The Best Travel Rewards Programs for 2019-20

See which airline and hotel loyalty programs come out on top.

U.S. News & World Report

The Best Travel Rewards Programs for 2019-20

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Reap rewards like free perks, free flights and free nights when signing up for these hotel and airline loyalty programs.

Navigating airline and hotel loyalty programs can be confusing. Travelers have to sift through expiration dates, earning and redemption methods, program restrictions and more. U.S. News aims to take the guesswork out of deciding which programs are worth joining by using a wealth of data to rank the Best Travel Rewards Programs. The top-performing programs provide members with numerous benefits and make it easy for travelers to rack up points or miles and redeem them for free nights and free flights. Read on to see which airline and hotel rewards programs claim the top spots.
Travel rewards
Credit

(Getty Images)

The Best Airline Rewards Programs

U.S. News used a methodology that weighs earning and redemption rates, geographic coverage, award flight availability, the total number of daily domestic flights, benefits for members and Airline Quality Ratings to determine the Best Airline Rewards Programs for everyday travelers. Here are the top U.S.-based frequent flyer programs.
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Reap rewards like free perks, free flights and free nights when signing up for these hotel and airline loyalty programs.

Navigating airline and hotel loyalty programs can be confusing. Travelers have to sift through expiration dates, earning and redemption methods, program restrictions and more. U.S. News aims to take the guesswork out of deciding which programs are worth joining by using a wealth of data to rank the Best Travel Rewards Programs. The top-performing programs provide members with numerous benefits and make it easy for travelers to rack up points or miles and redeem them for free nights and free flights. Read on to see which airline and hotel rewards programs claim the top spots.

The Best Airline Rewards Programs

U.S. News used a methodology that weighs earning and redemption rates, geographic coverage, award flight availability, the total number of daily domestic flights, benefits for members and Airline Quality Ratings to determine the Best Airline Rewards Programs for everyday travelers. Here are the top U.S.-based frequent flyer programs.

9. Free Spirit

The Free Spirit program offers its members few benefits (for basic or elite members). Plus, it's not particularly easy to earn a free flight with the program: Basic members earn just half a mile for every mile flown, and miles expire after three months of account inactivity. However, there are a variety of ways to earn miles, whether that's through the co-branded credit card, via partners like Choice Hotels and Hertz or with the Free Spirit dining program, where members earn miles for dining at select restaurants. What's more, the airline saw an improvement in its Airline Quality Rating, which measures data like mishandled baggage, consumer complaints and on-time arrival performance.

8. HawaiianMiles

Hawaiian Airlines' loyalty program, HawaiianMiles, appeals to those traveling between the continental U.S., Asia, the South Pacific and Hawaii. Program members earn 1 mile for every mile flown. The program serves a limited number of destinations but partners with a handful of airline, hotel and car rental companies, giving travelers the chance to stretch their miles further. Basic membership doesn't offer many perks, but if you acquire elite status you can enjoy amenities like free checked bags and seat upgrades.

7. FRONTIER Miles

The FRONTIER Miles program most appeals to travelers who frequently fly to and from Midwestern cities and smaller airports in the U.S., such as Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Bozeman, Montana, among others. Members earn 1 mile for every mile flown and can also earn miles with partners like Teleflora and Wyndham Rewards, and by making purchases using the co-branded credit card. FRONTIER Miles also offers family pooling, which allows a group of up to eight to combine miles to pay for flights. Aside from flights, miles can be used to cover the cost of rental cars and hotel stays through select programs.

6. Southwest Rapid Rewards

Offering more than 4,000 daily flights to 100-plus destinations in the U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico, Southwest Airlines' Rapid Rewards program is a top choice for budget-conscious travelers. Southwest awards basic members six points per dollar spent (elite members will earn even more), and there are no blackout dates on award travel. All travelers flying Southwest Airlines can enjoy two free checked bags. In addition to earning points through flights, program members can earn points via credit card purchases, on hotel stays and through an online shopping portal. Plus, travelers can often find domestic flights for less than 10,000 points one way. Aside from flights, points can be redeemed for experiences, retail items and gift cards.

5. American Airlines AAdvantage

The American Airlines AAdvantage program features a variety of ways to earn and use miles, as well as several perks for elite members. Travelers earn 5 miles per dollar spent on flights (those with higher elite status will earn more), plus program members can earn miles with partner airlines, hotels and even when booking cruises. In addition to redeeming miles on American and partner airline flights, AAdvantage members can use miles for seat upgrades, car rentals and hotel stays. Once you reach the more elite status tiers, you can enjoy additional perks, such as free checked bags and automatically requested upgrades.

4. United MileagePlus

With ample award flight availability and options at lower mileage rates, the United MileagePlus program improved its scores in both the ease of earning a free round-trip flight and award flight availability categories this year. United Airlines operates more than 4,500 daily flights to 350-plus destinations around the world; the program also lets members redeem miles with numerous airline partners, including Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines and Singapore Airlines. Members earn 5 miles per dollar spent, while elite members are granted perks like free checked bags, complimentary upgrades and priority check-in, boarding and security screening. United MileagePlus members can redeem miles for everything from hotel stays to first-class upgrades to experiences like concerts and sporting events.

