The Best Travel Rewards Programs for 2018-19 (Airlines)

2018-09-17

See which airline loyalty programs claim top honors.

The Best Airline Rewards Programs
Using a methodology that takes into account earning and redemption rates, network coverage, award flight availability, daily domestic flight totals, member benefits and Airline Quality Ratings, U.S. News ranked the Best Airline Rewards Programs for leisure travelers. Read on to find out more about each U.S.-based frequent flyer program to help you decide which best suits your travel habits and needs. (Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines)

9. Free Spirit
Spirit Airlines’ loyalty program offers limited network coverage and no extra benefits (think: free checked bags or seat upgrades) for basic or elite members, and participants without elite status only receive half a mile for every mile flown. Miles also expire after three months of account inactivity, making it difficult for everyday travelers to earn elite status. But despite these drawbacks, Free Spirit does give members the opportunity to accrue miles in a variety of ways, including through stays at Choice Hotels properties and purchases made with an affiliated credit card. (Courtesy of Spirit Airlines)

8. HawaiianMiles
Though Hawaiian Airlines’ limited flight network and award choice options are not ideal for most everyday travelers, vacationers who take frequent trips to and from the Hawaiian islands should consider enrolling in HawaiianMiles. Basic membership does not come with any additional benefits; however, those who qualify for elite status can enjoy several perks, such as complimentary airport lounge access and priority security lines at participating airports. Plus, all members can earn miles by buying everyday items with the airline’s credit card, booking cruise vacations with select cruise lines and flying on partner carriers like Korean Air and JetBlue, among others. (Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines)

7. FRONTIER Miles
In June 2018, Denver-based Frontier Airlines phased out its Frontier EarlyReturns rewards programs and introduced the FRONTIER Miles frequent flyer program. Ideal for those who regularly travel between Midwestern cities and smaller destinations like Fargo, North Dakota, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, FRONTIER Miles gives members 1 mile per mile flown (or up to 5 miles for every flight or purchase made with an affiliated credit card). Travelers who qualify for one of three elite tiers can take advantage of advance seat assignments, complimentary carry-on bags and the Family Pooling miles-sharing platform, among other benefits. (Courtesy of Frontier Airlines)

6. United MileagePlus
United Airlines offers more than 4,350 daily domestic flights to 350-plus destinations, making its MileagePlus rewards program a great option for travelers who vacation in a variety of locales. Thanks to United’s multiple partnerships, members can earn and redeem miles on more than 35 airlines and for stays with hotel brands like Hyatt and Marriott. Basic members accrue 5 miles per dollar spent on flights but do not receive any extra perks. However, those who qualify for elite status (either through status matching from another program or by meeting minimum tier requirements) are awarded earnings bonuses, free seat upgrades and more. (Courtesy of United Airlines)

5. Southwest Rapid Rewards
Despite lacking the diverse geographic coverage of other domestic carriers, Southwest Airlines makes it easy for budget-conscious travelers to earn and redeem points on flights to and from the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean. Southwest Rapid Rewards’ high award flight availability score (thanks to unlimited rewards seats and no blackout dates) is also impressive, and all members can check up to two bags for free. Elite members enjoy additional benefits, such as priority boarding and expedited airport security. What’s more, affiliated credit card holders receive access to redemption options like car rentals, cruises and international flights on other airlines. (Courtesy of Southwest Airlines)

4. American Airlines AAdvantage
American Airlines’ improved AQR score and plethora of options for award flights helped the American Airlines AAdvantage program elevate its standing on this year’s ranking. Members earn 5 or more miles for every dollar spent on flights, plus at least 500 Elite Qualifying Miles on any flight (excluding basic economy fares). Benefits like complimentary cabin upgrades and expedited security screenings are also available to members who qualify for elite status. Meanwhile, select American credit card holders have access to priority boarding and one free checked bag, regardless of their membership status. (Courtesy of American Airlines)

3. JetBlue TrueBlue
Ample award flights and low redemption rates are the standout features of the JetBlue TrueBlue program. Members can earn points (which never expire) for every dollar they spend on flights, vacation packages, hotel stays, Lyft airport rides and more. Additional points are available via badges collected by engaging with JetBlue on social media. Basic membership does not come with any bonus perks, but those who earn TrueBlue Mosaic status or have one of the airline’s credit cards enjoy access to two free checked bags, early boarding and expedited security lines at participating airports. (Courtesy of JetBlue Airways)

2. Delta SkyMiles
Delta Air Lines offers approximately 4,100 daily domestic flights and an array of ways to earn and redeem miles. In addition to earning at least 5 miles for every dollar spent on Delta flights, Delta SkyMiles members can accrue miles by renting cars, booking cruises, staying at Airbnb properties, using Lyft and buying items with a Delta SkyMiles credit card. Redemption options range from using miles for free flights with 20-plus airline partners to cashing in miles for exclusive experiences (think: concerts and upscale culinary events). Though basic membership benefits are limited, elite status provides perks like free cabin upgrades and priority check-in. (Courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

1. Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
The Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is the No. 1 Best Airline Rewards Program for the fourth year in a row. By awarding members 1 mile for every mile flown on Alaska Airlines and partner airline flights (or up to 3 miles for purchases made with the airline’s credit card), Mileage Plan makes it easy for participants to score a free flight. The rewards program earns top marks on this ranking for its high award choice availability, superb network coverage and excellent AQR score. Plus, members who attain elite status have access to complimentary cabin upgrades and earnings bonuses, among other benefits. (Courtesy of Alaska Airlines)

Courtesy of USNews

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