Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs
Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs - Earn Miles Without Flying
Earning frequent flyer miles without stepping foot on a plane used to be an urban myth. But today, many programs offer generous ways for members to rack up points on the ground. This opens up fast rewards for infrequent travelers and families. Best of all, you don't need elite status to take advantage of mileage earnings on everyday purchases.
One of the easiest ways to earn is via co-branded credit cards. Most airlines offer cards that allow you to earn 1-3 miles per dollar on purchases. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card offers 1.5x points on all purchases. Even better, the recently revamped United Quest Card earns a whopping 3x miles at restaurants worldwide.
Many airline credit cards also give sign-up bonuses of 30,000 miles or more after meeting minimum spend. There's no faster way to jumpstart your account balance. Just be sure to pay your bill on time each month.
Shopping portals are another simple way to earn extra miles. Programs like American's AAdvantage portal, Delta SkyMiles Shopping and United MileagePlus Shopping provide bonus miles for online purchases. Rates often exceed 5 points per dollar at major retailers. Compare rates between programs to maximize earnings.
Dining programs are massively underutilized as well. For example, American's AAdvantage Dining offers 5-10x miles for registering your credit card with participating restaurants. Many eateries are local mom and pops. This is an effortless way to earn thousands of miles a year.
Even filling up your car can generate rewards. Delta and United offer bonus miles for gas station purchases. Shell provides a similar program for Alaska Airlines members. The more you drive, the more you earn.
Finally, consider enrolling in online shopping assistant programs like MileagePlus X, SkyMiles X and AAdvantage eShopping. These browser extensions automatically detect special earning opportunities and apply miles to your account. Set it and forget it!
What else is in this post?
- Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs - Earn Miles Without Flying
- Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs - Elite Status Fast Track Opportunities
- Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs - Generous Award Availability
- Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs - Unique Redemption Options
- Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs - Valuable Airline Partnerships
- Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs - Low Award Ticket Fees
- Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs - Easy To Earn Top-Tier Status
- Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs - Lucrative Sign-Up Bonuses
Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs - Elite Status Fast Track Opportunities
Achieving elite status usually requires flying 25,000 miles or more within a calendar year. That’s a heavy lift for occasional jetsetters. Thankfully, many programs now offer shortcuts to silver, gold or platinum status without the sky-high mileage requirements.
For example, Alaska Airlines offers a $250 Elite Status Fast Track Boost package. This automatically grants MVP Gold 75K status including free upgrades and 50% bonus miles. To maintain the status, you'll only need to fly 25K miles next year.
JetBlue's Mosaic Challenge offers similar benefits. Simply fly 15,000 miles within 90 days and you'll earn Mosaic status for the rest of the year. Qualifying flights include any ticket with your TrueBlue number attached. As a Mosaic member, you’ll enjoy free EvenMore Space seats, early boarding and bonus points.
Southwest makes it even easier with its Companion Pass privileges. Earn 125,000 qualifying points in a calendar year and a designated companion can fly free with you through the following year. Points count from Southwest credit cards (including sign-up bonuses) and everyday spending.
In a clever twist, new United credit cards add 500-mile bonuses to your Premier Qualifying Miles for hitting monthly spending requirements. The United Explorer Card nets 1,000 PQM for each $5,000 charged. That gives leisure travelers a shortcut to Premier Silver status at 25,000 PQM. Multiple cards can accelerate your progress.
American AAdvantage offers a unique opportunity for elite status. You can Gift Gold or Platinum status to anyone for prices ranging from $1,600 to $6,000 depending on the level. If your company or client values loyal customers, this is the ultimate business gift.
Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs - Generous Award Availability
Award availability used to be the bane of free travelers searching for that perfect redemption. But today, many programs now open up more seats for frequent flyer bookings. This allows you to take dream trips at a fraction of the cash price. Savvy points collectors should target airlines with generous availability policies when planning award trips.
For starters, Alaska Airlines routinely offers multiple award seats on its flights, including in first class. Awards even open to partners like American Airlines and British Airways. Alaska is a transfer partner of programs like Marriott Bonvoy, allowing you to top up your account. Awards start at just 5,000 miles each way within the U.S. Lower 48. And Alaska doesn't add fuel surcharges that can ruin the value of international award tickets.
JetBlue also receives high marks for reward seat abundance. The TrueBlue program even added new Dynamic Pricing awards which stretch your points further. For example, one-way awards now start at just 6,312 points from Boston to Los Angeles. JetBlue flights also avoid egregious fuel surcharges. This gives you more mileage out of your reward travel budget.
Southwest Airlines offers an abundance of Wanna Get Away awards, especially when booking early. These low-level redemptions start at as little as 5,280 points each way. Southwest serves over 100 destinations from across the U.S. so the possibilities are extensive. The airline also allows free flight changes which adds even more flexibility.
Avios programs like British Airways Executive Club offer distance-based awards on American Airlines flights. This opens up additional saver-level options between common city pairs like New York and Miami. Short haul awards start at just 4,500 Avios each way. British Airways adds heavy fuel surcharges on most international awards, but you can often avoid these by booking AA metal flights.
