The Best Airline Loyalty Programs of 2019

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Best Airline Loyalty Programs

Airline loyalty programs are no longer just an option for fat-cat corporate travelers. Today it seems every airline has a rewards program for standard vacation takers. If you haven’t heard of loyalty programs or frequent flyer miles before, you may be asking yourself how you get frequent flyer miles? Frequent flyer miles work just like a shop loyalty card. You know the ones: buy nine coffees and get the tenth free. 

So how do you become a member of an airline program and start earning? It’s so easy. You choose your airline or alliance and sign up to their airline rewards card program on their website or over the phone. Then you’re ready to start booking your travel. Once you’re signed up, earn points in the following ways:

  • In the air – by purchasing one-way or round-trip flights and presenting your frequent flyer card at check-in or entering your membership number online when you check-in.
  • On the ground – by using partnered services such as hotel stays, car rentals, or insurance.
  • Credit cards – by applying for a credit card with a bonus of airline miles on sign up and general spending.
  • Airline shopping sites – by shopping online at partnered shopping websites. For example, with United, you can earn two miles for every dollar spent at Macy’s.

By traveling a certain number of miles or spending a certain amount of money, your loyalty card will track these trips, and you start to earn points. You should consider whether you want to be loyal to a particular brand.

On the other hand, you may only be able to afford flexibility in how you earn airline rewards and where you spend them. Which loyalty program you’re signed up to depends on the types of rewards and the number of accumulated “miles” you need to redeem. 

Why are frequent flyer programs still relevant?

Air travel is still popular, and with cheaper flights and holiday destinations becoming more widely available, flying has never been more affordable. Not only are frequent flyer programs perfect for your holidays with the increase in global businesses, but it’s also critical that corporations stay connected with colleagues.

If you regularly travel for business, signing up for a loyalty program will save you money in the long run. It will also give you a comfortable experience during your trip if you choose to use airport or flight upgrades.

Is there a frequent flyer program for all airlines? 

Not all airlines offer frequent flyer programs, but there are air alliance schemes that work for several airlines simultaneously. The most common alliances are:

These links will take you to their respective websites to give you more information about the airlines that partner with them and their airline rewards programs on offer. Pro Tip: By picking a loyalty program from an airline in each alliance, you set yourself up to earn points no matter which alliance you choose. 

How to Find the Best Airline Loyalty Programs

Like supermarket choices, there are a plethora of options for travel loyalty programs, and depending on how and why you travel, it could make the difference in the rewards you receive when signing up. Here’s a quick rundown on what to keep in mind when you’re considering a travel loyalty program, depending on your reasons for traveling. 

Business Travelers

  • Look for loyalty programs that cater to business professionals
  • Check the terms and conditions for the expiry date for points
  • Find a loyalty program that uses airlines that fly from your nearest airport
  • If you’re a global traveler, use a loyalty program that uses several different airlines

Families / Group Travelers

  • Sign up to an airline alliance, so you don’t have to fly with the same airline
  • Check if you can pool points 
  • Check the age limit on points accumulation if you have children

Less Frequent Flyers

  • Sign up for a program that has the longest expiry on accumulated points
  • Work out in advance where you might travel in the future to pick the most relevant loyalty program
  • Consider a credit card choice or a membership that offers perks through “amount spent” rather than “miles traveled”

The Best Airline Loyalty Programs of 2019

There’s no definitive way to choose the best airline loyalty program. It can be hard to rank them when everyone’s preferences are different. But with the dozens of options, how do you decide which is best for you? The best thing you can do is go away and research each loyalty program and work out which one is the best fit for your requirements. To help you out, here is a list of ten loyalty programs and a brief overview of what they offer.

JetBlue Airways TrueBlue

Website: JetBlue
Alliance program: None
Minimum elite status rule: 15,000 flight points / 30 segments + 12,000 flight points (mosaic status)

Overview:

  • Ideal for frequent and non-frequent flyers
  • Number of points needed to book a trip is based on the current fare for that trip and not a preset minimum, making it fairer than other airline loyalty programs
  • Points don’t expire and can be redeemed for any seat, any time – no blackout dates on JetBlue-operated flights.
  • Points pooling for up to seven friends and family members for ultimate rewards
  • Combine with a JetBlue Card and earn up to 50,000 points

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

Website: Southwest Rapid Rewards
Alliance program: None
Minimum elite status rule: 