3. JetBlue TrueBlue

JetBlue TrueBlue is the No. 3 Best Airline Rewards Program thanks to its low redemption rates, abundance of award flight availability and miles that never expire. Basic members earn six points per dollar spent and can earn additional miles when making purchases with a co-branded credit card, through an online shopping portal, by riding with Lyft to or from an airport and when staying at Marriott and IHG hotels. Travelers can cash in points to cover the cost of JetBlue or Hawaiian Airlines flights (a program partner) or use a combination of points and cash to book a vacation package that includes flights and a hotel stay.

2. Delta SkyMiles

Providing low redemption rates and a plethora of ways to earn and redeem miles, Delta SkyMiles earns the No. 2 slot on the Best Airline Rewards Programs ranking. Miles don't expire, and basic members can earn 5 miles per dollar spent on Delta flights (elite members earn more). Travelers can also earn miles on partner airlines (including Air France, Virgin Atlantic and Korean Air), hotel and Airbnb stays, Lyft rides, Ticketmaster concert tickets, car rentals, cruises and co-branded credit card purchases. In addition to using miles for flights or upgrades, Delta SkyMiles members can redeem points for unique offerings, such as drinks in a Delta Sky Club lounge, a private jet booking and concert tickets. Plus, Delta offers flights to more than 1,000 worldwide destinations.

1. Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Claiming the No. 1 spot on the Best Airline Rewards Programs ranking for the fifth consecutive year, the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan makes it easy for members to earn miles and redeem them to fly with Alaska Airlines or its partners to hundreds of destinations across the globe. Members earn 1 mile per mile flown (or 500 miles, whichever is greater) and can rack up miles with airline, hotel and car rental partners, as well as through credit card and shopping portal purchases. The program also offers excellent geographic coverage and award choice availability. One caveat that sets the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan apart from other major airline rewards programs: It does not require travelers to spend a minimum amount of money to reach elite status tiers. Status is earned through miles flown.

The Best Hotel Rewards Programs

Taking into account the number of participating hotels, member benefits, geographic coverage, property diversity and the ease with which travelers can earn and redeem a free night, U.S. News determined the Best Hotel Rewards Programs. See what types of perks most appeal to your travel style, and consider signing up for the program or programs that best fit your needs.

15. I Prefer Hotel Rewards

The loyalty program for Preferred Hotels & Resorts interests those who enjoy staying in independent properties. Members who join I Prefer Hotel Rewards automatically have access to perks like free Wi-Fi access, early check-in and late checkout, and free room upgrades based on availability. However, earning a free night through this program is difficult since there are limited ways to earn points and the number of points required to redeem a free night is often quite high; the total points needed to redeem a free night also varies widely by location.

14. Le Club AccorHotels

Le Club AccorHotels most benefits travelers who stay in properties in major European cities, such as Paris, London and Berlin. Basic member benefits include free internet access and room rate discounts. However, there are limited ways to earn points within this program and points expire after 12 months of inactivity. Plus, the program can be a bit confusing: Members earn 25 points for every 10 euros, or $11, spent. For every 2,000 points members collect, they'll receive a hotel reward voucher worth 40 euros.

13. Omni Select Guest

The rewards program for Omni Hotels & Resorts is stay based rather than points based. That means once you stay 20 qualifying nights (on full-price stays), you'll earn a free night certificate to use in the future. While earning a free night can take awhile in the Omni Select Guest program, basic membership comes with perks like free Wi-Fi access, members-only offers and express check-in and checkout.

12. Leaders Club

The new Leaders Club program was introduced in September 2018, and it is now a points-based program for the 400-plus properties that are part of The Leading Hotels of the World. Members can earn one point per dollar spent on stays (for up to three rooms), and membership includes daily complimentary breakfast for two. The Leaders Club program does require an annual membership fee (unlike the majority of other hotel rewards programs), and earning a free night can be challenging since the rate at which members earn points is low.

11. Stash Hotel Rewards

The Stash Hotel Rewards network is on the smaller side (only about 150 boutique properties participate), meaning there are fewer opportunities to earn and redeem points because the hotel pool is so limited. However, there are several program perks: Members can earn five points per dollar spent on up to two rooms at a time, Stash points never expire and there are no blackout dates when redeeming a free night.

10. Hilton Honors

The Hilton brand encompasses more than 5,000 hotels worldwide, available at various price points and located in numerous kinds of settings (from beaches and mountains to cities and small towns). Hilton Honors members can earn points in a variety of ways – with hotel stays, purchases made with a co-branded credit card, Lyft rides and more – and can redeem points for a Hilton stay, retail purchases, airline tickets and experiences. Hilton Honors members earn 10 points per dollar spent on rooms, and those with elite status can earn more. Elite status comes with perks like complimentary breakfast and executive lounge access. However, points do expire after 12 months of account inactivity and redeeming free nights can cost a lot of points.