Finally, Singapore Airlines is know for opening up ample business class and first class awards on its own flights. You can book using KrisFlyer miles transferred from programs like Capital One, Citi ThankYou or American Express Membership Rewards. While Singapore's own planes feature some of the world's best cabins, you can often find awards on partner flights too. Just beware of fuel surcharges which vary by region and airline.
Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs - Unique Redemption Options
While most loyalty programs follow the standard model of redeeming miles for free flights, some innovative airlines now offer unique ways to spend your hard-earned rewards that go beyond free tickets. These creative options add fun and value while setting these programs apart.
For example, Southwest Airlines offers the option to use Rapid Rewards points for purchases with their retail and merchant partners. You can spend points on gift cards, car rentals, hotels, live entertainment and more. Rates are generally poor but this does open up opportunities to top-off an account balance or stretch your points further if you're a few bucks short on a redemption.
Both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines offer the ability to redeem miles for private jet flights. While very expensive, it's pretty cool to be able to book a Gulfstream G450 with your SkyMiles. Delta uses its partner Wheels Up while United taps into its relationship with NetJets. Of course, you'll need hundreds of thousands of miles for these ultra-premium redemptions. But nice to know it's possible!
Alaska Airlines offers a very practical redemption option - converting Mileage Plan miles into cash-equivalent credits usable for any travel purchase. As an example, 20,000 Miles are worth $200 in travel credits on the airline. Credits can be used for seat upgrades, baggage fees, lounge day passes and more. This provides unique flexibility when you want to travel but lack the points for an award ticket.
American Airlines AAdvantage members can redeem miles for exclusive wine tastings and cooking classes with celebrity chefs. They also offer a chance to redeem miles for VIP access to major music festivals. These experiences let you spend time with celebrity artists backstage. Miles can also be used for a trip down the field at major sporting events. These are truly once-in-a-lifetime memories.
Singapore Airlines has gone in a philanthropic direction by allowing KrisFlyer members to redeem miles for charitable donations. Their program supports causes like medical research and environmental sustainability. Members can donate miles to organizations like Meals On Wheels and the World Wildlife Fund. This provides a rare opportunity to use miles to give back.
Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs - Valuable Airline Partnerships
Partnerships between airlines are crucial for filling network gaps and expanding route maps. For loyal customers, these arrangements also unlock reciprocal benefits and additional redemption opportunities. Savvy travelers should consider airline alliances when choosing programs to maximize perks across multiple carriers.
For example, JetBlue’s groundbreaking partnership with American Airlines now allows TrueBlue members to earn points on AA flights and redeem those miles for travel. This suddenly gives JetBlue access to nearly 1,000 new routes and airports across the globe. Members also gain entry to American lounges when traveling internationally.
On the flip side, American's AAdvantage members can now earn miles when flying popular JetBlue routes around the eastern U.S. and Caribbean. This enhances options for earning and burning miles through AA’s massive global network. Codesharing opens up new one-stop routing possibilities as well.
Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic have a similar arrangement connecting SkyMiles loyalty to an international carrier. Delta flyers gain access to Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounges when traveling across the pond. Members can also redeem Delta miles for Virgin Upper Class flights serving destinations like London, Edinburgh and Tel Aviv.
Competing programs often craft partnerships specifically to fill network gaps. Alaska Airlines lacks significant European routes. But elites can now access luxurious Emirates lounges thanks to their partnership. Top-tier Mileage Plan MVP Golds also get access to premium economy awards on Emirates’ global routes. This hugely expands award options through Dubai and beyond.
Partnerships with hotel chains also expand redemption possibilities. For example, United MileagePlus links up with Marriott Bonvoy. Members can transfer miles between accounts at favorable rates. This allows mixing airline miles and hotel points to cover an entire vacation.
Similarly, Delta SkyMiles connects with Lyft. Members can pay for U.S. airport rides using miles at a flat rate of 595 SkyMiles per trip. This provides a handy way to use up frequent flyer funds after the flight home.
Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs - Low Award Ticket Fees
Avoiding exorbitant fees is crucial to maximizing the value of airline mile redemptions. Budget carriers like Spirit are notorious for slapping on charges upwards of $100 each way for award tickets. Even the major airlines have gradually raised award fees making free tickets not-so-free. Thankfully, several under-the-radar programs have bucked the trend by maintaining low-cost award booking.
For example, Southwest Airlines still only charges $5.60 per one-way award ticket. This reasonable fee allows you to snag Wanna Get Away awards for just over $16 round-trip. Even last-minute Anytime awards cost only $10 each way. With other airlines charging $75, $100 or even $150 for award fees, Southwest provides massive savings for big families booking group trips.
