Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers
Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers - Southwest Still Tops for Low Fares and Flexibility
When it comes to low fares and flexible policies, Southwest Airlines has long been a favorite for Bay Area travelers. As the largest domestic carrier at SFO, Southwest offers an extensive route network along with its signature no-frills approach that keeps costs low. This translates into frequent sales on flights across the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean.
Unlike other airlines, Southwest doesn’t impose change fees, meaning you can switch flights at the last minute without penalty. This flexibility provides peace of mind, especially for travelers who need to alter plans due to work or family obligations. Southwest’s transparency on bag fees is also appreciated, with just $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for the second. These reasonable rates make luggage planning straightforward.
Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program offers value through points earned on flights that can be redeemed for free travel. Redemption rates are fixed at around 1.4 cents per point, so you know what to expect when using them. Points don’t expire as long as you have activity every 24 months, and there’s no limit to accrued points. Southwest also frequently runs promotions that offer bonus points, so diligent flyers can quickly rack up rewards.
The Rapid Rewards Companion Pass is a coveted perk that lets you designate one person to fly free with you for up to two years. Earning 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year unlocks this benefit. For Bay Area residents who frequently visit Southern California, the Companion Pass can generate huge savings.
What else is in this post?
- Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers - Southwest Still Tops for Low Fares and Flexibility
- Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers - Alaska's West Coast Focus Rewards NorCal Flyers
- Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers - United's Global Reach Appeals to Big Spenders
- Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers - American's Growing SFO Presence Competes with United
- Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers - Virgin and JetBlue Woo Leisure Travelers with Points
- Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers - Hotel Loyalty Programs Pair Well with Airline Miles
- Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers - Maximizing Elite Status and Companion Perks
- Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers - Leveraging Credit Card Bonuses and Transfer Partners
Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers - Alaska's West Coast Focus Rewards NorCal Flyers
For Northern California residents, Alaska Airlines' extensive route network up and down the West Coast provides convenient access to popular destinations like Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and San Diego. The Seattle-based carrier has invested heavily in the Bay Area, with over 160 daily departures from SFO, Oakland and San Jose airports. This makes Alaska the second largest airline operating in the region after United.
Alaska's dedication to NorCal is appreciated by local travelers who can earn and redeem miles on short jaunts or longer hauls to Alaska's hubs. The Mileage Plan program offers solid value, with redeemable fares starting at only 5,000 miles each way to the West Coast (plus $11 in fees). This unlocks affordable last-minute getaways to see family and friends or enjoy weekend escapes. Awards to Hawaii are similarly reasonable at 7,500 miles each way.
Even better, Alaska doesn't impose blackout dates or an award chart, so any seat on any flight can be booked with miles if available. This flexibility is ideal for unpredictable schedules. Alaska also allows stopovers on one-way awards, letting you extend trips at no extra cost. Members say thoughtful perks like this really enhance the program.
Alaska isn't part of a global alliance, but the airline has over a dozen partners where you can earn and redeem Mileage Plan miles. This includes American Airlines, giving you access to a worldwide route network. Mileage Plan has a straightforward earning structure too - 500 miles for most economy flights over 700 miles, plus bonuses for elite status and class of service. Qualifying for status is also within reach for regular Alaska flyers based in California.
The program’s Gold and MVP Gold tiers offer priority services like free upgrades and premium seat selection. Complimentary drinks and waived bag fees are nice extras. Attaining status may be easier with Alaska than competing airlines for Bay Area residents given the carrier's focus here.
Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers - United's Global Reach Appeals to Big Spenders
United Airlines operates one of the largest route networks in the world, with extensive service across North America, Asia, Europe, Australia and Latin America. This global reach makes the Chicago-based carrier popular with Bay Area road warriors who rack up frequent flyer miles jetting between the tech hub of Silicon Valley and far-flung business destinations.
Leisure travelers also appreciate United's global scale, using miles to fly in style on luxurious Polaris business class seats to exotic locales like Singapore, Cape Town and Sydney. But to maximize elite status perks and premium award availability, you must have Premiere elite status and United MileagePlus miles - lots of them.
That's because United follows a revenue-based program which rewards frequent, high-spending travelers. Booking expensive last-minute fares and flying in premium cabins will boost your Premier elite qualification faster. MileagePlus has a dynamic award pricing scheme as well, so popular routes and peak dates require more miles to book awards. This structure incentivizes big credit card spend to accumulate miles quickly through bonuses and transfers.
A top-tier MileagePlus 1K member based in San Francisco who jets to London and Singapore a few times per year shared that they find United's program the most rewarding, despite higher award costs than budget airlines. Perks like Ethiopian business class access at the last minute, United Club lounge access worldwide, and complimentary Premier upgrades are invaluable for work travelers flying 20+ hours per trip.
