If you plan on traveling often this year (and trust us, you should), then it’s time to choose a frequent flier program. While some experts point out awards aren’t what they used to be and credit card programs may ultimately be the best way to rack up benefits, frequent flier programs are still free to join and can only help you in your quest to get the most out of your travels. Signing up is truly a no-brainer.
But to which airline should you commit? WalletHub released a ranking of frequent flier programs that’ll get you the biggest bang for your buck in 2017. The personal finance site analyzed 11 major airline programs on criteria like their number of flights, miles or points value earned per $100 spent, and how quickly awards expire.
Because how much you travel can affect which program is best for you, programs were ranked by their respective benefits to “light,” “average” and “frequent” travelers. WalletHub defined the “average” traveler as someone who spends roughly $3,105 on flights every year, which sounds high to us. But no matter: The top programs offer general greatness all the same, and you’d be smart to join any of them.
Here are the top 5 frequent flier programs for “average” travelers in 2017:
Delta earned the highest marks for all three types of travelers, partly due to the high number of destinations they serve and the fact that their awards miles never expire because of inactivity.
Alaska offers a particularly large redemption value on awards miles, and it allows passengers to book awards travel further in advance than most other airlines.
WalletHub calculated that Hawaiian Airlines fliers get about $21 worth of rewards for every $100 they spend with the airline, making it the best in value.
United scored big for the number of partner carriers it works with, which means fliers can earn United miles on various smaller airlines.
American got a perfect score for the number of destinations it serves, as well as a good score for “retroactive flight credits,” meaning it’s fairly lenient with granting awards miles for trips you’ve already taken.
We should note that airlines are increasingly basing awards on money spent instead of miles flown, so travelers who find cheap flight deals aren’t rewarded as handsomely as those who book pricey business trips. If this is your focus, a credit card may ultimately be a better way to rack up points.
But whether you do it by booking flights or buying groceries, joining a rewards program equals free travel all the same. And THAT’s got us flying high.