9. Sonesta Travel Pass

Basic membership with the Sonesta Travel Pass comes with several perks, including free premium Wi-Fi access, express check-in and checkout and discounts on Sonesta hotels. Members earn 10 points per dollar spent on stays at Sonesta properties and purchases made with the Sonesta credit card. Keep in mind, though, that there are a limited number of Sonesta properties (fewer than 100) and redeeming a free night requires filling out a form rather than booking directly.

8. INVITED

The INVITED loyalty program, for those who stay at Small Luxury Hotels of the World properties, features a portfolio of more than 500 hotels around the world. Basic members can take advantage of exclusive room rates and promotions, plus complimentary in-room Wi-Fi access, daily breakfast for two and early check-in and late checkout (when available). INVITED is a stay-based program, meaning members earn a complimentary night after every fifth stay or by spending $6,000 in a calendar year.

7. Radisson Rewards

Radisson Rewards is available at more than 1,100 hotels across the globe. Radisson encompasses a plethora of brands in different locations and at varying price points, so it can accommodate many types of travelers. Members earn 20 points per dollar spent on rooms and dining at Radisson hotels; Radisson Rewards also features partnerships with car rental agencies and co-branded credit cards, both of which assist travelers in earning points. Accrued points can be redeemed for free nights, food and drinks at Radisson hotels, travel and retail gift cards, and TSA Precheck application fees.

6. IHG Rewards Club

With a massive network of more than 5,600 properties in 100-plus countries, the IHG Rewards Club program offers plenty of hotels where members can earn and redeem points. Program members earn five to 10 points per dollar spent (depending on the property). Members can also earn points through car rental partners, dining programs like OpenTable and by making everyday purchases with a co-branded credit card. IHG Rewards Club members can use points to cover free nights, flight costs, gift cards and magazine subscriptions. Elite membership tiers grant even more perks, such as minibar credits, welcome amenities and priority check-in and checkout.

5. Best Western Rewards

One of the biggest draws of the Best Western Rewards program is that redeeming a free night will cost – at the most – 36,000 points, with most free nights requiring fewer points. Since Best Western Rewards members earn 10 points per dollar spent, achieving a free night is well within reach for most participating travelers. Points never expire, there are no blackout dates on award nights, Best Western's network includes more than 4,500 participating properties and basic membership comes with early check-in and late checkout privileges. Members of the program's elite tiers enjoy perks like room upgrades, thank you gifts and point bonuses.

4. Choice Privileges

Another program that features free night options at low point rates (it often costs between 8,000 and 30,000 points to redeem a free night), Choice Privileges is popular with budget travelers. Members can earn points on hotel stays, car rentals, cruises, flower deliveries and co-branded credit card purchases. All members earn five to 10 points per dollar spent and can use points on hotel stays at Choice hotels and partner hotels (including select Preferred Hotels & Resorts properties and Bluegreen Vacations resorts), or redeem points for retail and dining gift cards, cruise credits and free flights with airline partners. What's more, basic members enjoy privileges like free high-speed Wi-Fi access, express check-in and late checkout, plus additional benefits for weeknight stays, such as bonus points, coffee gift cards, Uber discounts and more.

3. World of Hyatt

Hyatt's network of hotels spans more than 700 properties worldwide (at varying price points), and World of Hyatt members have numerous ways to earn points. Members can earn points through stays at Hyatt hotels and select MGM Resorts and Small Luxury Hotels of the World properties, in addition to earning points on Lindblad Expeditions trips, car rentals and via purchases made with a co-branded credit card. Members earn five points per dollar spent (those with elite status earn even more). Not only can travelers save points to redeem for a free night (which requires anywhere from 5,000 to 60,000 points), but they can also stay at five different Hyatt brands in a calendar year to receive a free night award. What's more, World of Hyatt members can use points for room upgrades and experiences.

2. Wyndham Rewards

Although free nights with Wyndham Rewards previously cost 15,000 points across the board, the revamped program still offers plenty of affordable redemption options (a free night now requires between 7,500 and 30,000 points). Members earn 10 points per dollar spent or 1,000 points per stay, whichever is higher. Wyndham boasts a network of 9,000 properties around the world, plus partnerships with Caesars Entertainment, Marathon Gas, shopping portals, food delivery services and car rental agencies allow members to rack up points beyond their hotel stays. Those points can be redeemed for free nights or for gift cards, merchandise, tours, activities and more.

1. Marriott Bonvoy

Marriott Bonvoy is the No. 1 Best Hotel Rewards Program for the third consecutive year. One of the world's largest hotel chains, Marriott boasts 6,500-plus hotels across more than 20 different brands in locations across the globe. Earning points in the Marriott Bonvoy program is easy, and there are several ways to do so: Members earn five to 10 points per dollar spent on Marriott-affiliated hotels; travelers can also earn points by making purchases with a co-branded credit card, car rentals and cruise and airline partners. Points can be redeemed for free stays, experiences like concerts and culinary events, retail gift cards, flights and more. Basic members enjoy benefits like free Wi-Fi access and room discounts, plus the fifth night of your stay is free when booking with points. Interested in learning more about how to accrue points in different programs? Check out 20 surprising ways to earn points and miles »
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Erin Shields, Managing Editor

Erin Shields is the Managing Editor of Travel at U.S. News & World Report, where she oversees ...  Read more

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