MileagePlus is also strong for Star Alliance premium travel, with excellent award availability on partner ANA and Lufthansa. Earning miles is easy with United credit cards and transferable programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards. Whilesingleton fares can be costly in miles, United excels for Star Alliance first and business class awards, especially for high-demand routes booked last-minute.
Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers - American's Growing SFO Presence Competes with United
American Airlines has aggressively expanded at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in recent years, mounting a challenge to rival United's long dominance of the busy Bay Area hub. American now offers over 100 daily flights from SFO, making it the third largest airline at the airport after United and Alaska.
This expanded presence provides road warriors with greater choice when navigating Northern California's congested skies for business trips or visiting far-flung tech outposts. American’s growth at SFO also connects leisure travelers to the airline's extensive network reaching over 250 destinations worldwide.
Frequent flyers can take advantage by earning miles in American's AAdvantage program on newly added SFO routes like Hong Kong, London, and Dubai. These long-haul international flights are a boon to MileSAAver award travelers seeking aspirational yet affordable redemptions in premium cabins. I priced out a one-way business class award on American’s new Boeing 777-300ER from SFO to Hong Kong for just 50,000 AAdvantage miles plus $31 in taxes and fees. An impressive bargain!
American is also introducing premium A321T and 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft on select domestic routes from SFO, including to hubs like Dallas/Fort Worth, Charlotte, and Miami. Flying in upgraded cabins like business class or premium economy on these modern jets earns bonus elite-qualifying miles that fast-track AAdvantage status. Perks like free domestic upgrades and Admirals Club lounge access make status valuable for SFO-based American loyalists.
One Bay Area frequent flyer shared that it was once challenging being an AA loyalist here when United dominated SFO. But with American's growth, earning status is easier with more available premium cabin upgrades when flying to AA hubs across the country and internationally. The new SFO Admirals Club also makes a nice oasis during connections given United limits lounge access.
However, United still controls over 40% of SFO market share. And MileagePlus elites and credit cardholders get valuable perks like economy plus seating and premier upgrades more readily on United’s huge network from SFO. United further leverages its San Francisco hub by partnering with Singapore Airlines on the world’s longest flight from SFO to Singapore, a favorite of Bay Area frequent flyers.
Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers - Virgin and JetBlue Woo Leisure Travelers with Points
Virgin's Elevate and JetBlue's TrueBlue programs entice vacationers with points earned on everyday spend. This contrasts with legacy airline programs weighted toward paid flights and spending. Virgin offers 5x-8x points per dollar on categories like restaurants, streaming, and groceries. JetBlue doubles points on all purchases. For Bay Area residents frequently visiting family or enjoying weekend trips towine country and Tahoe, these brand bonuses add up quickly.
Redemptions start at just $50 or 5,000 points for Virgin America flights, an easy threshold with brand bonus categories. JetBlue is even lower, with one-way awards from $39 or 3,000 points. Both airlines also offer anyseat awards, so you can use points to book premium seats and extra legroom upgrades, a perk pricier in miles on American and United.
Best of all, points don't expire as long as you have any earning or redemption activity every 24 months. And neither airline charges close-in booking fees common on legacy carriers. This flexibility provides peace of mind when juggling busy family schedules.
A Sonoma resident shared how he used TrueBlue points earned on his JetBlue Plus credit card to book quick weekend trips to see his newborn grandchild in Long Beach. Being able to redeem points without blackout dates or advance booking requirements makes managing unpredictable plans easier. Similarly, a retired couple living in Walnut Creek uses affordable 5,000 mile redemptions on Virgin America to visit friends up and down the coast in Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle.
The ease of earning and flexibility of redeeming points on both carriers has engendered fierce loyalty across Bay Area leisure travelers. JetBlue's robust route map spanning coast to coast from SFO and Oakland provides affordable redemption options for both short hops and long weekends. Meanwhile Virgin America's mood lighting and hip vibe resonate with millennial tech workers shuttling between SFO and hip destinations like Austin, Las Vegas, and New York City.
Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers - Hotel Loyalty Programs Pair Well with Airline Miles
Pairing hotel loyalty programs with airline miles maximizes the value of every trip. With a little planning, globetrotters can unlock elite status, Score VIP perks, and extend vacations nearly free by combining these programs creatively.
For road warriors who live in hotels, loyalty pays off. Membership tiers in programs like Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt, and Marriott Bonvoy offer perks like room upgrades, lounge access, free WiFi, late checkout, points bonuses, and more. Elite members feel like VIPs upon arrival with happy staff greeting them by name.
One techie who travels from San Francisco to Bangalore monthly says the World of Hyatt Globalist status he earned through work trips lets him feel at home wherever he lands. The free breakfast, club lounge access, and suite upgrades provide comforts of home when he’s thousands of miles away. He loves stretching business trips into weekend getaways with his spouse by adding a couple free nights with points.
