If you fly round trip from New York to Los Angeles and aren’t a member of that airline’s frequent flyer program, you’ll miss out on roughly 5,000 frequent flyer miles. More if you have a layover.
Three more of those flights, and you’ve already earned yourself a free domestic round-trip flight on some airlines.
If you pay for the flight with a good travel rewards credit card, tack on another 1,000 points for a flight that cost you $500. Combining miles and points is a great way to maximize award travel. Once you’ve flown enough with that airline, you’ll start achieving frequent flyer status. That leads to even more points for each flight, and on top of that, perks like free checked bags and free upgrades to business class.
With all of these perks, what’s the downside to signing up for a frequent flyer program? Well, there isn’t one! It’s a free loyalty program that gets you earning points and great rewards right off the bat. The question isn’t should you join, it’s which ones should you join?
Not all frequent flyer miles programs are created equal. If you’re going to pledge your loyalty to a few frequent flyer programs, you’ll want to do your research first so you can pick the best ones. Luckily, we’ve got you covered.
Here are the best frequent flyer miles programs currently on the market for U.S.-based flyers.
For domestic flyers: Southwest Airlines
Southwest is known for having a frequent flyer miles program that is both the easiest to understand and the easiest to redeem. If there’s an open seat on a flight, you can always purchase it using miles, so you don’t have to worry much about availability. Their redemption is based on the price of the ticket, so it’s always fair. This means you’re not going to find crazy deals on flights that would otherwise cost a fortune, but you’re also not going to find that flights that should be cheap cost you 100,000 miles.
The real kicker for Southwest is their companion pass program. If you earn enough points in a calendar year, you get a companion pass that’s valid for the rest of that year and all of the following year. This pass allows you to designate a companion who flies for free with you on all of your paid and award travel flights during that time. That’s a perk that’s hard to beat, especially if you regularly fly domestically with a companion.
Runner-up: British Airways
For international flyers: Alaska Airlines, United, and Delta
This one is going to depend on where you typically fly to. Certain frequent flyer programs are really good for award travel to Europe, for example, but not great for award travel to Asia, and vice versa. The airlines above work with a pretty extensive network of international partners. Both Delta and Alaska miles can be redeemed on Air France/KLM, which is a great airline for international travel to both Europe and the caribbean. Alaska partners also include British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, and Emirates. Delta’s SkyTeam includes Hawaiian Airlines, AeroMexico, and Virgin Atlantic. United’s Star Alliance network includes Singapore Airlines, Oneworld, Lufthansa, ANA, Avianca, Copa, Air Canada, Air China, Air Portugal, and more.