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Best airline rewards programs
Here are our top picks across five common categories.
Nearly every airline rewards program can hold value. It just depends on what you’re looking for, and where and how you like to travel.
We’ve highlighted the top airline rewards programs in various categories to help you determine which program will most benefit you.
Our top picks for best airline rewards programs
Easiest to earn and redeem rewards: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
The Alaska Mileage Plan rewards program is one of the simplest to understand. One mile flown equals one mile earned to your account, so it’s easy to determine when you have enough miles for award redemption.
Considering some airlines base your earnings on type of fare, destination, availability and peak season, it’s easy to see why Alaska earned our recognition. Alaska also has a fairly small pool of redemption options, with just about all options being worth at least one cent per mile.
Highest value for earning and redeeming rewards: Southwest Rapid Rewards
While other airlines can offer redemption values that outpace Southwest Rapid Rewards in edge cases, few can compare to Southwest’s average overall value. That’s because you can redeem award flights by using points on practically any ticket, on practically any day.
You’ll get great value regardless of your flight since each point is valued above average. You’ll get even greater value if you qualify for elite status or the fabled Rapid Rewards Companion Pass.
If you’re looking to take advantage of raw point value, check out the Avianca LifeMiles program. According to our recent guide, the airline offers points valued around 1.7 cents each. It also recently added Amex and Capital One to its credit card transfer partners, offering plentiful ways to earn.
Best for complimentary travel benefits: Delta SkyMiles
The Delta SkyMiles program is known for its numerous complimentary benefits for Medallion status members. Many of these benefits apply to even the first level of Medallion status and are unlimited, restricted only by availability or priority.
While earning this status can appear confusing at first, the perks are worth it. Few airlines can match the sheer number and generosity of these travel benefits.
Largest airline network: United Airlines MileagePlus
Serving more than 300 cities across five continents, this expansive carrier is your best bet if you want as many travel options available as possible. With the United Airlines MileagePlus program, you’ll earn miles on nearly every trip you make since there are so many partners available through the Star Alliance.
Best for flexible reward options: JetBlue TrueBlue
Many airlines offer “traps” in their reward selections. For example, the value you get per point spent on new things like a speaker or coffee pot is typically abysmal.
JetBlue TrueBlue sidesteps this issue by limiting your redemption options but ensuring they all give a solid or even great value for each point spent. That means there are no wrong choices in how you choose to spend these points and no matter where you fly.
More ways to earn miles
Most airline reward programs allow you to earn points or miles using more than just their cobranded cards. For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are transferable to several airlines at a 1:1 ratio, including JetBlue, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines.
Here are just a few of the cards that can help you earn transferable points.
Compare airline rewards credit cards
How to choose the best airline rewards program for you
Here are some considerations when choosing an airline rewards program for your travel needs.
- What airlines are available?
Choose a rewards program you can easily use and get the best advantages.
- How many airline partners do they have?
Choose an airline with plenty of transfer partners so you have many options. Some rewards programs achieve their best value through partnered flights.
- Fees or other requirements.
Most airline reward programs are free to join. However, many require you earn a certain elite status to obtain certain travel benefits.
- How frequently does the airline fly?
Choose an airline that flies often so you won’t have to adjust your schedule around available flights.
- What credit cards are available?
Making purchases with credit cards is often the fastest and most effective way to build miles. Whether the card is cobranded or one that can transfer points, you’ll want to find one that fits your spending habits.
It’s hard to go wrong when selecting an airline rewards program as there are so many great options. Pick from any of the ones we highlighted above for good results or review your own travel and spending preferences to determine which will create the most value for you during your travels.
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