Home » Ratings » Frequent Flyer Programs

Frequent Flyer Programs

1.) Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

Southwest Airlines has been a long time leader in this segment due to its high availability of award ticket seats as well as one of the better economy class cabins (esp. compared to the new United) in the industry. Southwest also has low taxes on award tickets (usually $5) and includes two free checked bags. The companion pass for a year earned after reaching  100,000 points is perhaps the greatest frequent flyer benefit of any airline, especially because the 100k needed includes point transfers from Starwood, Chase, Marriott, and other major travel groups. The companion pass can be used with any type of fare (award or purchase) as long as the owner of the account is on that flight.

Southwest has no real ‘hubs’, but it does operate more flights from: Las Vegas, Baltimore, Denver, Phoenix, and Chicago

2.) United Mileage Plus (Alliance: Star Alliance)

United Airlines is definitely the program with the best benefits for its most frequent flyers. It is also second to none in award availability except for Southwest when considering domestic travel. Blog author Zod can vouch for the benefits of this program as it guarantees Economy Plus for even at the lowest elite level (Silver), for both you and your companion. It also guarantees 2 free checked bags on all flights.  Other benefits include the Elite Status Match Challenge Program, in which a frequent flyer may earn elite status on United for 90 days and fly a reduced number of miles on that airline to keep the status for 2 years! Details can be seen at this link:

http://www.united.com/web/en-us/apps/mileageplus/promotions/registrationDetails.aspx?promoCode=TB8230

Suggestion:

If you are planning on going to Europe or Asia and already have elite status with another airline, email United at the specified email address in the link and receive elite status for 90 days during which you must complete the required minimum of 10,000 miles to keep silver status. One trip to either Europe roundtrip or Asia (India, China etc.) can leave you with the best elite program for 2 years.

SPG TRANSFER RATIO: 1 SPG POINT : 2 UNITED MILES  (DISADVANTAGE!)

United Hubs: Houston, Newark, Chicago, Denver, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles
Partner Hubs: Singapore, Philadelphia, Toronto, Vancouver, Frankfurt, Zurich, Munich, Charlotte, and Phoenix. 


3.) Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan (Multiple Partnerships)

Many people are not aware of Alaska Airlines because of their limited flying to the major hub airports in the continental U.S. However it is important to note that they are perhaps the best airline in terms of redemption capability on a wide variety of flights, which include: American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Delta, Air France, KLM, and Korean Air. The awards available here for partner airlines must be roundtrip, however the taxes are very low when compared to British Airways. The miles needed for redemption is also fairly low compared to BA. It usually costs 25,000 miles for domestic roundtrip airfare.

SPG TRANSFER RATIO: 1:1

Alaskan Airlines Hubs: Seattle and Portland
Partner Hubs: DFW, Atlanta, Chicago, Hong Kong, Dubai, JFK, London, Amsterdam, and Paris

4.) British Airways Executive Club (Alliance: Oneworld)

This airline is the easiest airline to earn miles for, apart from US Airways. It is fairly easy to redeem miles on partners: American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas, and availability is also very high. The major drawback is that it charges close to $1000 in taxes on its award flights regardless of class of service, making it useless to use BA miles for economy tickets in particular. The elite status perks for the airline are fairly decent with use of airport lounges all over the world when Silver is achieved as well as a decent amount of bonus points at each level. It is also important to note that elite status on British also guarantees 1 free checked bag per person on any reservation on American Airlines due to achieving Oneworld Ruby or higher.

AMEX TRANSFER RATIO: 1:1
SPG TRANSFER RATIO: 1:1


BA Hubs: London Heathrow, London Gatwick
Partner Hubs: Sydney, Hong Kong, DFW, Chicago, JFK,  Los Angeles


NOTE: Qantas now flies to Australia nonstop from Dallas (DFW) daily, making more seats available for redemption.

5.) US Airways Dividend Miles (Alliance: Star Alliance) 


Open a Dividend Miles Account Immediately if you are reading this!

Currently US Airways is running a 100% bonus on miles bought on its website. That is 1.75 cents per mile for up to 100,000 miles. This is definitely a recommended offer if you are planning on going to anywhere on planet Earth on Business for the price of economy or Economy for virtually nothing.

As a Star Alliance member US Airways miles may be redeemed on Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, United, Lufthansa, and Swiss Air. The current mileage redemption for a flight to Singapore or India from Newark is 120,000 miles + $20. The single drawback of the program is that the fare booked on airlines other than US Airways must be roundtrip, and that a phone call must be made to make the booking. A nice secret here is that US Airways Club Membership for around $185 for card holders can be used to go to United Club and Star Alliance lounges around the world. If you have a AMEX Platinum card, this comes for free because the club membership is covered under the $200 travel fee waiver. Elite Status on this airline is quite useful for perks such as certain upgrades on partners as well as baggage fee waivers.

Suggestion: When booking awards, check the united website for availability on the flight before asking US Airways on the phone.