  • A-List: fly 25 qualifying one-way flights / earn 35,000 tier qualifying points in one calendar year
  • A-List Preferred: fly 50 one-way qualifying flights / earn 70,000 tier qualifying points in one calendar year
  • Companion Pass: 100 qualifying one-way flights / earn 110,000 qualifying tier points in one calendar year

Overview:

  • Three tiers of VIP status with increasing levels of perks as you progress
  • Points do not expire and have no blackout dates (as long as you have flight-earning or partner-earning activity in 24 months.)
  • Shop at over 850 online stores with Rapid Rewards Shopping to earn points
  • Choose to buy points if you are short of a redeemable reward
  • Buy, transfer, gift, or donate partner points — one of the more generous programs out there

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Website: Alaska Air
Alliance program: None but does have a codeshare agreement with 17 airlines
Minimum elite status rule: 20,000 eligible miles earned on AA / 25,000 miles earned on AA and elite-qualifying partners / 30 segments flown on AA and elite-qualifying partners

Overview:

  • Three tiers of elite status with increasing rewards
  • Use miles to fly to more than 900 destinations worldwide
  • Club 49 benefits for Alaska residents (free bag check-in, fare sales and more)
  • Ever-changing deals exclusive to Mileage plan members
  • Earn points by shopping online

Delta Air Lines SkyMiles

Website: Delta SkyMiles
Alliance program: SkyTeam
Minimum elite status rule: 25,000 Medallion-qualifying miles / 30 Medallion-qualifying segments

Overview:

  • Use miles for other perks like premium drinks at Delta Sky Club, traveling with Delta Private Jets, seat upgrades and more
  • Four tiers of elite status (Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond) Medallion
  • Redeem points for Delta Vacations packages with no blackout dates
  • 20+ partner airlines to improve your chance of earning points
  • Buy flights with miles + cash to use a combination of miles and dollars

American Airlines AAdvantage

Website: American Airlines
Alliance program: OneWorld
Minimum elite status rule: 25,000 qualifying flight miles / 30 qualifying segments

Overview:

  • Earn points flying on American, OneWorld and other participating airlines
  • Use miles for flights to 1,000 worldwide destinations, upgrades, car rental, hotel stays, and other retail products
  • Choose to buy or share gift miles with others
  • Four tiers of elite status with increasing perks
  • Optional Admirals club with complimentary amenities before your flight

United Airlines MileagePlus

Website: United MileagePlus
Alliance Program: Star Alliance
Minimum elite status requirement: 25,000 Premier qualifying miles / 30 Premier qualifying segments

Overview:

  • Four tiers of elite status with a further Million Miler status for more exclusive benefits
  • Earn miles without a credit card with the MileagePlus Go Visa Prepaid Card
  • Exclusive deals and offers for members that change regularly
  • Earn more points through Marriott Bonvoy
  • Earn points through rail partners

Lufthansa Miles & More

Website: Miles & More
Alliance Program: Star Alliance
Minimum elite status requirement: 35,000 status miles per the calendar year

Overview:

  • Claim miles retrospectively up to six months after your flights or activity
  • Fly with almost 40 airlines partners worldwide
  • Earn miles in a wide variety of ways through airlines, hotels, travel, mobility, entertainment, shopping and finance options
  • Pair with a Miles & More Credit Card to earn more points through everyday purchases
  • Award miles (not including Frequent Traveler, Senator or HON Circle status members) expire after 36 months

Flying Blue (KLM)

Website: KLM Flying Blue
Alliance program: SkyTeam
Minimum elite status requirement: 100 XP points (silver tier) earned within 12 months

Overview:

  • Gain XP on eligible flights with Air France, KLM, HOP! And SkyTeam partners. The number of XP you gain depends on your travel class and type of flight
  • Explorers (the lowest tier) still gain perks and can receive 10% off seating options (not including standard seats)
  • Donate miles to a charitable cause
  • Move up the tiers and earn more miles per euro spent for a fairer system
  • Earn points through tax-free shopping at the KLM store and Flying Blue store for experiences

Korean Air SKYPASS

Website: Korean Air
Alliance program: SkyTeam
Minimum elite status requirement: 50,000 miles or more on Korean Air / 40 qualifying flights on Korean Air / 50,000 joint miles on Korean Air and SKYPASS partners (30,000 miles must be from Korean Air)

Overview:

