Getting Our “Just Rewards” in Airline and Hotel Loyalty Programs

If you think your airline or hotel rewards program is “merely mediocre” … you’re likely not alone.

Rewards ProgramsU.S. News & World Report’s just-published annual listing of the best and worst rewards programs in the airline and hotel industries is confirming what many people already suspect: some of America’s biggest loyalty programs are also some of the least liked.

Let’s start with the airlines. USN&WR ranked the ten largest programs on a variety of attributes including the ease of redeeming points for free flights and hotel stays.

Best Airline RewardsThe three best performing airline rewards programs do include two with high participation rates — American and Southwest:

  • #1: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
  • #2: American Airlines AAdvantage
  • #3: Southwest Rapids Rewards

But three other programs, including two of the biggest ones — United and Delta — bring up the rear:

  • #8: United MileagePlus
  • #9: Delta SkyMiles
  • #10: FREE SPIRIT

Ranked in between are four other airline rewards programs, generally ones with fewer participants because of the smaller size and narrower geographic reach of the airlines involved:

  • #4: JetBlue TrueBlue
  • #5: HawaiianMiles
  • #6: Virgin America Elevate
  • #7: Frontier EarlyReturns

As for which airline rewards programs experienced significant changes in their rankings between this report and last year’s, the biggest shift was JetBlue, which fell from the top-ranked position in 2014 to fourth place in the latest ranking.

Hotel Rewards Programs

Best Hotels RewardsUSN&WR took the same approach with hotel rewards programs, but evaluated a larger group of 18 programs. The five best-ranked hotel programs are the following ones:

  • #1: Marriott Rewards
  • #2: Wyndham Rewards
  • #3 (tie): Best Western Rewards and Club Carlson
  • #5: IHG Rewards Club

Marriott’s top ranking is a repeat from the 2014 USN&WR rankings, and it’s due to maintaining high strength in the three-legged stool of critical factors: having an extensive hotel network; a relatively lower requirement for earning and redeeming free hotel stays; and generous “extras” as part of its membership perks.

Also noteworthy was Wyndham Rewards ascent to the #2 position from #7 a year earlier.  Its dramatic improvement was attributable to changing its program policies to allow members to redeem a night’s hotel stay for a flat rate of 15,000 points across the board.

At the other end of the scale were these low-ranked rewards programs:

  • #14:  Kimpton Karma Rewards
  • #15: Le Club Accorhotels
  • #16: Fairmont President’s Club
  • #17: iPrefer
  • #18: Loews YouFirst

The worst programs score that way because in comparative terms, they lack easy ways to earn points.  Also, in many cases their geographic coverage and/or property diversity is lacking.

[Perhaps the bottom-ranked program will need to change its name to Loews YouLast …]

For the record, the hotel rewards programs that came in the middle of the pack are these:

  • #6: Leaders Club
  • #7: La Quinta Returns
  • #8: Starwood Preferred Guest
  • #9: Hilton HHonors
  • #10: Hyatt Gold Passport
  • #11: Choice Privileges
  • #12: Stash Hotel Rewards
  • #13: Omni Select Guest

More information about the USN&WR rewards program rankings for both industries can be found here.

What about your personal experience with various airline and hotel programs? Do you have one or two particular favorites? Or ones you’ve decided to stay away from at all costs? Please share your perspectives with other readers.

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