Frequent flyer miles

Rack up those frequent flyer miles: 15 airline loyalty programs

For those who travel often, be it for business or pleasure, earning frequent flyer miles for all that time spent in the air makes sense. After all, who wouldn’t want to end up with a free flight or hotel stay? But for every airline, there’s a rewards program that goes with it, making it tough to decide which program to join. Cut through the confusion with our guide to the frequent flyer programs of 15 major airlines.

 

Program: United MileagePlus

What’s it all about? With 95 million members, MileagePlus is one of the world’s largest travel loyalty programs. Members earn award miles in a variety of ways, including on flights, and through hotel stays, car rentals, financial partners and rail service.

Perks: There are many ways to earn miles making it easy to get closer to your travel goals. There are also many ways to redeem your miles should you want to use them on things other than flights. Redeeming awards with partner carriers is simple since members can conveniently find award availability for most of United’s partner carriers on United.com. They also offer special benefits to MileagePlus Premier members, including complimentary access to extra-legroom United Economy Plus seating; complimentary Premier upgrades on domestic flights; and priority check-in, security screening and boarding.

Pitfalls: Starting March 1, 2015 United will no longer be offering points based on distance traveled, but rather how much you spend per flight.

Who should consider it: There’s something in the program for almost every traveler, because MileagePlus offers such a wide variety of benefits.

What else? In addition to the points above, flexibility is important. Customers who choose a partner carrier or who are flexible with their days of travel may find the most options.

 

Program: Delta SkyMiles

What’s it all about? SkyMiles is Delta’s way of rewarding its most loyal customers by allowing members to earn miles that can be put toward travel, hotels, restaurants and more.

Perks: There is no mileage expiration, meaning you don’t have to worry about losing miles earned or booking a trip just to use up miles. There are also no blackout dates on rewards flights. There are other benefits for Medallion members, which, depending on your level of membership, include complimentary preferred seats, complimentary companion upgrades, priority wait list, waived baggage fees, priority check-in and priority boarding.

Pitfalls: Starting January 1, 2015, miles will be earned based on ticket price, not on the distance you travel.

Who should consider it: Customers who fly frequently for business and who can fly often enough to attain Medallion membership will benefit most.

What else? You can also earn miles through car rentals with Hertz. General SkyMiles members earn 500 miles per rental.

 

Program: Air Canada Altitude

What’s it all about? Previously known as the Air Canada Top Tier Program, Air Canada Altitude is designed to recognize Air Canada’s most frequent flyers with a range of priority travel services, lounge access and upgrades that make travel as comfortable and seamless as possible.

Perks: Perks include priority reservation and airport services, complimentary access to the Maple Leaf Lounge, upgrades to business class, complimentary checked baggage allowance, Star Alliance recognition with more than 25 Star Alliance member airlines worldwide, select privileges to further personalize your Altitude status, and Exclusive Altitude partner offers.

Pitfalls: There is a minimum flight requirement to qualify for the program. In order to reach Air Canada Altitude status, you’ll need to earn at least 10,000 Altitude Qualifying Miles (AQM) or five Altitude Qualifying Segments (AQS) on eligible flights operated by Air Canada, Air Canada Express or Air Canada rouge.

Who should consider it: Anyone who travels frequently with Air Canada and who can fly enough to qualify will benefit.

What else? With Altitude Threshold Rewards, Altitude members earn additional eUpgrade Credits for every 20,000 AQM earned. Additionally, at certain AQM levels, customers can choose a Threshold Gift, including gift certificates, bonus Aeroplan Miles, stays at exclusive hotel properties, and complimentary flight passes.

 

Program: American Airlines AAdvantage

What’s it all about? Members can earn miles for flying on American Airlines and participant airlines as well as more than 1,000 participating partner companies, both travel and non-travel related.

Members can redeem miles for flights to nearly 1,000 destinations worldwide as well as other awards including flight upgrades, vacation packages, car rentals, hotel stays and other retail products.

Perks: In addition to earning and redeeming miles, other benefits include the ability to buy and share miles, and having more than 1,000 opportunities to earn AAdvantage miles. Elite Status gets you other benefits including complimentary upgrades and companion upgrades among many others, depending on status level.

Pitfalls: You have to earn or redeem miles on American Airlines, American Connection, American Eagle, or an AAdvantage participant at least once every 18 months or your miles expire.

Who should consider it: Most frequent travelers would benefit from membership, but especially those who fly enough to obtain Elite Status.

What else? American Airlines is in the process of integrating the AAdvantage and Dividend Miles loyalty programs into one as they continue to merge with US Air. They plan to bring current Dividend Miles accounts into the AAdvantage program in 2015. That means they will combine customers’ award mileage balances, Million Miler balances, and elite-qualifying activity from both programs. In the meantime, customers should continue to book travel and earn miles as they normally would.

