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From legacy carriers to low-cost carriers, almost every carrier has its own frequent flyer program these days. And that leaves us with the million-dollar question — Which is the best frequent flyer program?
But why do we have to pick the best? Since signing up is free, can’t we just join every single program?
True, there’s no harm in joining multiple airline programs. It’s quick, easy, and free. Plus, you’ll always be in the loop when there are promotions like miles bonuses and discounted award flights.
However, there are advantages when you focus on a single frequent flyer program. For instance, you get to stack up on more miles which allows you to redeem a more expensive and higher-value award flight.
Also, focusing on a single program allows you to earn elite status faster, giving you more premium perks and benefits.
In this article, we’ll help you decide which program best suits you and also discuss some of the best frequent flyer programs right now.
Read More: Points Sharing: Credit Card Points Vs Frequent Flyer Miles
How To Choose The Best Frequent Flyer Program
A good strategy would be to pick at least 1-3 programs where you want to focus on earning miles but before you do that, think about the following questions below.
Is Your City A Hub City?
Not every airport offers direct flights to your chosen destination because if that was the case, airfares would be twice its price now.
As a way to minimize cost and avoid the risk of having low passenger loads, airlines choose big market cities to serve as hubs so they can connect flights from small market cities.
If you live in a city that’s a hub of a particular airline, then you should want to focus your efforts on that airline’s frequent flyer program.
So if you live in Atlanta, which is a major Delta hub, then you should join the Delta SkyMiles frequent flyer program. The Atlanta airport (ATL) offers multiple nonstop domestic and international flights so if you love to travel, you can earn thousands of miles and even a Medallion status in no time.
Where Do You Plan To Travel?
Another factor that you should consider is your travel habits. Think about the destinations you always visit and join the frequent flyer program of an airline that offer the cheapest and most direct flights to these destinations.
Remember, just because an airline has a hub in the city where you live, doesn’t mean you should join that airline’s program right away.
For example, if you live in Atlanta but you frequently travel to Canada, you may want to sign up for Air Canada Aeroplan instead of Delta SkyMiles, since flights will most likely be cheaper on Air Canada.
Alternatively, you can join United MileagePlus since United Airlines and Air Canada both belong to Star Alliance. You’ll be able to earn and redeem Aeroplan miles on United and vice versa.
What Are The Perks?
Frequent flyer programs offer various perks such as checked bags, seat upgrades, priority boarding, free wifi, and more.
You can save hundreds of dollars by picking a program that offers benefits that you use the most. For example, checked bags typically cost $35 each per flight so if you fly five times a year, you get to save $350.
How Fast Can You Reach Elite Status?
Some frequent flyer programs require you to spend a certain amount of money, fly a certain number of miles, or even do both before you reach elite status. Also, some programs have 4 status levels while some only have 2 levels.
Try to consider these factors first, then compare which programs give you the most feasible way to reach elite status.
Does The Airline Have Co-branded Cards?
Co-branded cards can boost the number of miles you earn on flights. For example, the United Quest℠ Card lets you earn 3x miles on United Purchases on top of the base miles you earn as a MileagePlus member and the bonus miles you earn as an elite status holder.
Other airlines that also have co-branded cards are American Airlines, Air Canada, Alaska, Delta, and Southwest.
Does The Airline Have Transfer Partners?
When choosing the best frequent flyer program, always check how many transfer partners it has. For example, AAdvantage is transfer partners with IHG One Rewards and World of Hyatt. You can transfer IHG points to American Airlines AAdvantage at a 5:1 ratio and you can transfer World of Hyatt points to AAdvantage at a 2.5:1 ratio.
Joining a frequent flyer program with multiple transfer partners helps you earn miles a lot faster.
Can You Redeem Flights Easily?
Each airline has its own policies and restrictions for redeeming award flights. For example, some airlines have blackout dates that fall on major holidays and peak travel months which limits your award booking options.
For some airlines that don’t have blackout dates, the prices seem to skyrocket during peak months. For example, Delta flights from LA to NYC typically cost around 6,500 miles but during Christmas, it can go as high as 36,500 miles.
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The Best Frequent Flyer Programs In The U.S.
There’s not a single frequent flyer program that’s perfect for all travelers, however, there are a few ones that simply stand out from the rest.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan gets a lot of praise from points enthusiasts and its members. The program has four elite status levels – MVP, MVP Gold, MVP Gold 75K, and MVP Gold 100K – and depending on your status, perks include free cabin upgrades, priority boarding, expedited security, free checked bags, and airline lounge access.
