Beyond frequent flyer points

Investigate the deals offered by your super fund or sporting club to save on your travels, writes Jane E. Fraser.

You save up your frequent flyer points and hand over your loyalty card when you go to the supermarket but when it comes to travel perks you might be only scratching the surface. Organisations from health funds to sports clubs offer travel discounts and special offers as part of their member benefits and in tight times it makes sense to make the most of them – yet how many of us do so?

A survey by Perkler (perkler.com), a website that helps consumers organise and track their loyalty programs, found that while 82 per cent of Australians are members of loyalty programs, only 31 per cent regularly redeem rewards.

The company bullishly estimates families could be missing out on up to $4000 a year in savings and it would stand to reason that travel would be well represented in these unused perks.

Add in the discounts on offer from organisations such as unions and motoring groups, and that holiday could start to look more affordable.

Take a look at all the organisations and companies you belong to or pay money to and see what they offer.

Keeping track of all these benefits is a challenge, especially when they change month to month, but if you scan member magazines and websites, you might be surprised by what you are entitled to.

If you belong to a motoring organisation, this is a good place to start. NRMA offers members up to 15 per cent off the best rate for Thrifty car rental, 10 per cent off Britz campervan rentals and discounts on holiday parks and theme parks, among other things.

In a sign of what might be to come, North America's largest motoring organisation, AAA, has introduced a free iPhone application that helps travellers locate savings by GPS. The application pinpoints AAA member businesses in the vicinity of the phone user and provides the contact information and details of discount offers. The user can zoom in and out on the map and filter the listings by category, such as accommodation or attractions.

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Health funds are another source of discounts on travel, particularly hotels and travel insurance.

Many of these offers are short-term, so you need to subscribe to email newsletters or skim any membership material you receive by post.

Unions, professional organisations and staff associations are other good sources of travel benefits. Details are usually on their websites. The NSW Teachers Federation, for example, has teamed up with large travel companies to give its members discounts on hotels, car hire and theme parks.

Most Australian unions also offer access to the Union Shopper service, where you can get someone to shop around for the best price on a certain product. Union Shopper operates a travel agency that can give you access to offers exclusive to union members, as well as shopping around for the best prices among its preferred suppliers.

Universities and student unions are very active in promoting travel benefits to students, staff and alumni. The University of Technology Sydney offers alumni members discounted travel through its sport and recreation office, while University of NSW alumni can get discounts on car hire and selected international airlines.

Banks, building societies and super funds have also become active in the travel arena, with benefits to members including exclusive offers and even discounted membership of other programs, such as Qantas Club. Some operate their own travel agency, while others team up with a travel agent or wholesaler to provide the service.

The industry fund Intrust Super, for example, has partnered with Australian Escapes and Ezy Flights to offer cheap air fares, accommodation and holiday deals to its 150,000-plus members.

And the HostPlus fund offers discounted travel in partnership with Breakaway, a discount travel club normally limited to those directly employed in the travel industry.

Somewhere you might not think to look is sporting clubs and community groups.

For example, the NSW National Parks Association offers discounts on a range of B&Bs and other accommodation, as well as adventure activities and tours including scuba diving, mountaineering, Himalayan trekking and outback safaris.

Many sports clubs also offer travel discounts for members.

It pays not to rush in when hunting for a bargain

Before you take up any discounts or special offers from membership organisations or loyalty programs, be sure to compare the price with the best available rate through standard channels such as websites and travel agents.

While many membership and loyalty program offers are excellent value, others represent a discount on the full rate for that product, rather than a discount on the best available rates.

So even if you are being offered a seemingly generous 20 per cent discount, you may still be able to get a cheaper deal elsewhere, especially in the current climate.

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