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Choosing the best airline loyalty program for you

minute read

    If you’re the type of person who travels frequently enough to have made friends with local airport staff, you may benefit from joining an airline loyalty program to earn rewards from your “can’t stop, won’t stop” travel habits. But with so many different airlines and programs available, how do you find the one that matches your jet-setting lifestyle? Let‘s go wheels-up and learn more about what you might want to look for when deciding on the best airline loyalty program for you.

    What are airline loyalty programs?

    Airline loyalty programs, otherwise known as frequent flyer programs, are rewards programs offered by most airlines to provide incentives and benefits to their loyal customers. Typically, these programs are free to join and share a similar structure, giving you a way to earn points or miles when you fly through that program’s airline or its partners. Depending on the airline program, some may even allow you to earn airline points or miles when you stay with their partner hotels. Once you’ve earned enough points or miles (as determined by the loyalty program), you can typically redeem them toward the cost of future airfare through that airline.

    Generally, many programs also allow you to earn additional rewards through a co-branded airline credit card, which potentially gives you a way to earn extra miles or points through purchases made across various spending categories depending on your credit card program.

    How to choose the best airline loyalty program for you

    Narrowing down the best airline loyalty program for you may seem like a daunting task — fortunately, it doesn’t have to be. In reality, honing in on your best choice may simply come down to reflecting on your travel habits and asking yourself a few important questions.

    Are you loyal to one airline?

    Generally speaking, choosing a program from an airline you fly with frequently can help you start earning rewards without changing your travel habits. If you frequent multiple airlines or don’t want to just choose one, you are allowed to be a member of more than one program. Note, however, that miles are often non-transferrable. Therefore, it may be better to find one or two programs that align best with your needs and then stick to them — after all, loyalty is literally the name of the game here.

    Which airlines serve your city?

    Choosing the best airline loyalty program for you may come down to which airlines are available where you live. Depending on your local airport, you may have anywhere from a few to a wide array of airlines serving your location. Unless you plan to move cities soon, it may make sense to narrow down your loyalty programs to the airlines that consistently serve your locality.

    What perks do you value most?

    The additional benefits offered may vary between airline loyalty programs, and it may be a good idea to shop around to see which airport perks would be the most valuable for you. Depending on the loyalty program, some of the extra incentives might include:

    • No cost for checked bags
    • Priority boarding access
    • Access to that airline's airport lounge
    • Complimentary cabin-class upgrades

    Does the program offer more ways to earn miles?

    Choosing an airline loyalty program that makes it easy to earn additional miles may be a simple way to start racking up airline miles to use towards the cost of airfare.

    When comparing loyalty programs, you may want to see if they offer a co-branded airline credit card. These credit cards typically allow you to enjoy additional airline perks and earn miles when you book with that airline using your card. Some programs may also offer a co-branded travel credit card, which is linked to the program and can allow you to earn miles (or points) on purchases across multiple spending categories like hotels, restaurants and sometimes even on day-to-day purchases like with those made at gas stations and grocery stores.

    Airline and travel credit cards may be subject to annual fees and other costs and caveats to consider. While they may be a way to maximize the number of miles you might accumulate, it’s generally a good idea to carefully read and understand each card’s terms and conditions before applying. For instance, not all credit cards allow you to earn points or miles that you can redeem for flights.

    How easy is it to redeem miles?

    Your ability to earn miles through your loyalty program is important, but so is their redeemability. After all, earning all those miles hardly does you any good if you can’t put them to use.

    As you begin to narrow down your program choices, you may want to review each airline program’s restrictions and fees and pay close attention to the ones associated with redeeming your miles. Loyalty programs often carry redemption stipulations like blackout dates, which most airlines use to restrict usage of earned miles during major holidays and peak air travel dates.

    In summary

    Joining an airline loyalty program may be beneficial if you consider yourself a frequent flyer. While most are free to join, it may be better to narrow down your options and focus on one program to maximize the airline miles you earn. When it comes to choosing the best airline loyalty program, reflecting on your travel habits, investigating potential redemption restrictions and considering which perks you value most can all help guide your decision.