MasterCard will earn you a third night at a hotel free, for example, or booking a flight with Visa will mean a 10-per-cent discount.

“You want to watch for those kinds of promotions,” he says. “If you don’t want to carry all three cards, just have them in your drawer and pull them out for those promotions.”

Other tips? Ms. Mullins says small firms must pay off balances in full every month to save on interest fees. “The card companies won’t like this, but when you pay it off every month in essence you’re using their money for 30 days.”

Aside from perks such as using points for checked baggage, some business cards also offer up to 55 interest-free days.

“That really helps small businesses with cash flow,” Mr. Sojik says.

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