John S Kiernan, Managing Editor
United MileagePlus is the best airline rewards program, according to WalletHub’s latest Frequent Flyer Report. And it doesn’t matter whether you travel a lot, a little or somewhere in between because MileagePlus is the top choice across the board. This is largely due to the fact that MileagePlus miles don’t expire because of account inactivity, in addition to the program’s tens of transfer partners and its lack of blackout dates for flights booked with miles.
But you can see which airline rewards program is best for your particular needs by using WalletHub’s Frequent Flyer Calculator.
It’s also important to remember that credit cards are a whole different ballgame. An airline can have a great loyalty program but a crummy credit card. So, when you’re considering airline rewards credit cards, make sure to keep the following key characteristics in mind. Doing so will help guide you to the most rewarding miles program possible.
How to Pick the Best Airline Rewards Program:
- Airline Affiliation: Some airline cards offer generic miles that can be redeemed for flights on any airline. Others are tied to particular airlines and provide miles usable only for flights with affiliated carriers. The former are good for both the infrequent traveler and those who travel a lot, but on different airlines. The latter are only good for brand-loyal frequent flyers.
- Initial Rewards Bonus: The initial bonus that you can earn during the first few months of card use is an extremely important consideration. The reason for that is bonus miles on certain cards may even exceed the number of miles attainable from a full year of card use.
- Earning Rate: You need to figure out how quickly you’ll be accruing miles, as this dictates how lucrative each card you consider will be. Just be aware of cards that require you to sign up on a quarterly basis in order to be eligible for the highest rewards earning rates.
- Earning Tiers: Some airline miles credit cards give you a certain number of miles per $1 spent until you reach a designated spending threshold, at which time the rewards earning rate changes. Depending on your spending habits, this can significantly affect a card’s appeal.
- Expiration: If your airline miles will expire at some point, you clearly need to know about it. When present, expiration is typically linked to either account inactivity or the amount of time elapsed since miles were earned.
- Redemption Policy: Find out how many miles you need to redeem for a flight and how much that flight would cost if purchased normally. This will tell you how much the miles are worth. You should also scan the rewards program’s terms to see if there’s any mention of blackout dates or a minimum number of miles required for redemption.
- Status Miles: The rate at which status miles are doled out is a key factor for frequent flyers who are thinking of committing to a particular airline.
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