Airline & Hotel Rewards Points - Personal Perk or Company Property?

Everyone loves to earn airline and hotel points, including meeting industry employees. In exchange for patronizing a favorite company on business trips, an employee can earn points that may be accumulated and used for later free travel. Some meeting planners are eligible for massive points awards, since they can earn thousands of hotel points just for bringing a conference to a chosen establishment.

This incentive has been around a long time, and nearly everyone takes advantage of it.

In the world of business and association travel, however, principles of ethics and corporate accountability make the use of points a bit complicated. It’s important to understand the risks of using this reward system.

Employees May Not Be Entitled to the Points They Earn.
Points are awarded to people, not companies. But if the person earns the points on business travel or for booking a meeting, those points may really belong to her employer. This is as much a matter of maintaining one’s employment as a legal rule. Some companies may not care, while others may expect points to be spent only on future business travel.

Accepting Points May Violate Company/Association Accountability Obligations. Companies and associations with strict accountability guidelines often prohibit planners and other employees from accepting personal points for airline trips and hotel bookings. This is because the points are a booking incentive, and thus they could influence a booking decision even though they don’t increase a meeting’s ROI. Companies prohibiting employees from accepting the points do this to avoid any implication that one hotel or airline was chosen over another just because of the points.  According to accountability standards, this kind of incentive should play no part in the booking process.

Steps to Consider
: Every company and association should create its own policy, but here are some tips on handling airline and hotel points appropriately:

1) Direct Points in Group Hotel Contracts to Employer, or Person Designated by Employer. From the perspective of an employee or 3rd party planner, the easiest way to steer clear of issues is to direct all points earned from business activities to the company’s account. This avoids any implication that a particular employee benefited from the choice of a particular hotel, airline, or rental company, and thereby helping to prove that vendors were chosen based upon maximum ROI to the company.

2) Keep Records of Points Earned From Job-Related Trips. Even if an employee has no obligation to direct award points to the employer, every employee and third party planner should keep track of points earned from job-related travel and meetings. This way, should company policy change and an employer asks for an accounting of points earned at some future time, it will be readily available. Some companies and associations keep a “master database” of all points earned related to meetings. This can be a valuable tool if vendor selection for a meeting is called into question.

3) Create a Company/Association Policy, or Include a Policy in Employment Contract. The safest way to ensure that everyone is on the same page with respect to awards points is for employers to create written policies detailing how points should be handled.  The policies should cover how points should be reported, and whether they may be kept in an employee’s personal account or must be transferred to an employer account. Some companies have a policy of awarding points to deserving employees as part of an incentive program. Written policies disseminated to employees are the best way of ensuring that employees and contractors will comply with them, and avoiding misunderstandings and prohibited conduct.

Final Note
: This blog is not “legal advice”; rather, it’s a discussion intended to make you think and draw your own conclusions. Legal advice can only be rendered after a discussion of your particular circumstances with an attorney competent in meetings law.
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