SPG TRANSFER RATIO: 1:1

US Airways Hubs: Philadelphia, Charlotte, Phoenix 
Partner Hubs: Newark, Singapore, Houston, Chicago, Denver,  Washington Dulles, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver, Frankfurt, Munich, and Zurich


6.) Air Canada Aeroplan (Alliance: Star Alliance) 

Perhaps one of the best airline award search engines of any airline, alongside United. Aeroplan offers customers easy to find award opportunities on its Star Alliance partners and its flights via its website. The domestic airfare in Canada or to the United States is a standard 25,000 miles, with $5 taxes, while international awards are one par with United and US Airways. Being the only major intl airline in Canada, Air Canada flies to all 6 inhabited continents from its hubs in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. Seats on its aircraft are considered to be the best of any airline in North America and it also receives high marks in the department of business class seat comfort. Elite Status on this airline can be used to gain perks on all of its partners via Star Alliance Silver or Gold, and free checked bags are a bonus.

AMEX TRANSFER RATIO: 1:1
SPG TRANSFER RATIO: 1:1

Hubs: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver
Partner Hubs:  Houston, Newark, Chicago, Denver, Washington Dulles, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Singapore, Philadelphia, Toronto, Vancouver, Frankfurt, Zurich, Munich, Charlotte, and Phoenix


7.) American Airlines AAdvantage (Alliance: Oneworld)

American Airlines invented the idea of a frequent flyer program itself and continues to lead the field in certain categories. In fact, American Airlines has roundtrip off peak award ticket fares for around 17,500 miles in the continental U.S and 35,000 to Hawaii (usually these fares cost around 60k roundtrip on United or other airlines). It also has a great number of routes to Latin America, Japan, and Europe from its hubs in DFW, Miami, and Chicago at surprisingly low rates in terms of taxes for award flights. American Airlines only charges around $10 for award tickets on its website. The single drawback for the airline currently would be its bankruptcy filing due to which award flights and number of flights to smaller hub destinations such as Zurich, Venice, or Rome has fallen. The elite status on the airline is a great feature with a person achieving  lifetime AA Gold Status upon accruing a million miles by any means available in a calendar year. Another important feature of American Airlines is that it is the first airline in the world to offer wifi access on all its mainline flights (with great speeds too) in the United States. The legroom on its economy class cabins on AA S80 jets is perhaps the best of any airline in the industry outside of JetBlue and Virgin America.

SPG TRANSFER RATIO: 1:1

AA Hubs: DFW, Chicago, Miami, JFK,  and Los Angeles
Partner Hubs: London, Sydney, and Tokyo

NOTE:
Another important fact to mention is that the American Airlines Platinum Plus credit card from Citibank is great in that it provides a free checked bags for up to four people on a single reservation (great for families). The current offer for this credit card is only a 40k sign on bonus, so it is not recommended as of today unless you fly AA all the time.

Here is the link in either case: http://www.aa.com/i18n/AAdvantage/earnMiles/beyondTravel/creditDebit/citiCards.jsp#!citi-plat-visa:apply1

8.) Delta SkyMiles (Alliance: SkyTeam)
No list would be complete without the world’s second largest airline and the world’s busiest and largest airline hub, Atlanta. Delta offers great award availability on its flights from Atlanta due to the sheer magnitude of flights that are available. It also offers the best elite status program alongside United, providing its most frequent flyers with free upgrades to Premium Economy. Delta is also the second US airline to offer wifi on all its mainline jets (the service is free for first class and elite members). The airline overall offers great redemption options on its flights, but lags behind other airlines due to its membership in SkyTeam. Although, Delta by itself may rank higher on our list due to its large network,it falls behind due to older cabins on Alitalia, Aeroflot, and KLM flights.

AMEX TRANSFER RATIO: 1:1
SPG TRANSFER RATIO: 1:1

Hubs: Atlanta, Detroit, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, JFK, and Memphis
Partner Hubs:  Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Moscow

9.) Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

It has come to my attention that miles earned on Virgin Atlantic can now be used for travel on US Airways, Jet Airways, Virgin America, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand, Hawaiian, BMI, and SAS (Along with some others). If one were to get the Founders Card, it is an automatic upgrade to silver status on Virgin Atlantic, which perhaps has the best economy class cabin on both international and domestic (Virgin America). Silver membership also provides free train tickets via Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express, and 50% bonus miles. Once gold is achieved, you are entitled to free access to Virgin’s clubhouses at all departure and arrival airports and a companion pass with silver status for a partner upon completion of 4 flights on Virgin upper class. Occasional upgrades are common apparently for elite members, but not guaranteed. More on redemption in a later post……

Hubs: London Heathrow
Gateways: Newark, Miami, JFK, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and Las Vegas

AMEX TRANSFER RATIO: 1:1
SPG TRANSFER RATIO: 1:1

10 – 12) Cathay Pacific(Oneworld), Qantas(Oneworld), Japan Airlines (Oneworld) 

These programs have redemption offers and availability similar to British Airways and American Airlines and are great if you live in their hub cities: Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Sydney. These are only lightly mentioned because of their lighter network reach compared to the US carriers mentioned and also for convenience. Japan Airlines is my favorite since they charge less for BA awards compared to the Executive Club website. Cathay is an easy second due to the spectacular product they offer and the availability of redemption.  The Founders Card, will allow you to signup for Silver status on Cathay and receive access to their great lounge in San Francisco. Honorable Mentions:

 Air France-KLM Flying Blue

AMEX TRANSFER RATIO: 1:1
SPG TRANSFER RATIO: 1:1

 JetBlue

AMEX TRANSFER RATIO: 1:1