Since United Airlines a part of the OneWorld Alliance, you can earn and redeem miles on 14 other airlines which include:
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- Japan Airlines
- Malaysia Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- Royal Air Maroc
- Royal Jordanian
- Sri Lankan Airlines
- Fiji Airways
- Oman Air
Additionally, Alaska has an exclusive partnership with American Airlines which allows elite members from both airline programs to get reciprocal benefits. This means more domestic and international route options for members.
American Airlines AAdvantage
American Airlines has completely revamped its frequent flyer program early in 2022. From now on, members won’t have to deal with EQMs, EQSs, and EQDs because all of these have been replaced with one qualification metric — the Loyalty Point.
The advantage of the new AAdvantage program (no pun intended) is that members can now earn elite, not just on flying, but also on spending. It’s actually a more eco-friendly way of getting an elite status because you’re reducing your carbon footprint.
As for elite status benefits, it’s still the same and members will still get — free upgrades, extra baggage allowance, bonus point multpliers, priority boarding on American flights, and many more.
Earning and redeeming miles have also remained the same for the most part. Members can still earn bonus miles on American Airlines flights at a rate of 5x – 11x per dollar, depending on your elite status. Since American is also a part of OneWorld Alliance, you can also earn and redeem miles from 14 other airline partners.
Delta SkyMiles has four status tiers in its Medallion program: Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. Depending on your status, you can earn benefits such as bonus miles, Delta Sky Priority privileges, preferred seats, free checked bags, free upgrades to to Comfort+ or First class, and more.
Unfortunately, having Medallion status doesn’t grant you access to Delta Sky Clubs, although there’s a workaround on how you can get access.
If you reach Diamond status, you will have 3 Choice Benefits which you can use to avail a Sky Club membership. You can use 1 Choice Benefit to get an individual Sky Club membership or use 2 Choice Benefits to get an executive Sky Club membership.
Alternatively, you can sign up for a Delta co-branded card to get Sky Club Access. The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card gives you full Sky Club membership while the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card gives you discounted Sky Club access.
Delta SkyMiles can be earned and redeemed on most airlines in the SkyTeam Alliance, which is composed of 19 airlines including Aeroflot, AeroMexico, KLM, and Air France.
Southwest Rapid Rewards
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards is a unique frequent flyer program. Most airlines offer first or business class seats so flyers can fast-track their way to earning elite status but in the case of Southwest, it only offers one class of seats.
However, even if there’s only one class of seats, Southwest offers these in three fare categories. The first one is are “Wanna Get Away” tickets which have have lower base fares but earns fewer points per dollar. The next two fares are “Anytime” and “Business Select” tickets which have higher base fares and earns more points per dollar.
But in general, the Rapid Rewards program is quite similar to other airline programs where members can earn status based on spending and segments flown.
The program has three status tiers: A-List, A-List Preferred, and Companion Pass. The first two tiers offer basic perks such as Southwest priority boarding, dedicated customer service, priority lanes, bonus miles. However, the main highlight is the Companion Pass which allows you to bring a travel companion with you for free (taxes and fees not included).
Another good thing about Southwest is it also offers co-branded cards like the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card. These cards can help you earn bonus miles, reach elite status faster, and gives you more travel benefits.
United MileagePlus has four status tiers: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, and Premier 1K. Like most airline programs, earning status is achieved through a combination of segments flown (Premier Qualifying Flights) and cash spent (Premier Qualifying Points). Alternatively, you can also earn status purely via spending.
Status holders will earn benefits such as free upgrades, free checked bags, bonus miles, and PlusPoints which can be redeemed for international business-class upgrades.
United Airlines belongs to Star Alliance, which is composed of 26 members, including Avianca, Singapore, Lufthansa, and All Nippon Airways.
Read More: Effective Ways To Book Lufthansa With Points And Miles
The best frequent flyer program does not exist. Sure, a few programs offer solid perks, but choosing a program will always depend on your needs.
Always consider the city where you live and your travel habits. You should also check if an airline program offers a lot of flexibility for earning and redeeming miles.
Also, to maximize the full benefits of a frequent flyer program, make sure you get the airline’s co-branded credit card regardless. It will boost the number of miles you earn and, at the same time, help you reach elite status faster.
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