Let's face it: traveling these days is a bit of a task. You pay an arm and a leg to fly economy class, and that ticket buys you a tiny seat squished between two others you've just met. You don't get food anymore unless you're on an overseas flight, and some airlines even make you pay for water. (Hopefully they won’t be able to start charging you to use the restroom any time soon, at least domestically.)
If you didn't know otherwise, you might start to believe that you are being punished for wanting to travel to your destination.
Although frequent flyer programs have lost some of their luster in recent years, with perks being removed and earned miles dropping in value, they’re still one of the few bright spots in modern air travel if you know how to take advantage of them.
But if you’re going to spend the money and go through all the hassle to travel, you deserve to know which airlines’ frequent flyer programs are going to treat you like royalty and which ones aren’t. After all, the whole purpose of a frequent flyer program is to make the life of the traveler a little less stressful, a little less expensive, and a little bit happier.
The best frequent flyer programs of 2016
In a recent best and worst survey by Cardhub, JetBlue Airlines comes out the clear winner for frequent travelers with its robust frequent flyer program that's almost impossible to top. Delta Airlines is a close second, especially for people who don't travel a lot. These two airlines also soar to the top for rewards value per $100 spent (meaning you get more stuff for each $100 you spend). JetBlue and Delta are also two of the few remaining airlines where frequent flyer miles never expire, which is especially important if you don’t travel frequently.
Let’s focus on the winner for a minute. JetBlue have always branded themselves as being different than traditional airlines, and their frequent flyer program is indeed top-notch. Along with miles that never expire, you can share points with your family members in family pooling. Don't have enough miles to get a free flight? Just borrow some from a family member to make up the difference. With over 40+ partners, you can earn and redeem points from JetBlue on airlines, car rentals, hotels and more.
Some other frequent flyer winners include Alaskan Airlines, Virgin America, and Hawaiian Airlines. They all offer heaps of options to redeem points and are traveler favorites.
But remember, while JetBlue and Delta might surge to the top of the class within the industry, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily the best frequent flyer programs for your specific needs.
To help you determine which one is, Cardhub released an awesome custom calculator that lets you find the program that works for your annual travel budget. For instance, if you on average spend $2,000 on travel, the best program for you would be Delta Airlines, and the runner up would be Virgin.
The worst frequent flyer programs in 2016
When it comes to those airlines with less than ideal frequent flyer programs, Spirit and Frontier score the worst. That's not surprising, considering both of these airlines position themselves as lower cost alternatives for travelers who prefer a bare-bones approach to flying.
Spirit Airlines calls its program "Frill Control" and lets you pick your flight options from an a la carte menu. While their frequent flyer program doesn't offer you more luxuries, it does offer the ability to speed up online bookings and of course earn points.
So you’ve chosen a frequent-flyer program—now how do you earn points?
The easiest way to earn points with most any frequent flyer program is to do fly on that airline. Most airlines offer 2-6 times the amount of your purchase price in points, which can really add up over time.
You can also earn points by using a credit card that either links to your frequent flyer program, or that offers you points that you can redeem with that airline.
Signing up for the right credit card will help you supercharge your points value. With a card like Citi AAdvantage, you can earn as many as 50,000 bonus points after making $3,000 in purchases in 3 months. You’ll also be entitled to one free bag per trip and Group 1 boarding. Another popular option is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, where you can also enjoy 50,000 extra bonus points in 3 months, along with no foreign transaction fees and a large pool of partner airlines and hotels who will accept your points.
Which frequent flyer program is best for you? It’s time to take inventory of which programs you belong to and assess their value. The whole reason you join a frequent flyer program is to save you money and make life a little bit easier when you fly. If your frequent flyer program isn’t offering you benefits that make you jump for joy, there are plenty of other programs out there competing for your dollars.
Image: Aiky Ratsimanohatra