It’s no secret that airline rewards and frequent flyer programs provide travelers with some of the best perks available. If you are loyal to a specific brand or airline, you’ll likely find the best program to be the one accompanying that brand.
However, for those who haven’t yet chosen a particular airline, or your travel arrangements vary according to whichever provides the best deal, you may be interested in which airlines are known for providing the best frequent flyer programs.
Many of these reward programs offer an extra incentive to choose their particular airline and provide benefits that not only make your time in the air more comfortable but can also help you save money each time you fly.
Southwest Airlines is well-known for affordable airfare as well as its loyalty program. The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program has been considered one of the best airline loyalty programs for years. This program awards points depending on the type of fare you purchase. For example, you get 12 points for each dollar spent on Business Select fares, 10 points per dollar spent on Anytime fares, and 6 points for each dollar you spend on Wanna Get Away fares. You can also earn points with Rapid Rewards partners like Marriott, Rewards, Hilton, Budget, and Avis rental car companies.
You can redeem your points for award flights, but the value of each point will vary depending on the flight you select. For the most part, you get the most for your points when you redeem them for Wanna Get Away fares, which are Southwest’s least expensive fare. Each point with these tickets is usually worth at least 1.1 cents per point, but the value has been known to reach as much as 2 cents per point.
The Southwest frequent flyer program also includes A-List, A-List Preferred, and Companion Pass Status Benefits which are based on your flights and points and provide additional perks based on the tier. For instance, A-List requires 25 one-way qualifying flights or 35,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year. Includes priority boarding, 25% earning bonus on each flight, priority check-in and security lane access, and priority status when you fly standby.
$99 annual fee
2x on Southwest purchases
50,000 miles bonus
You can get the most from the Southwest Rapid Rewards program if you also use one of the Southwest credit cards for your purchases. The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase awards points for your purchases and currently offers a bonus of 25,000 points if you spend $1,000 in your first 3 months of account opening. Cardholders also get 6,000 points each year on the card anniversary.
Another popular frequent flyer program is Delta Air Lines’ SkyMiles program. This program awards miles as well as Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs), which are used to determine Medallion status. MQMs are based on the distance flown and the fare class. The number of miles you earn is dependent on your Medallion status. For instance, General Members get 5 miles per dollar spent, Silver Medallions get 7 miles, Gold get 8 miles, Platinum earn 9 miles, and Diamond Medallion members earn 11 miles for each dollar spent on Delta Air Lines airfare. You also earn miles from Delta Vacations and with partners such as Starwood Preferred Guest, Hilton HHonors, and Hertz rental car.
You can redeem your miles for award flights with Delta Airlines with one-way tickets available at 10,000 miles. You can also use your miles for seat and cabin upgrades. SkyMiles are typically worth 1.8 cents per mile, depending on the ticket, and can be worth nearly 3 cents per mile if you use your miles for business class seats on international flights. SkyMiles can also be redeemed for merchandise and shopping, but the value of each mile decreases with other options.
The benefits you receive with the SkyMiles program varies based on your Medallion status, which requires a specific number of MQMs or Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs), and Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs). Each level includes different benefits such as complimentary upgrades, priority wait list, waived baggage fees, and priority check-in and boarding.
Gold: $95 annual fee, waived for the first year
Platinum: $195 fee
Reserve: $450 fee
A few different SkyMiles credit cards offer various opportunities to earn SkyMiles and extra flight benefits. The Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express currently offers a bonus of 35,000 miles if you make $1,000 in purchases with your card in the first 3 months of opening your account. New cardholders can also get a $50 statement credit after the first Delta purchase with the card within the first 3 months. Cardholders can also take advantage of flight perks such as priority boarding, discounted access to Delta Sky Club airport lounges, and free first checked bags.
If you frequently fly with United Airlines, you can get more out of your flights with its MileagePlus program. This popular frequently flyer program lets you earn at least 5x miles per dollar spent on United Airlines and United Express flights. You can earn as much as 11 miles for each dollar, depending on your MileagePlus status of either Member, Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, or Premier 1K. You can also earn miles with airline partners that are part of the Star Alliance, like Asiana Airlines, Turkish Airlines, and Jet Airways.
You can redeem your miles for award flights and upgrades with United Airlines. One-way MileagePlus Saver flights are available for as little as 12,500 miles. The value of each MileagePlus Mile is approximately 1.3 cents per mile for economy class flights and just over 2 cents per mile for business class seats. The value of your miles increase with business class international flights and decrease if you redeem for economy class seats on flights within the U.S.
Flight benefits are based on your Premier status in the United MileagePlus program and include perks like free checked baggage, priority boarding and check-in, and complimentary upgrades. Each Premier status requires a specific number of Premier Qualifying Miles (PQMs) or Premier Qualifying Segments (PQS), and Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQDs), which determine the level of benefits you have available to you.
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$95 annual fee, waived for the first year
first checked bag free
30,000 miles intro bonus
up to 15,000 annual miles bonus
There are also various credit cards that are part of the United MileagePlus program, which allows you to earn miles for award flights when you use your card. The MileagePlus Explorer Credit Card from Chase currently offers new cardholders a bonus of 30,000 miles if you spend $1,000 with your card in the first 3 months of opening the account. If you add an authorized user to the card and make a purchase within the first 3 months, you get an additional bonus of 5,000 miles. This card also offers free first checked baggage, priority boarding, 2 United Club passes every year, and 10,000 bonus miles each year you spend $25,000 with your card.
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