 

Program: US Airways Dividend Miles

What’s it all about? Dividend Miles is US Airway’s frequent flyer program. By joining you can earn miles when you fly with US Airways and their airline partners, as well as through their hotel partners, credit cards and other partners. You can also earn miles by shopping online at the Dividend Miles StoreFront, and via a gift registry that lets friends and family help you toward your travel goals.

Perks: There are a wide variety of ways to both earn and use your miles giving the program lots of flexibility, and there are also no blackout dates. Preferred members, of which there are tiers, enjoy further perks that may include upgrades and free checked bags, among other benefits.

Pitfalls: To keep your membership active, you need to use or earn miles within a consecutive 18-month period, or your miles may be forfeited. Dividend Miles’ “Low awards” allow you to travel with fewer miles, but seats are limited and may not be available on all flights.

Who should consider it: Any frequent travelers can benefit from the program, especially those who can fly enough to take advantage of the higher tiers of membership.

What else? You can earn Dividend Miles on American Airlines flights, and in 2015 US Airways plans to bring current Dividend Miles accounts into the AAdvantage program.

 

Program: AirTran A+ Rewards

What’s it all about? A+ Rewards members earn credits when they fly with AirTran or when renting cars through Hertz that can then be used toward travel with the airline.

Perks: Some benefits include reward flights on AirTran, business class upgrade rewards, annual companion pass, extra benefits for Elite members, and reduced Elite qualification requirements.

Pitfalls: A+ credits expire 12 months after the date they are posted to your account if there is no activity on your account.

Who should consider it: Frequent AirTran and Southwest customers would get the most out of this program.

What else? The last day to earn or redeem A+ Rewards Credits for travel booked through AirTran will be November 1, 2014. After that time, the program will end, and all remaining A+ accounts will be converted to the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program, and your remaining credits will be converted to Rapid Rewards Points.

 

Program: Virgin America Elevate

What’s it all about? Elevate members can earn five reward points for every dollar spent on their base fare, every time they fly Virgin America. The program offers three membership levels; Elevate Red, Elevate Silver and Elevate Gold together with a broad range of airline, travel, lifestyle and shopping partners.

Perks: With no blackout dates or restrictions on Virgin America reward flights, Elevate members can redeem points for any unsold seat on any Virgin America flight, at any time. Reward flights start as low as 2,500 points for a one-way trip. Members can also redeem points for reward trips around the world on Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, Emirates, Hawaiian Airlines and Singapore Airlines.

Pitfalls: Points don’t technically expire, but in order to keep them you need to have some sort of earn or redemption activity on your Elevate account at least once every 18 months.

Who should consider it: The more you fly, the faster you’ll earn status points and achieve Elevate Silver or Elevate Gold Status, so it’s an ideal program for regular business travelers who are seeking priority services through airports and on board. But with a broad range of lifestyle and retail partners and access to international destinations and hotels, it’s also a good program for less-frequent flyers.

What else? If you’re new to Virgin America but have earned Elite status with another airline, you don’t need to start from scratch. They offer the opportunity to match an Elevate member’s elite status on another qualifying airline to their own Elevate Gold or Elevate Silver status.

 

Program: WestJet Rewards

What’s it all about? Join WestJet Rewards and you will earn WestJet dollars for every flight flown or vacation package taken through the airline. One WestJet dollar equals $1 CAD toward travel with WestJet. WestJet dollars can be used like cash toward the purchase of WestJet flights and vacations packages

Perks: You can use your WestJet dollars on any date, to any destination, with no blackout periods. You can even use them on seat sales.

Pitfalls: WestJet dollars that are earned but not used during your qualifying year will be banked into your WestJet dollars account for future use. These dollars expire after a period of five years.

Who should consider it: Anyone who flies frequently to the many Caribbean destinations WestJet flies to, or books the airline’s vacation packages would benefit.

What else? At $4,500 annual qualifying spend, you’ll earn a companion flight anywhere WestJet flies in Canada, and after you’ve spent $6,000 annually, you can earn another companion ticket, this time to anywhere WestJet flies, including Canada, the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and Europe.

 

Program: Hawaiian Airlines Hawaiian Miles

What’s it all about? Hawaiian Miles members earn miles in the air by flying Hawaiian Airlines, flying one of Hawaiian’s partner airlines, or on the ground through one of the airline’s retail, hotel or car rental partners.

Perks: In addition to award travel, other perks include partner discounts, the ability to share miles easily, flexibility and baggage fee savings at neighbor islands. There are further benefits for Elite Status members.

Pitfalls: If amember fails to earn or redeem miles for 18 consecutive months, Hawaiian will expire the mileage accumulated in your account. Expired miles may be reinstated for a fee.

Who should consider it: Residents of Hawaii who use the airline for both inter-island flights and longer flights, or people who regularly travel to Hawaii will benefit most.

