Ready to dip your toes into a lovely hotel pool or an exotic ocean after being cooped up this last year? Well, do you know which airline reward program to use? Our readers — avid and resourceful travelers, all of them — voted for their top airline rewards programs in our 2022 Best of Travel Awards, and we can’t help but agree with the top 3.
Participating in one of these frequent flier programs can be a smart and easy way to earn miles toward that dream vacation. And don’t worry, you don’t need to be an experienced traveler to rack up points toward free air travel; these programs allow you to rack up “miles” by making everyday purchases.
There are just a few basic questions you need to ask yourself when evaluating airline rewards programs: Which airports do you frequent most? Where do you want to go? Is status important? What are the perks? And how do you earn and maximize miles? We hope to answer those questions here.
Oh, and finally, Is it worth it? The answer is yes, well worth it!
1. Southwest’s Rapid Rewards (Winner)
“Wanna get away?”
Southwest’s Rapid Rewards is at the pole position when it comes to our readers’ preferences in airline rewards programs.
We had a conversation with Laurel Peltier, a typical reward user who has “A1” status, the highest level a passenger can have at Southwest. She likes Southwest because of its ease and simplicity. The online system is perfect and always works, she said. It is easy to buy a ticket, redeem points, change dates, anything. She also stated consistency is their model. They have friendly staff, no one is snarky, they have fun flight attendants on the airplane, and the airline rarely cancels flights.
Peltier has a Southwest credit card and uses their Rapid Rewards program to add to her pool of points. She has linked up Rapid Rewards bonuses with about ten different partners, earning points on groceries, flowers, fuel, magazines, car rentals, and hotels. She loves the free checked bags, priority boarding, and free companion fares earned by spending a certain number of points. BWI Marshall, a Southwest hub, is her airport, so it makes sense for her family to choose this program.
She also doesn’t mind the lack of bells and whistles normally found with a legacy carrier, but that is something to note. There is no first class, no fancy amenities, no wide-body aircraft, and limited international destinations.
2. Delta SkyMiles
Coming in closely at second place is Delta Air Lines’ SkyMiles program.
Consistently rated highly by its members, the SkyMiles program offers many opportunities to utilize earned miles for flights and services. And compared to other airline programs, Delta’s program allows passengers to earn miles quicker and use them for future flights.
Add the Delta SkyMiles Amex card to watch the miles really add up! Watch the miles accumulate when you book hotels, shop, dine, request rides, use Instacart, and more. Miles earned on the credit card don’t expire. You can book award travel for yourself or for whomever, regardless if you’re traveling with them, and there are no black-out dates.
Although the program is called SkyMiles, you actually earn miles on how much you spend, not how far you fly. And unfortunately, there is no award chart or set value to determine how much SkyMiles are actually worth. Unlike some airlines, Delta doesn’t publish the award chart showing how many miles are needed. If you want to find out you, must hunt and peck on their website to see how many miles it costs.
In the case of Delta SkyMiles, it appears that customer loyalty and Delta’s inflight experience trumps the confusing aspect of no award charts and figuring mileage available for free flights.
You can also use your SkyMiles to upgrade, enter their lounge, get vacation packages, use at a hotel, or even donate to a charity through the Delta Skywish.
3. American Airlines’ AAdvantage Program
Followed closely in third is the American Airlines AAdvantage program.
Chris Ollie’s grandfather opened an account for him when Chris was — get this — 12 years old. His family traveled frequently from Miami to the West Coast. Ollie’s deep history with this mileage program has led to his miles racking up. He likes the ability to upgrade and use miles on American’s vast codeshare alliance, which includes Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Qatar Airways, and Japan Airlines, just to name a few.
Ollie stated that he enjoys the varied reward options, allowing flexibility, upgrades, perks, and access to the Admirals Club lounge — and on some flights, the international business class lounge called Flagship Lounge. He has also linked his AAdvantage credit card to his mileage account so his miles don’t expire.
There are over 1,000 ways to earn miles with American’s partners. Earn extra miles by booking car rentals, hotel stays, cruises, and even purchasing flowers. Members can also buy, gift or transfer miles. He can use miles to book other airlines in the program. American’s Oneworld Alliance gives access to over 1,000 destinations worldwide, allowing these miles to be used for a dream vacation.
Ollie also happens to have a large social media presence, Points Passport, which helps travelers learn how to travel the world in luxury with points and miles. You can find him on his website, Instagram account, and YouTube.
The Extra Mile
All three of these powerhouse rewards programs can work for you! A little research into these programs could get your toes into that warm water for holiday by being clever and smart. Consider this a new hobby with an amazing pay off. Perhaps you get a first class upgrade, or fly to a faraway land. Spend, plan, redeem, and fly smart!
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