JetBlue also maintains just a $5.60 charge on one-way awards originating in the U.S. Round-trips are $11 total. Their low fees extend to TrueBlue partner awards on airlines like Emirates, Hawaiian Airlines and Silver Airways. This makes adding a positioning flight or complex redemption inexpensive. And JetBlue doesn't tack on fuel surcharges that can ruin the value of international partner awards.
Alaska Airlines charges no phone booking fees for Mileage Plan awards. Online bookings incur just a $5.60 fee each way. Fees are capped at $15 round-trip even for multi-city awards. Keeping costs low allows Alaska members to maximize free trips on partners like American, British Airways and Qantas. This flexibility is crucial for finding prime award space.
While Avios programs like British Airways Executive Club impose fuel surcharges, they offer some of the lowest award ticket fees around. Booking online costs just £5 in economy or £10 for business and first class. Even booking by phone is only £15. Sweet spots like 4,500 Avios awards on American flights within the U.S are a bargain.
Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs - Easy To Earn Top-Tier Status
Achieving elite status with most airlines requires flying tens of thousands of miles every year. For occasional travelers, hitting thresholds of 25,000 to 50,000 can feel out of reach. Thankfully, some innovative loyalty programs now offer easy shortcuts to silver or gold status without the lofty flight mile requirements. This opens up premium perks to average members.
For example, Alaska Airlines MVP status requires flying just 20,000 miles within the year. Even occasional travelers can likely hit that target with a few long-haul trips. The real steal is Alaska's new MVP Gold Fast Track promotion. Just pay a one-time fee of $250 and you'll be granted MVP Gold 75k status immediately. This provides free, space-available upgrades to first class along with a 50% mileage bonus on flights. Best of all, your status will renew next year by only flying 25,000 miles.
JetBlue also makes Mosaic elite status attainable for infrequent travelers. Their Mosaic Challenge lets you earn status for meeting flight mile targets over just 90 days versus the full calendar year. Simply fly 15,000 miles and complete 6 segments within three months and you'll earn Mosaic through the remainder of the year. Perks include free EvenMore Space seats, early boarding and bonus points.
Southwest makes Companion Pass privileges easy to earn just by flying and spending. Accumulate 125,000 Rapid Rewards points or credits in a calendar year and a designated companion can fly free with you for the rest of the current year and all of the next. Points earned from Southwest credit cards, transfers and everyday spending all help you reach the threshold faster.
American AAdvantage offers a clever way to gift elite status without needing to fly at all. You can purchase Platinum Pro status for a loved one or client for $1,600. Or buy Executive Platinum status for $6,000. It's an expensive yet unique gift if making someone's year with travel perks.
The recently refreshed United Quest Card provides an innovative path to low-level Premier Silver status. Just earn 500 Premier Qualifying Miles for each $5,000 charged to the card. Hit $25,000 annual spending and you'll earn Silver status at 25,000 PQM without leaving the ground. Multiple United cards can accelerate your progress.
Frequent Flyer Bliss: The Top 10 Underrated Airline Loyalty Programs - Lucrative Sign-Up Bonuses
Sign-up bonuses remain the rocket fuel for quickly earning buckets of miles with minimal effort. Nearly every airline loyalty program partners with major banks to offer co-branded credit cards. Applying and meeting minimum spend requirements on these cards can easily net you 50,000-100,000 bonus miles. That's enough for several roundtrip domestic awards or a business class seat to Europe. Savvy collectors plan app-o-ramas to harvest sign-up bonuses from multiple programs simultaneously. Just be sure to space out applications and meet all spend requirements to earn the full bonuses.
For example, the recently refreshed United Quest Card comes packed with a meaty 80,000 bonus mile offer after spending $5,000 within 3 months. But United also provides a pathway to low-level Premier Silver status by earning 500 PQM for every $5,000 charged. With the minimum spend requirement alone, you'll already be halfway to Silver just from the sign-up bonus. Now that's strategic leveraging!
American AAdvantage provides a palette of Citibank cards catering to different flying habits. The AAdvantage MileUp Card offers 20,000 miles after a modest $500 spend in 3 months. Step up to the AAdvantage Platinum Card for 45,000 miles after $2,500 spend. Or swing for the fences with the AAdvantage Executive Card that confers 50,000 miles after $5,000 spend in 3 months. Apply for the card that best fits your budget and earning capability.
JetBlue TrueBlue comes in hot with premium hybrid cards offering big upfront bonuses. The JetBlue Plus Card nets 40,000 points for $1,000 spend in 90 days. But the new JetBlue Premiere Card really brings the heat with a tremendous 100,000 point bonus for $5,000 spend in 6 months. That's enough for multiple roundtrip domestic awards or a single lie-flat Mint seat to the Caribbean.
Card bonuses provide the fastest way to jumpstart your points balance. But remember that minimum spend requirements won't earn themselves. Be sure to ramp up your budget in the first three months to knock out the required charges. Consider prepaying bills and services in advance. Dining out a bit more often also helps incur natural spend. Meeting minimums to earn full sign-up bonuses is where travelers often fall short, so take an organized approach.