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Which airlines have the best rewards programs?

Jet Blue 2

Do you travel on the same airline so that you can accumulate points for free trips?

More and more consumers are traveling, and they’re planning to spend more.

The average American is budgeting $8,400 for travel in 2016, and one-third of people planning to spend more than last year, according to a TripAdvisor survey.

One way to get more for your travel dollars is to join an airlines awards program.

On Wednesday, CardHub announced the results of its “2016’s Best Frequent Flyer Program” study.

It looks at the loyalty rewards programs operated by the 10 largest domestic airlines based on 23 items, such as the average value of a mile, mile expiration policies, and blackout dates. In addition, CardHub’s report also features a custom calculator that allows users to personalize the results based on their own budgets.

Key findings

  • JetBlue Airways is the best airline rewards program for frequent fliers, while Delta Air Lines is the top choice for average and light travelers. 

  • When you only consider the average redemption value of miles earned through each program, without taking into account any other important characteristics such as blackout dates and miles-expiration policies, Frontier, Hawaiian, and Alaska are the best airlines for light, average, and frequent flyers, respectively.
  • Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways are the only two major airlines whose miles don’t expire due to inactivity. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines miles expire after just three and six months of account inactivity, respectively.
  • United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Frontier Airlines are the only carriers that impose blackout dates for tickets purchased with miles.
  • Half of the major U.S. airlines have switched to spend based programs in the last six years – starting with JetBlue in 2009 – awarding miles to passengers based on the amount spent rather than distance traveled. All of these airlines have a tiered earning rate based on the fare class and status level thus benefiting passengers who spend more.
  • The average airline earns a profit of 47 percent on the sale of miles to rewards program members, with Spirit, 81 percent; Delta, 66 percent; and Hawaiian, 62.14 percent, making the most. 

About 7 percent of all miles flown are paid for with miles by about 300-million members of domestic airline frequent flyer programs, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Copyright 2016, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist


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