Which Airline Has the Best Frequent Flyer Program in 2020?
If you fly frequently, you’re going to want to look into the best airline frequent flyer program for you to make the most of your miles and save on travel expenses. Frequent flyer programs are loyalty programs where you earn points based on how much you spend on a flight or the distances you fly to accumulate miles to purchase other tickets and can be one of the best ways to stretch your budget into more and better travel.
If you fly less than four times a year, you can still take advantage of some of the rewards programs, but you may want to find one with no expiration date. If you fly four or more times a year, then picking the airline with the best frequent flyer miles depending on your travel habits can really help you save in the long run and get the most of your travels.
In fact, you don’t even have to go on long-haul trips to make the most of your miles — there can be just as much value in booking a last-minute weekend with friends to New York or Boston. Essentially, earning yourself a free trip that you might not have been able to budget for otherwise.
How to Choose the Best Frequent Flyer Program
Choosing the best frequent flyer program will depend on how often you fly, where you typically fly to and from, and where you live.
Some things you’ll want to consider when choosing your frequent flyer program:
- How easy is it to accrue points
- How easy is it to redeem points
- Whether it’s better to save up for a long-haul flight or spend on a quick weekend trip
- Where the airlines fly to
- Expiration date of points
American Airlines Frequent Flyer - AAdvantage
Best for: moderate to frequent flyer, domestic and international flights, fast earner.
The American Airlines frequent flyer program is one of the more affordable options, especially for shorter flights. There are also a lot of different expenses you can apply your points to, from flights to upgrades to hotels and car insurance.
You can redeem and earn your points when flying on both American Airlines and Oneworld partner airlines, and you can fly to nearly 1,000 destinations worldwide. Basic members will earn five miles for every $1 spent, up to 75,000 miles. Flight redemptions start at around 6,000 points for a one-way ticket and up to 20,000 points for a round-trip. If you have an AA credit card, you can earn miles more quickly.
One of the downsides to this program is that they have a short expiration date so you do need to utilize your points soon after you accrue them. But there are no blackout dates for travel. It’s also important to note that American Airlines doesn’t cover the taxes on flights purchased through rewards, so always check the additional costs beforehand.
The American Airlines frequent flyer program is best for the moderate to frequent flyer who travels both domestically and internationally. Perfect for the traveler who is looking for a rewards system that’s straight-forward and easy to accrue and redeem points system.
Delta Frequent Flyer - Skymiles
Best for: all types of flyers, domestic and international flights, slow earner.
The Delta frequent flyer program is an excellent choice for those who travel both within the United States and internationally. You can earn and redeem points on Delta airlines as well as other partner international airlines, which you can find a list of here.
For every dollar spent, you earn five miles on Delta flights. You can redeem your points on a lot of different options including airfare, upgrades, hotels, dining, shopping, and even private jet experiences. The best part? The points never expire. So you can save up for that trip you’ve always wanted to take. Or, use them spontaneously to get away for a weekend — the choice is yours.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred (one of the best travel credit cards) and the Delta SkyMiles Gold AmEx are great credit card options to get the most out of your Delta miles. In addition to earning points on various expenses, you can get bonus rewards such as free checked baggage (always check the terms beforehand).
As mentioned, the points never expire, so this is a great option if you want to book a spontaneous trip or if you want to save up for the long-haul.
The Delta frequent flyer program is best for the slow earner traveler who takes long-haul, international flights and is looking for an airline that allows you to use your frequent flyer miles on a variety of different perks.
United Frequent Flyer - MileagePlus
Best for: frequent flyer, domestic but primarily international flights, fast earner.
United Airlines flies to a wide network of over 1,100 different locations. They have a really flexible rewards program with low surcharges on the redeemed flight and are connected to a huge variety of destinations.
United has four status tiers, and the more you fly/spend, the higher status you’ll earn, and the more rewards you’ll redeem. Starting in January 2020, they made changes to how to earn elite status, and reduced the program to two qualifying factors: Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) and Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs). Basically, they’ve increased their spend requirements in order to achieve a higher status. The benefit? If you’re someone who spends a lot on flights using United, your elite status will carry even more weight and you’ll reap the benefits of those rewards even more.
The United frequent flyer program is a bit complex for the average traveler, but it is a great program if you frequently take long-haul, international flights. Fortunately, it is quite easy to cash-in your flights, which makes it a good option if you want to use your points spontaneously/as soon as possible.
The United Rewards program is suitable for the frequent flyer who spends a lot on mileage and is looking for a program that offers prestigious benefits. The points expire after 18 months of inactivity, so this really is for someone who flies often enough to take advantage of its benefits as soon as you earn them.
