The Best Travel Rewards Programs for 2019-20 Part 1

2019-09-17

See which airline and hotel loyalty programs come out on top.

Reap rewards like free perks, free flights and free nights when signing up for these hotel and airline loyalty programs.

Navigating airline and hotel loyalty programs can be confusing. Travelers have to sift through expiration dates, earning and redemption methods, program restrictions and more. U.S. News aims to take the guesswork out of deciding which programs are worth joining by using a wealth of data to rank the Best Travel Rewards Programs. The top-performing programs provide members with numerous benefits and make it easy for travelers to rack up points or miles and redeem them for free nights and free flights. Read on to see which airline and hotel rewards programs claim the top spots.

The Best Airline Rewards Programs

News used a methodology that weighs earning and redemption rates, geographic coverage, award flight availability, the total number of daily domestic flights, benefits for members and Airline Quality Ratings to determine the Best Airline Rewards Programs for everyday travelers. Here are the top U.S.-based frequent flyer programs.

9. Free Spirit

The Free Spirit program offers its members few benefits (for basic or elite members). Plus, it’s not particularly easy to earn a free flight with the program: Basic members earn just half a mile for every mile flown, and miles expire after three months of account inactivity. However, there are a variety of ways to earn miles, whether that’s through the co-branded credit card, via partners like Choice Hotels and Hertz or with the Free Spirit dining program, where members earn miles for dining at select restaurants. What’s more, the airline saw an improvement in its Airline Quality Rating, which measures data like mishandled baggage, consumer complaints and on-time arrival performance.

8. HawaiianMiles

Hawaiian Airlines’ loyalty program, HawaiianMiles, appeals to those traveling between the continental U.S., Asia, the South Pacific and Hawaii. Program members earn 1 mile for every mile flown. The program serves a limited number of destinations but partners with a handful of airline, hotel and car rental companies, giving travelers the chance to stretch their miles further. Basic membership doesn’t offer many perks, but if you acquire elite status you can enjoy amenities like free checked bags and seat upgrades.

7. FRONTIER Miles

The FRONTIER Miles program most appeals to travelers who frequently fly to and from Midwestern cities and smaller airports in the U.S., such as Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Bozeman, Montana, among others. Members earn 1 mile for every mile flown and can also earn miles with partners like Teleflora and Wyndham Rewards, and by making purchases using the co-branded credit card. FRONTIER Miles also offers family pooling, which allows a group of up to eight to combine miles to pay for flights. Aside from flights, miles can be used to cover the cost of rental cars and hotel stays through select programs.

6. Southwest Rapid Rewards

Offering more than 4,000 daily flights to 100-plus destinations in the U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico, Southwest Airlines’ Rapid Rewards program is a top choice for budget-conscious travelers. Southwest awards basic members six points per dollar spent (elite members will earn even more), and there are no blackout dates on award travel. All travelers flying Southwest Airlines can enjoy two free checked bags. In addition to earning points through flights, program members can earn points via credit card purchases, on hotel stays and through an online shopping portal. Plus, travelers can often find domestic flights for less than 10,000 points one way. Aside from flights, points can be redeemed for experiences, retail items and gift cards.

5. American Airlines AAdvantage

The American Airlines AAdvantage program features a variety of ways to earn and use miles, as well as several perks for elite members. Travelers earn 5 miles per dollar spent on flights (those with higher elite status will earn more), plus program members can earn miles with partner airlines, hotels and even when booking cruises. In addition to redeeming miles on American and partner airline flights, AAdvantage members can use miles for seat upgrades, car rentals and hotel stays. Once you reach the more elite status tiers, you can enjoy additional perks, such as free checked bags and automatically requested upgrades.

4. United MileagePlus

With ample award flight availability and options at lower mileage rates, the United MileagePlus program improved its scores in both the ease of earning a free round-trip flight and award flight availability categories this year. United Airlines operates more than 4,500 daily flights to 350-plus destinations around the world; the program also lets members redeem miles with numerous airline partners, including Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines and Singapore Airlines. Members earn 5 miles per dollar spent, while elite members are granted perks like free checked bags, complimentary upgrades and priority check-in, boarding and security screening. United MileagePlus members can redeem miles for everything from hotel stays to first-class upgrades to experiences like concerts and sporting events.

3. JetBlue TrueBlue

JetBlue TrueBlue is the No. 3 Best Airline Rewards Program thanks to its low redemption rates, abundance of award flight availability and miles that never expire. Basic members earn six points per dollar spent and can earn additional miles when making purchases with a co-branded credit card, through an online shopping portal, by riding with Lyft to or from an airport and when staying at Marriott and IHG hotels. Travelers can cash in points to cover the cost of JetBlue or Hawaiian Airlines flights (a program partner) or use a combination of points and cash to book a vacation package that includes flights and a hotel stay.

2. Delta SkyMiles

Providing low redemption rates and a plethora of ways to earn and redeem miles, Delta SkyMiles earns the No. 2 slot on the Best Airline Rewards Programs ranking. Miles don’t expire, and basic members can earn 5 miles per dollar spent on Delta flights (elite members earn more). Travelers can also earn miles on partner airlines (including Air France, Virgin Atlantic and Korean Air), hotel and Airbnb stays, Lyft rides, Ticketmaster concert tickets, car rentals, cruises and co-branded credit card purchases. In addition to using miles for flights or upgrades, Delta SkyMiles members can redeem points for unique offerings, such as drinks in a Delta Sky Club lounge, a private jet booking and concert tickets. Plus, Delta offers flights to more than 1,000 worldwide destinations.

1. Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Claiming the No. 1 spot on the Best Airline Rewards Programs ranking for the fifth consecutive year, the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan makes it easy for members to earn miles and redeem them to fly with Alaska Airlines or its partners to hundreds of destinations across the globe. Members earn 1 mile per mile flown (or 500 miles, whichever is greater) and can rack up miles with airline, hotel and car rental partners, as well as through credit card and shopping portal purchases. The program also offers excellent geographic coverage and award choice availability. One caveat that sets the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan apart from other major airline rewards programs: It does not require travelers to spend a minimum amount of money to reach elite status tiers. Status is earned through miles flown.

 

Courtesy of USNews

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