What else? Download the Hawaiian Airlines MileFinder for your browser today and you can start earning miles for your web searches

 

Program: Southwest Rapid Rewards

What’s it all about? Rapid Rewards points can be earned from flights booked through Southwest Airlines or through qualifying purchases with their Rapid Rewards partners. Points are earned based on flight cost, not mileage.

Perks: There are no blackout dates, travelers get unlimited rewards seats, and points don’t expire. A-List members get priority check-in and fly by priority lanes (where available), reserved check-in, standby priority, and a 25 percent earnings bonus on all eligible revenue Southwest flights.

Pitfalls: You have to have flight or partner earning activity every 24 months to hang onto your points.

Who should consider it: Customers who often use low-cost carriers and fly frequently are best suited to the Rapid Rewards program.

What else? Customers have the opportunity to enroll in the Rapid Rewards program by sending a text message to the Southwest Airlines short code 72743.

 

Program: Spirit Airlines Free Spirit

What’s it all about? Joining the Free Spirit program allows members to earn miles by flying with Spirit and by using the airline’s partners.

Perks: The program is simple and easy to use.

Pitfalls: As long as you’ve earned any miles within the previous three months, your miles won’t expire. But, if you don’t meet that requirement, any miles older than three months will expire.

Who should consider it: Frequent Spirit flyers and those who fly on low-cost carriers will benefit most from the program.

What else? Being a member can also speed up your online bookings and make it easier to manage your reservations.

 

Program: JetBlue TrueBlue

What’s it all about? TrueBlue is JetBlue’s exclusive loyalty program that allows customers to earn miles on JetBlue and/or partner airline flights in exchange for points. Points can be used toward award flights which include a round-trip confirmed ticket for 10,000 points, or a one-way ticket for 5,000 TrueBlue points. For every dollar you spend you earn three points toward your TrueBlue account. When you book a flight on jetblue.com, you earn six points for every dollar spent.

Perks: There are no blackout dates on JetBlue operated flights, and you can use your points for any seat at any time. In addition, points don’t expire, and you can select up to four individuals to use your points — and how many points you would like to give to each member.

Pitfalls: This program is relatively basic, and there are not as many reward partners as you might find with other airlines.

Who should consider it: TrueBlue is best suited for loyal JetBlue customers who travel frequently to any of their various destinations.

What else? When you join TrueBlue, you can personalize your JetBlue experience with a customized wish list and bonuses that reward all types of travel.

 

Program: Porter VIPorter

What’s it all about? VIPorter is a simple rewards program where users earn VIPorter Points each time they fly, and redeem points for complimentary travel.

Perks: VIPorter membership is not tiered. Universal accumulation and redemption structures apply to all members.

Pitfalls: All points expire after four years from their earning date. Currently, VIPorter Points can only be redeemed for flights on Porter Airlines.

Who should consider it: People taking a lot of short haul flights between Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, and those who fly often to the cities Porter flies to, such as Boston and Halifax.

What else? VIPorter Points can be awarded retroactively for new members. This applies to flights taken up to 30 days prior to registering in the program. Existing members have up to six months to request retroactive credit for their travel.

 

Program: Frontier EarlyReturns

What’s it all about? EarlyReturns allows members to earn miles with every flight they take, as well as through partner programs. Miles can be redeemed for flights, or with Frontier’s partners.

Perks: In addition to award travel, by earning elite status in the EarlyReturns program, members can enjoy benefits including a free carry on-bag, two free checked bags when traveling on all Fare Options, priority services (check-in, security access and boarding) where available, and more.

Pitfalls: Unredeemed mileage accumulated in your account will expire after 18 months if there is no activity on your account.

Who should consider it: The program is best for those who use Frontier as their main airline.

What else? Members whose miles have been expired due to 18 months of inactivity have an opportunity to reinstate expired miles for a fee of a penny per mile.

 

Program: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

What’s it all about? Mileage Plan allows members to earn rewards with every flight they take with Alaska Airlines, or its partner airlines. Rewards can also be earned through partner hotels and car rentals. You earn one Mileage Plan mile for every mile you fly on a purchased ticket.

Perks: The program is easy to use, and there are a variety of ways to redeem your miles in addition to travel, thanks to the airline’s many partners. There is no expiration date on points, and if you fly enough to become a member of the MVP Program, there are additional perks.

Pitfalls: Your account may be closed and points forfeited if there is no activity on your account for two years.

Who should consider it: Frequent travelers on Alaska Airlines and residents of Alaska will benefit most from the Mileage Plan program.

What else? Mileage Plan members who are also Alaska residents have the opportunity to join Club 49, which offers additional perks, such as two free checked bags, discounts on travel and weekly fare sales.

(Featured image: ebnt-photo used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)

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