JetBlue Frequent Flyer - TrueBlue
Best for: all types of flyers, short-haul, domestic flights, slow or fast earners.
JetBlue’s frequent flyer program is easy to use and great for travelers who fly primarily to the east coast or to the Caribbean, where they have a ton of scheduled flights. The short version is that you earn three points per dollar on any booking. But if you book directly on the JetBlue site, you can earn more points per dollar on different seating levels. If you book their Blue Basic, for example (the equivalent of basic economy fare), you can earn up to 8 points per dollar spent. But if you book the higher class, Blue Extra, you can earn up to 12 points per dollar spent. You can see their different systems here. You can also share these points with family members, which is a great upside.
Though JetBlue’s frequent flyer program is simple, and the points never expire, it’s not ideal for long-haul flights. Mainly because they don’t fly to many destinations other than domestic in the U.S and in Latin/Central America.
Since the points never expire and they fly shorter distances, this could be a great option if you’re looking to get away for a quick weekend trip on points.
This is best for flyers who travel often to the east coast/Caribbean and want a straight-forward rewards program.
Southwest Frequent Flyer - Rapid Rewards
Best for: frequent flyer, short-haul, domestic flights, fast earner.
Despite being a “budget” airline, Southwest offers a great frequent flyer program for those who travel within the U.S., Mexico, and the Caribbean. The rewards system is simple: the number of points you earn is based on the cash value of the ticket; you earn based on amount spent versus miles flown.
The main and most valued perk of Southwest’s frequent flyer program is the Companion Pass. Simply put, you get a second ticket for the price of the taxes/extra fees anytime you redeem your points for a ticket. The only downside is that this perk is hard to earn — you need to accrue 110,000 rewards points, or, 100 Southwest one-way departure flights.
It’s important to note that points expire after 24 months of inactivity. Also, Southwest does not have a first-class, so you won’t be able to convert your points or status into first class upgrades. Despite these drawbacks, Southwest is still a great option for quick business trips or weekend getaways.
Since Southwest does not fly outside of the US, Mexico, and Central America this is not recommended for the long-haul frequent flyer. We recommend this for the budget, short-distance traveler who almost exclusively flies Southwest with a second person to be able to take advantage of the Companion Pass.
Alaska Airlines Frequent Flyer - Mileage Plan
Best for: moderate to frequent flyer, domestic and international flights, slow and fast earner.
Alaska’s frequent flyer program is based on miles flown versus amount spent. Despite their name, they fly to over 115 destinations, primarily to the west coast (more than any other airline). Their main hubs are in Atlanta, Seattle, and New York, so if you live there or nearby, this is a great option for a frequent flyer program.
The program is simple: the amount of miles you fly equals the number of points earned. There are three different tiers you can work up to. If you use a co-branded credit card, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred (LINK to CC article) or Alaska's own Visa Signature card, you can earn miles based on the amount spent.
Though it flies primarily to the west coast, Alaska Airlines also has partnerships with international carriers that fly to a wide variety of destinations worldwide. Also, similar to the Southwest Companion Pass, Alaska Airlines is known for its Companion Fare, which allows you to bring a guest for only $99 plus taxes. In order to qualify for this perk, however, you have to apply for one of their co-branded credit cards. Read more here.
The downsides of this frequent flyer plan is that it’s not part of the big three alliances (OneWorld, Star Alliance, and Sky Team), which means you’re limited on which airlines you can use your rewards on. Also, the points expire after two years of inactivity. Flight purchases on points are also subject to blackout dates. This may be a better option for someone who plans their trips in advance and since it’s based on miles versus amount spent, you’re more likely to want to save up for a long-haul flight.
This program is ideal for both the domestic and international frequent flyer who lives near an Alaska Airlines hub or on the west coast and wants a rewards system based on miles flown.
So Which Airline Has the Best Frequent Flyer Program?
Choosing the best frequent flyer program will depend on your travel habits and goals. If you fly internationally frequently and are looking for a program that offers more elite rewards, the Delta frequent flyer program may be best for you. On the other hand, if you fly mostly domestic and want something simple based on amount spent, then Southwest might be a better bet.
It’s important to keep in mind where the airlines travel to, how easy it is to accrue and redeem points, and when the points will expire. The right frequent flyer program will allow you to make the most of your travel both during and after purchase. Combined with our tricks on how to find cheap flights and the best travel rewards credit cards, you’ll be in the air in no time!
At the end of the day, if you make the most of these rewards systems, you’ll get to your destinations sooner, more easily, and enjoy the journey more along the way. These tips will help you achieve your travel goals, in whatever way that means to you.
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