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A complete breakdown of airline loyalty programs: American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and more

All the airline rewards programs, reviewed and ranked

American Airlines over the beach
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American Airlines started the first loyalty program in 1981, which is still running today. Since then, most companies offer some form of frequent flyer rewards program. Loyalty programs are wonderful, but each airline has its own rules and its own style.

It’s difficult and tedious to learn how they all work and to choose between them, but if you find the right airline with the right program, it can make for more pleasant and cost-effective travel. We took the top 10 airlines as rated by The Travel and broke down the best rewards programs for you here.

Allegiant Airlines
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Allegiant Airlines

Currency

How to earn currency

Flights over $500 are 2 points on the dollar. Under $500 is 1 point. The same is true for anything purchased on Allegientair.com and is cumulative for one purchase. For example, a hotel room under $500 is 1 point on the dollar, but if rooms for the whole family cost more than $500, you will earn 2 points on the dollar for that purchase.

Elite program

Allegiant has no special program for high spenders.

Credit card

The Allways Rewards Visa Credit Card offers priority boarding and one free beverage per flight. The card offers a much faster way to build points at 3 points per dollar for flights, hotels and car rentals. 2 points on the dollar are awarded for certain restaurants, and 1 point on the dollar for other purchases. Other deals, like certain two-for-one deals, are only available with the credit card.

Partners

Allegiant doesn’t have many partners, but it does link with a few car rental companies where you can spend your points. These are Alamo, Enterprise, and National Car Rental

How to redeem Allways Rewards points

Basically, 1 point equals 1 penny. You can redeem your points for flights or flight packages covering flights, hotels, rentals, and ancillary fees. When purchasing online, you will be asked before checkout if you would like to use your points.

Fees

Allegiant Air is a low-cost airline service, and as such, makes much of its profit from fees. There will be fees for just about everything you do other than sit in your chair. These include:

Flight cancellation:

  • First 24 hours after booking – free
  • Over 7 days ahead of flight – $25 per segment
  • Within 7 days – no refund

Baggage also costs. You’re allowed only one personal item like a laptop, purse, or backpack. It costs $75 per carry-on bag and up to $75 per checked bag, determined by your route. You will earn a discount by checking your bags online.

Frontier Airlines
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Frontier Airlines

Currency

How to earn currency

  • 1 mile flown, 1 mile earned

Elite program

Frontier has several levels of awards that focus mainly on seat availability; rather than frills:

  • The Value Award begins at 10,000 miles, which is enough to buy you a ticket.
  • The Standard Award begins at 20,000 miles and offers more flight availability.
  • The Elite Award begins with only another 2,500 miles, and at 22,500 miles, you can book any available seat.

Credit card

Frontier Airlines World Mastercard allows you to skip cancellation fees and add miles with purchases. This also counts for anyone traveling with the cardholder at the elite awards level.

Partners

Frontier Airlines partners with most car rental agencies, a few hotels, and some other companies where you can spend your miles.

How to redeem Frontier Miles

Your awards are automatically distributed as you book your ticket.

Fees

Award tickets are subject to award fees based on when you book your travel.

  • 180+ days before travel – Free
  • 21-179 days before travel – $15
  • 7-20 days before travel – $50
  • Less than 6 days before travel – $75

Fees can be avoided with a Frontier Airlines World Mastercard.

Spirit Airlines
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Spirit Airlines

Currency

How to earn currency

Points are earned with every dollar spent, as opposed to miles flown. Members earn 6 points per dollar and up to 10 points per dollar for gold members.

Elite program

There are three levels of participation:

  • Free Spirit – Automatic upon joining
  • Silver – $2,000 on flights or $20,000 spent with a Free Spirit Travel More World Elite Mastercard
  • Gold – $5,000 on flights or $50,000 spent on card

Credit card

Free Spirit Travel More World Elite Mastercard. Earn 2 points for every dollar spent.

Partners

Spirit Airlines has many partners and an online mall where you can spend and earn points.

How to redeem Free Spirit rewards

You can redeem Free Spirit reward points as a dollar value against any tickets offered by the airline with no restrictions.

Fees

Here is where you need to do some research. Spirit flights are cheap, but they have one of the most expensive fee structures of all airlines. For example, carry-on bags cost around $40 and checked bags are about $50 each. Just beware that the add-on fees might be more than another airline; however, your Free Spirit rewards can cover these fees. Under the “A La Smarte” program, members get 12 points on every dollar spent, up to 20 points for gold members.

United Airlines
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United Airlines

Currency

How to earn currency

United offers many ways to earn miles. In addition to flight miles, purchases at several hotels, like Marriot, rental car companies like Avis and Budget, and many other companies offer MileagePlus miles.

