How do some air travelers score free flights and upgrades, and you’re left behind crammed in a middle seat in coach? StudyFinds has the answer: frequent flyer programs. These loyalty clubs aren’t just for the globetrotting elite, they’re the secret sauce that can make your travel experiences more rewarding and enjoyable. Whether you’re a casual traveler or constantly on the go, there’s something in these programs for everyone. The best part? It doesn’t cost a dime to get started. Which airlines offer the best benefits and perks? StudyFinds did the research, so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight with the best frequent flyer programs airlines have to offer.
If you fly frequently, you probably do everything imaginable to book an aisle seat with the most legroom, closest to the front. However, it may not be the safest seat on the plane in an emergency. A recent study found a middle seat, in the last row, is statistically the safest seat on a plane. Yet, it’s also worth noting that another survey has highlighted the unparalleled safety of modern air travel. The survey suggests that the fear of flying due to safety concerns is comparable to worrying about a grocery store roof suddenly collapsing – something unlikely to happen.
You don’t even need to fly to rack up frequent flyer points. Most programs also offer co-branded credit cards to help you accrue miles faster and receive other perks, like free checked bags and earlier boarding groups. These programs are designed to reward loyal customers, providing benefits that enhance the overall travel experience. Before forking over your hard-earned money to one airline so you can rack up frequent flier miles, the experts say there are several things to consider:
- Earning Potential: Are miles earned based on distance flown or ticket price?
- Partner Programs: Can you earn miles from hotels, car rental, and other partners?
- Redemption Options: How easy is it to book awards? Are there any blackout dates or limited award seats? Do miles ever expire?
- Personal Travel Patterns: Does the airline provide service to your common travel routes and destinations?
Ready to reap the rewards? Thanks to the recommendations of nine travel experts, we have a comprehensive list of the best frequent flyer programs among U.S. airlines. Did we miss one that provides you with plenty of perks? Let us know in the comments below!
➡️ How Our “Best Of The Best” Lists Are Created
StudyFinds’ “Best of the Best” articles are put together with the idea of taking the work out of common consumer research. Ever find yourself searching for a product or service on Google and reading multiple reviews to find items listed across many of them? Our Best of the Best lists are created with that process in mind, with each item ranked by how frequently it appears on expert reviews or lists. With Best of the Best, you are getting consensus picks — making them truly the best of the best!
The List: Best Frequent Flier Programs, According to Travel Experts
1. American Airlines AAdvantage
American’s AAdvantage program, overhauled in 2022, is number one on our list because it provides customers with flexibility and an extensive network of flights offered by the airline and its partners. Money calls it a “top pick for the average traveler.” American passengers can accrue Loyalty Points based on the number of miles they fly and they can also earn miles by spending money with their reward partners, including Marriott and Hyatt hotels.
Want to earn a lot of miles without flying? According to Bankrate.com, American counts nearly all rewards earned toward elite frequent flyer status, all without stepping on a plane. People can earn these rewards through credit card spending, shopping portals, and eating out.
If you’re sick of paying change fees, American has done away with them for AAdvantage members, but you’ll still have to pay for any fare increase. One Mile At A Time is a fan of how passengers “can speculatively lock in itineraries that work best for you” through American Airlines.
2. Alaska Mileage Plan
If you still like to look at a mileage reward chart to determine how many miles you’ll need for a particular flight, you’ll appreciate Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan. Bankrate.com says the mileage plan has “reasonable elite status requirements,” making it easy for passengers to determine how many miles they need to accrue for a flight. Alaska Airlines also offers a free stopover allowance on one-way awards, allowing customers to stretch their miles further “by working multiple trips into one award redemption.”
Alaska’s Mileage plan offers several other freebies we all like to receive. According to The Points Guy, passengers can receive complimentary upgrades on Alaska and some American Airlines-operated flights and priority boarding. Customers flyings internationally can also receive lounge access.
If you’re a long-hauler, this program may net you more miles than other programs. Money notes program members net 30 percent more miles on average than other airlines since Alaska Airlines calculates rewards points based on miles flown. This is great news if you travel overseas or take many jaunts up and down the West Coast.
3. Delta SkyMiles
Some airline miles expire if you don’t fly enough, but not with Delta SkyMiles. Miles never expire and there are no blackout dates for redeeming miles. Money also rates it a “top pick among airlines for reliability,” meaning you’re more likely to get where you need to go on time. The website adds another highlight — you can “earn points with unique partners including Lyft, Starbucks, and Instacart.”
If you travel internationally, you can’t beat one of Delta’s perks for top-tier status. According to Travel + Leisure, Delta’s program offers four tiers with a number of benefits. They include free upgrades to Comfort+, first-class seating, and even Delta One on domestic and short-haul international flights. Global Upgrade Certificates are also offered for top-tier status holders. Those can be redeemed for long-haul international business-class flights.
Live in a Delta hub city? Then U.S. News & World Report says it pays to join SkyMiles. With hubs in Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, Boston, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis and Seattle, this program is very convenient fro frequent flyers. It’s also worth it for those who regularly travel to and from New York City.
4. United MileagePlus
United MileagePlus is best for customers who prefer long-haul upgrades. According to The Points Guy, this plan still remains valuable despite United Airlines increasing the global award rates with no notice. Program members earn miles through flights, credit card spending, and other partners. Those who are top elite members are able to compile PlusPoints, which are used to confirm upgrades to premium cabins, including Polaris business class.
Like American and Delta, United gives MileagePlus elite members free checked bags, but there’s one perk the other airlines can’t match. Money reveals United is much better than its competitors when it comes to using points on partner airlines and awards destinations. United also give frequent flyers discounts to the CLEAR fast security service.
If you’re worried about getting bumped from an overbooked flight, being a MileagePlus member may help in that department. TravelPulse says, United is one of four U.S. carriers that “give preference to frequent flyer program members when deciding whom to bump from overbooked flights.”
5. JetBlue TrueBlue
JetBlue recently overhauled its TrueBlue loyalty plan, adding some new tiers and benefits. According to The Points Guy, program points are based on the cost of the flight. There are also no blackout dates for award travel.
If you fly up and down the East Coast, this may be your top option. U.S. News & World Report notes The TrueBlue program is best for travelers based in Boston, New York City, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, who fly domestically and to international locations in the Caribbean, Central and South America and London.
Traveling with a pet can be expensive, but with TrueBlue, you’ll earn some extra points. Money explains that program members receive 300 extra points for bringing along their furry friend. However, they still must pay the $125 pet fee.
6. Southwest Rapid Rewards
Rounding out our list is the airline everyone loves for its “bags fly free.” According to Bankrate.com, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program is known for its “practical perks and easy redemptions.”
Southwest offers one very unique item for Rapid Rewards members with more than 125,000 miles. Money says, Rapid Rewards members can earn a “companion pass” that allows to bring someone along with them for free.
Want a frequent flyer program that’s easy to understand? The Points Guy says the program is simple “due to their straightforward and user-friendly programs.” This particular loyalty program also has an uncomplicated earning and redemption process.
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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This article may contain affiliate links in which we receive a commission if you make a purchase.