  • Children can earn points (children under 12 get a SKYPASS Junior membership) pool up to five family members’ points through a Family Plan
  • Redeem miles for non-flights options like logo products, hotels, hire cars, luxury travel and more
  • Accumulate points in seven different ways, including credit cards, hotels, and partner airlines
  • A handy app for checking your account and redeeming points
  • Use points for a reduction in price with other partners including family attractions, hospitals, and resorts

British Airways Executive Club 

Website: British Airways Executive Club
Alliance program: OneWorld
Minimum elite status requirement: 300 tier points for Bronze status (fly with British Airways at least twice and earn 300 tier points / take a total of 25 British Airways flights)

Overview:

  • Four-tier levels – Blue, Bronze, Silver, and Gold; the number of tier points earned relies on the ticket price and fare class
  • Tier points expire at the end of each membership anniversary (the date you signed up to join) but, any unspent points get added to your lifetime tier points
  • If you travel with family and friends, sign up to a Household Account for up to 6 members who live with you and pool points
  • Collect Avios (reward points) when you fly, take a holiday, stay in a hotel, or rent a car through British Airways or their partners
  • Members-only deals and offers regular updates that are available for any tier level

Airline Credit Cards

Credit cards allow you to make a purchase on credit and pay it back later. If you want more information on credit cards that are for everyday use without airline points, check out our credit card guide here. Airline credit cards can be a fantastic way to earn more points when you’re a member of an airline loyalty program.

They’re a popular choice because you don’t always have to book flights and travel to earn points. Use the card in your day to day life and watch the points climb. How do they work? Exactly like a normal credit card but through purchases, you can earn points for their loyalty programs and redeem them for airline perks.

When looking for an airline credit card, you need to ask yourself, do you want a card that’s easy to use, or do you want to do some research to get the max value? The obvious answer is to research your options and get the max value!

To save yourself some time, we’ve put together a list of ten credit cards showing their fees and rates along with their bonuses you can achieve. To keep your credit rating from taking a hit, we’ve added a handy minimum credit score to show you how likely you are to get approved.

Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card 

Minimum Credit Score Required: 630
Annual Fee: $0 intro for the first year then $95 after that
APR: 18.24% – 25.24% 
Balance Transfers Fee: $5 or 5% (whichever is greater)
Cash Advance Fee: $10 or 10% (whichever is greater)
Foreign Transaction Fees: None
Sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 Bonus Miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening

JetBlue Plus Card 

Minimum Credit Score Required: 750+ will give a good chance of acceptance
Annual Fee: $99
APR: 18.24%, 22.24% or 27.24% based on your creditworthiness
Balance Transfers Fee: $5 or 3% (whichever is greater)
Cash Advance Fee: $10 or 5% of the cash advance 
Foreign Transaction Fees: 0% for transactions in US dollars 
Sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 90 days and paying the annual fee

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard 

Minimum Credit Score Required: 700
Annual Fee: $99, waived in the first year 
APR: 18.24% to 26.24% based on your creditworthiness 
Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 3% (whichever is greater)
Cash Advance Fee: $10 or 5% (whichever is greater) 
Foreign Transaction Fees: None 
Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases within the first three months of account opening

Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express 

Minimum Credit Score Required: 750
Annual Fee: $450
APR: 17.99% to 26.99% based on your creditworthiness 
Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 3% (whichever is greater)
Cash Advance Fee: $10 or 5% (whichever is greater) 
Foreign Transaction Fees: None 
Sign-up bonus: Earn 5,000 MEDALLION® QUALIFICATION MILES (MQMS) and 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first three months

Gold Delta Skymiles Credit Card from American Express 

Minimum Credit Score Required: 700
Annual Fee: $95, waived for the first 12 months
APR: 17.99% to 26.99% based on your creditworthiness 
Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 3% (whichever is greater)
Cash Advance Fee: $10 or 5% (whichever is greater) 
Foreign Transaction Fees: None 
Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles after you use your new card to make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months. Earn a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within your first three months

Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card 

Minimum Credit Score Required: 680
Annual Fee: $99
APR: 18.24% to 25.24% based on your creditworthiness 
Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 5% (whichever is greater)
Cash Advance Fee: $10 or 5% (whichever is greater) 
Foreign Transaction Fees: None 
Sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card

Minimum Credit Score Required: 700
Annual Fee: $75
APR: 18.24% to 26.24% based on your creditworthiness 
Balance Transfer Fee: $10 or 3% (whichever is greater)
Cash Advance Fee: $10 or 3% (whichever is greater) 
Foreign Transaction Fees: None 
Sign-up bonus: Get 40,000 bonus miles plus Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) – To qualify, make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account

British Airways Visa Signature Card 

Minimum Credit Score Required: 690
Annual Fee: $95
APR: 18.24% to 25.24% based on your creditworthiness 
Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 5% (whichever is greater)
Cash Advance Fee: $10 or 5% (whichever is greater) 
Foreign Transaction Fees: None 
Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 Bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Plus earn an extra 50,000 Bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 total on purchases within your first year of account opening.