Elite program

The MileagePlus Premiere program offers free access to Economy Plus and Preferred seating. It also offers fee waivers and upgrades. It offers Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Premier 1K. Earning elite status takes dedication. It takes a combination of qualifying flights plus qualifying points, starting with 12 flights for silver up to 54 for Premier 1K. Qualifying flights include all segments of flights, so at least you can get something positive out of stopovers.

Credit card

United MileagePlus Chase cardholders earn 500 points for every $12,000 spent. There are three options, Explorer, Quest, and Infinite, which you earn based on your number of flights.

Partners

United Airlines has too many options to list here. Suffice it to say you can earn points among many partners, including hotels, car rentals, and merchandise. In addition, you will earn points from two to four times your purchases using your card.

How to redeem MileagePlus miles

Redeeming points is a bit of a complicated process, where points apply to each flight with its own formula, but miles can be spent to varying degrees with any member of the Star Alliance, which includes 25 international airlines.

Fees

United is one of the friendliest airlines when it comes to fees. It is even working on eliminating all fees associated with change of flights. There are fees for overweight baggage, and some service fees are the only extra expenses with United Airlines.

Hawaiian Airlines
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Hawaiian Airlines

Currency

How to earn currency

Every mile traveled earns a mile in the program. Hawaiian Airlines allows you to share or give away your miles.

Elite program

The mileage program offers two elite upgrades. Pualani Gold requires 30 segments or 20,000 miles and Pualani Platinum takes 60 segments or 40,000 miles. Benefits include free baggage, preferred seating, and access to Hawaiian Airlines Premier Club.

Credit card

The Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard earns you 60,000 miles upon signing up. It gives you three times for every dollar you spend on airline tickets, two times on selected gas, dining, and groceries, and 1 mile per dollar match on all other purchases.

Partners

The airlines has many, many partners, including restaurants from Burger King to high-end dining. Most major rental car agencies are included, as well as many hotels.

How to redeem HawaiianMiles

Miles can be redeemed for flights or one of Hawaiian Airlines’ myriad partners. You can also use them to buy cabin seats and to upgrade to business or first class.

Fees

Extra charges apply to baggage based on weight, size, and route, but generally, it will cost $25 for your first bag, $35 for the second bag, and $50 for the third bag and on. Its airline partners can get you to all the places you want to go and give you more travel options with HawaiianMiles.

American Airlines
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American Airlines

Currency

How to earn currency

Miles accumulate with American Airlines flights, members of the oneworld alliance, a conglomeration of airlines from all over the world.

Elite program

Points earned to elevate your status for American Airlines also advance your oneworld alliance status. There are a great many choices from both platforms from which to choose, including upgrades, free flights, merchandise, and dining.

Loyalty Points needed to earn status

Qualification AAdvantage Gold standard

oneworld® Ruby

AAdvantage Platinum

oneworld Sapphire

AAdvantage Platinum Pro

oneworld Emerald

AAdvantage Executive Platinum

oneworld Emerald

Loyalty Points 40,000 75,000 125,000 200,000

Credit card

The AAdvantage credit card offers several different options. The card will earn you points, and you can double up with the myriad products and services offered through the AAdvantage program.

Partners

The most significant partner of American Airlines is the oneworld alliance. You can use your miles at one of over 900 shopping places from any of these 14 oneworld airlines:

  • Iberia Airlines
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Cathay Pacific Airlines
  • Finnair
  • Royal Air Marocco
  • Qantas
  • Royal Jordanian
  • SriLankan Airlines
  • S7
  • British Airways
  • Japan Airways
  • Malaysian Airlines
  • Qatar Airways

How to redeem loyalty points

Points can be redeemed for flights, upgrades, cars, hotels, vacations, and more.

Fees

The first level of the AAdvantage program will defray most fees and allow you three pieces of baggage. American Airlines is a higher-cost airline but claims fewer fees.

JetBlue
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JetBlue Airlines

Currency

How to earn currency

Earn points with flights on JetBlue and a group of international partners, including South African Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and many more.

Elite program

JetBlue offers four levels of Mosaic status, with increasing perks and upgrades with each level.

Credit card

The JetBlue Plus card is offered to consumers and businesses with a $99 fee. Your card will help you earn points. The options are not as extensive as other programs, but offers more options than its budget competitors.

Partners

JetBlue goes further than other budget airlines with partnerships with several international airline partners. It also partners with several car rental agencies and hotels.

How to redeem JetBlue points

Points are oriented toward flight purchases and travel packages, including hotels. You can also redeem your points with any of JetBlue’s international partners.