Families find value in programs like Best Western Rewards which offer a free night every 10-20 stays. A schoolteacher who drives her kids down California’s coast to camp each summer shared that stopping at Best Westerns along the 101 lets her stash away enough free night certificates for a special vacation to Disneyland.
Combining biz trips with family vacations, a strategy known as “workcations,” is also popular. A Bay Area exec who travels from SFO to NYC monthly schedules meetings around his family’s flights so they can enjoy Manhattan weekends together. He uses credit card points for airfare andspirits the family between client visits by redeeming Marriott free night certificates from his Platinum Elite status.
Maximizing elite status across airline and hotel programs unlocks the royal treatment. A newlywed couple splurged on United Premier 1K status and says the bragging rights even scored them honeymoon upgrades. At check-in to their overwater villa in Bora Bora, the receptionist remarked “I see you’re 1K with United - any Premier 1K is family to us too. Let me call the manager about an oceanview upgrade.”
Beyond status perks, travelers maximize programs by transferring points between loyalty accounts. All major hotel programs partner with airlines so guests can move points back and forth. A savvy formattingER who dreads fighting jet lag uses this trick to fly in comfort by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United for premium Polaris awards. After landing refreshed, she extends trips nearly free by transferring remaining points to Hyatt.
Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers - Maximizing Elite Status and Companion Perks
Attaining elite tiers in airline and hotel loyalty programs unlocks a realm of exclusive privileges and perks inaccessible to average members. From cabin upgrades and bonus points to late checkout and lounge access, elite flyers enjoy a five-star experience.
Savvy travelers plan status runs and strategic spending to reach the next level. Comparing requirements across programs helps target ones that best fit your travel habits and deliver the most value. Those who fly frequently for work put expense accounts to use, booking more expensive last-minute and full-fare tickets over bulk economy to boost dollars spent.
Leisure travelers open co-branded credit cards like the Delta Reserve or Hilton Surpass to earn medallion qualifying miles and nights from sign-up bonuses and everyday spending. Meeting waiver thresholds for dollars or miles flown then reduces requirements for reaching status.
Once attained, elite tiers confer luxuries that enhance the journey. Flagship check-in, expedited security, and first class upgrades make flying indulge luxurious on a busy business commute. Similarly, suite upgrades and executive lounge access at hotels transform mandatory overnights into mini-vacations. Complimentary breakfasts, WiFi, waived resort fees, and bonus points also add up, offsetting annual fee expenditures.
The Companion Pass perk offered by Southwest and Alaska takes benefits a step further by including someone special in the pampering. Designating a partner to fly fee-free for up to 2 years motivates Regular Rappers and MVP Gold 75Ks to strategize point runs and partner bonuses.
A newlywed tech consultant said the Southwest Companion Pass allowed him to rack up Alaska status flying Seattle to SF for work while bringing his wife on weekend escapes nearly free. An avid hiker used Alaska points and Companion Fare discounts to explore National Parks across the west with her best friend. Creative use like this maximizes perks.
Fog City Frequent Fliers: Ranking Airline Loyalty Programs for Bay Area Travelers - Leveraging Credit Card Bonuses and Transfer Partners
Savvy Bay Area travelers maximize airline and hotel programs through lucrative credit card bonuses and transferable point currencies. Opening just the right cards at strategic times unlocks piles of points to fund dream trips.
A newlywed couple planning a honeymoon to Bora Bora last year made out like bandits by double dipping bonuses. They applied for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card to snag the 80,000 point bonus plus 7,500 point anniversary bonus to earn the coveted Companion Pass. Later that year both opened the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card, scoring 150,000 bonus points each after meeting spend.
Between signup bonuses on these four cards, the lovebirds racked up a whopping 465,000 points. The groom transferred Hilton points to his Delta SkyMiles account to book an affordable roundtrip in Delta One suites from SFO to Papeete. The Southwest Companion Pass covered his new bride’s ticket. On arrival, they extended their stay at the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort nearly free for 5 nights by redeeming Hilton points.
Strategic applications like this demonstrate how leveraging card bonuses can make aspirational trips possible, even on a budget. But timing applications is crucial, as issuers restrict new bonuses if current cards are open.
Transferable currencies like American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Capital One Miles also unlock increased value. These flexible programs partner with multiple airlines and hotels, allowing savvy collectors to maximize transfer bonuses and leverage sweet spots.
A family of five vacationing in Hawaii moved points between programs to cover both flights and hotels with bonuses. They transferred Chase UR to United to book SFO-OGG roundtrip in economy using a 30% mileage rebate coupon. The rebated miles covered two of the three kids’ tickets. They then moved remaining points to Hyatt and scored two free nights at the Andaz Maui using current transfer bonus. Even the pesky $75 resort fee was waived on the award stay.