Frontier Airlines World Mastercard

Minimum Credit Score Required: 680
Annual Fee: $79
APR: 18.24%, 22.24% or 27.24% variable based on your creditworthiness
Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 3% (whichever is greater)
Cash Advance Fee: $10 or 5% (whichever is greater) 
Foreign Transaction Fees: 0% for each transaction in US dollars
Sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $500 on purchases in the first 90 days and paying the annual fee

Common Questions Asked: Choosing the Best Airline Loyalty Programs

We’ve provided you with a lot of information here; it can be information overload! To help you out, we’ve summarized ways to make it easier when choosing a frequent flyer program: 

1. Does this airline fly out of your home airport? 

The golden rule of flying. Do the eligible airlines fly from my local airport? Don’t fall into the trap of signing up a loyalty program that you can’t use. Check your often used airport and the airlines that fly from there to make sure you will be earning the most points.

2. Which frequent flyer perks are you interested in? 

Different airlines and alliances offer various perks. These can range from discounted flights, pre-flight upgrades, flight upgrades, and even experience days when you reach your destination. If you feel you want to save money in a particular area, check if the loyalty program offers rewards for this and choose that option.

4. Does the airline belong to an alliance?

Airlines that offer a loyalty program and belong to an airline alliance will have more ways for you to earn points. One trick is to sign up to an airline that is among each of the top three alliances. Keep track of which loyalty program works with which partner or airline and earn points continuously. Signing up for an airline loyalty program is free, so what’s stopping you?

5. Will my points expire?

For airlines to make frequent flyer programs profitable, they often throw a clause into the terms and conditions. The clause may state that your earned points will expire after a certain length of time. If you know you aren’t much of a regular traveler, sign up for a membership program with a “non-expiry” perk or one with the longest time between uses.

Warning: read the fine print. Sometimes airlines claim their points do not expire. However, they end up changing them into legacy points which cannot be used for a standard “active” points purchase.

6. Can I transfer points between family members?

Let’s face it; people rarely travel alone if they’re taking a vacation. If you have a large family, you can earn points quicker and climb up that elite status level by pooling points. Airlines sometimes let children have their own membership but may have an age limit. Qantas doesn’t, so it’s worth looking into these if you have little nippers.

7. Business vs. standard?

Some airlines offer different membership rewards for corporate travelers. Make sure you aren’t missing out on more points or relevant perks by choosing the right option for you. If you’re a corporate traveler but still take regular leisure vacations, there’s no harm in signing up for both membership options.

8. Do you have one airline you love, or are you open to using different carriers? 

We have talked a lot in this article about alliance groups. If you’re a creature of habit and only fly with one particular airline, there isn’t much point in signing up to a loyalty program with other airline options. This can reduce your chance of earning points. Log in to your favorite airline’s website to see if they offer a stand-alone membership program.

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Summing It All Up

What are airline loyalty programs?

Individual airlines set up airline loyalty programs in the hope that they will gain repeat business. By doing so, members of the program can save money or receive other “perks.” The perks may include upgrades to airport lounge access, better seats, or the occasional free flight when they book and travel with said airline often. 

How do airline loyalty programs work?

To start collecting loyalty points, it’s straightforward. All you need to do is register for the loyalty program online or over the phone (depending which operator you’re using). Then keep using this airline when you travel by air. Each airline has different terms and conditions to gain and redeem points. It’s always best to check with the operator before signing up to make sure it is the right choice for you. 

Can I only redeem points for flights?

These days, a lot of airlines offer other bonuses for their members. Gone are the days when you had to use your air miles within a year on another flight to a destination you might not want to go. Use your air miles for added extras at the airport like free checked bags, early boarding, hotel upgrades, and car rentals, to name a few. If you’re after a specific perk, do some research into airline loyalty programs before signing up to your favorite rewards card.

Over to You

We hope this in-depth guide has helped you understand airline loyalty programs a little bit more. You can begin saving money on your next vacation. Do you have a favorite airline loyalty program? Let us know!

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Gary Bailey

GREAT Info!