Fees

As a budget airline, fees apply to all baggage, including carry-ons, and transfer fees are rough if you’re not in a rewards program. Baggage fees vary with flights, but as an example from its website, you’re allowed one checked bag at 60 inches in overall dimensions (length + width + height) or 50 pounds. The fee for a second bag is $45 and only available at the airport. The fee for a third checked bag is $125, and for a fourth checked bag (or more) is $150.

Southwest Airlines
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Southwest Airlines

Currency

How to earn currency

Southwest Airlines steers customers toward its credit card to earn points and is one of the more generous among the programs for usage, including an annual allotment of points and up to 75,000 points upon signing up. Southwest also offers a unique and efficient way to earn points through internet and phone services.

Elite program

Southwest Airlines offers Plus, Premier, and Priority levels. Plus gives two times every dollar spent while Premier and Priority give three times for every dollar

Credit card

The airline’s preferred credit cards are Southwest Plus Premier and Priority Visa cards.

Partners

Southwest Airlines has a number of partners from which you can earn points, but it only partners with hotels for the right to spend points. There are quite a few, and they work well in building a holiday package. Southwest doesn’t partner with any other airlines.

How to redeem Rapid Rewards points

Points can be used for flights and to cover fees, rental cars, and limited consumer products.

Fees

Southwest Airlines is unique in its dedication to quality service at a good price. For example, it tries to eliminate obnoxious baggage fees. With weight limitations, a carry-on bag and two pieces of luggage are free to all, but the first level of the Rapid Rewards program covers even the overweight costs.

Delta Airlines
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Delta Airlines

Currency

How to earn currency

Earn miles on flights and by using the Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express. Delta Airlines also has over 20 international partners, including KLM, Virgin Atlantic, and Air France. You can even earn with hotel, car rental, and dining partners. Customers do need to watch out for changes in the program, but the structure continues to update.

Elite program

Delta Airlines offers four levels of medallion membership, which are silver, gold, platinum, and diamond.

Credit card

The airline’s credit cards include the Gold, Platinum, and Reserve Delta American Express cards

Partners

From Starbucks and Lyft to Ticketmaster, Delta Airlines has one of the most comprehensive lists of partners to choose from. What you lose in the bureaucracy of a large, old company, you gain in experience and an extensive network of business partners.

How to redeem Delta SkyMiles

You can redeem your miles at any of Delta’s many partners. This is an advantage to using a large, established company with such a wide network of partners.

Fees

There is no cost for changing your itinerary before your flight, but you may have to pay the difference in a ticket price. Delta Airlines offers one free carry-on and one free personal item. It is $40 for your first bag and $50 for your second, up to 50 pounds. Cardholders get the first bag for free.

Alaska Airlines
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Alaska Airlines

Currency

How to earn currency

When you fly 1 mile, you earn 1 mile on the Mileage Plan. You can also earn points with the Alaska Airlines card and by spending with any of Alaska Airlines’ many partners, including the 14 airlines with oneworld alliance (listed above).

Elite program

Mileage Plan elite status corresponds to the oneworld tier levels Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald on all member airlines. Alaska Airlines also offers a Club49 membership to residents of Alaska.

Credit card

The Alaska Airlines Visa card was named “Best Loyalty Credit Card” in North America at the Frequent Traveler Awards.

Partners

As a member of the oneworld alliance, you can use your miles with any other member as well as the extensive network of hotel, car, restaurant, and merchandise partners.

How to redeem Mileage Plan miles

Use your miles for seat upgrades, booking hotel stays, and flying with Alaska Airlines or one of the 13 oneworld alliance members. This alliance avails you to over 900 worldwide destinations and worldwide shopping.

Fees

Alaska Airlines has eliminated fees to change flights, but you may have to pay the difference in flight costs. One carry-on bag is free. Your first bag costs $30, and your second bag is $40, but every level of elite status or your Alaska Airlines Visa card gives you your first two bags for free.

American Airlines loyalty rewards
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How to choose a program

This breakdown of airline loyalty programs is meant to help you sift through your choices. Of course, you will want to evaluate which airline is the best for you and how each airline meets your personal requirements.. This includes which airlines fly out of your local airport and what routes the airline serves that suit your travel needs.

Ask yourself, what kind of traveler are you? Do you pack light? You might want a budget airline that charges for bags. Do your routes require a lot of transfers? Perhaps choose an airline that credits points or miles per segment to boost your loyalty benefits. We hope this breakdown of the best airline loyalty programs helps in giving you the essential information to make a good decision.

John Wheeling
I am a writer, currently living in Lancaster, PA, where I am looking after my mother. I moved here from Norman, Oklahoma…
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