An annual analysis of airline loyalty programs by Wallethub.com finds that for frequent travelers – which it defines as those who spend an average of $5,743 a year on air travel – the three best options are Delta, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue.
We have heard readers remark that “Delta’s the best airline with the worst frequent flyer program,” but this is the second year in a row that Delta’s SkyMiles topped the Wallethub results in its overall score – not just for frequent travelers, but for average and infrequent travelers as well.
The Wallethub study is noteworthy for its comprehensiveness – it uses 23 different metrics to evaluate programs of the 11 largest domestic airlines; it breaks down results according to the amount of money a traveler spends on air fare each year; and it works with a sizeable team of academics and experts. It even offers a calculator where you can enter your air travel budget and get a recommendation of the loyalty programs that are likely best for you.
Of course, frequent flyer programs are a moving target for comparative analysis these days; American’s AAdvantage just this month transitioned from a mileage-based to a revenue-based model, like several of its major competitors; and Virgin America’s Elevate program is in the process of being merged with Alaska’s Mileage Plan. Still, the Wallethub experts do their best to make their comparisons meaningful.
In looking at rewards value for frequent travelers, Wallethub.com found that Hawaiian Airlines offered the best return, at $21.38 per $100 spent. Alaska ranked second at $19.96, followed by Virgin America at $17.02.
The results vary considerably based on which of the study’s metrics you look at. For instance, United outdistanced all its rivals in the number of airline partners in its program (39, vs. 28 for Delta and 24 for American). But in “ease of achieving elite status,” the unlikely winner was Frontier, achieving the maximum possible score of 3.0, followed by Spirit and Hawaiian at 2.47 each, then JetBlue at 2.43; by comparison, Delta’s score was just 0.35, American’s was 0.71 and United’s was 0.96.
In the category of membership perks for frequent travelers, with a maximum possible score of 5.0, United and Virgin America scored highest at 4.5, followed by Alaska at 4.0, Delta and Hawaiian at 3.67 and American at 3.5
Another interesting tidbit from the study: Buying miles to top off your account may be expedient, but it’s not necessarily a good deal. Miles cost an average of 62 percent more than they’re worth when you buy them rather than earn them by flying, the report noted.
Click on the link above and you can see the full results, including that interactive calculator and a comprehensive chart that shows how each of the 11 airlines scored on each of the many metrics in the study.
What’s the best frequent flyer program for you? Do you love em, or hate em?
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