Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan nabbed the top spot of 10 airlines included due to its elite membership benefits, high network coverage and the ease of earning free round-trip flights.
Although it is not a member of any of the big three airline alliances—oneworld, the Star Alliance or SkyTeam—Alaska does have codeshare agreements with a number of partner airlines, including Aeromexico, Air France, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Emirates, Fiji Airways, KLM, Korean Air and Qantas.
Flexibility was also a factor in the win. Members can earn and redeem miles with Alaska or any of its 15 airline partners, and can earn miles through many retail and hotel partnerships—including Hilton, Starwood and Marriott.
Although it did earn the number one ranking, the report suggested some areas for improvement. Alaska has blackout dates for award travel, seating is limited on award flights and the airline serves fewer destinations than some bigger carriers.
Rounding out the top five in the rankings are, in order: American Airlines AAdvantage, Southwest Rapid Rewards, JetBlue TrueBlue, and Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles. Programs had to be tied to U.S.-based airlines to qualify for the list.
Marriott Rewards Takes First Prize for Hotel Plans, Again
For the third year in a row, Marriott Rewards was ranked number one in a field of 18 hotel loyalty programs. It was singled out for its wide variety of property types and price ranges, as well as for ease of earning awards.
Marriott Rewards was also praised for not having blackout dates, and for the ability to use points on flights and rental cars. Noted program drawbacks included the fact that points expire after two years without activity, rooms at higher-tier hotels cost a lot of points and that the elite membership levels are more difficult to reach than with Starwood Preferred Guest or Hilton HHonors.
The 2015-2016 Best Travel Rewards Programs looked at looked at 28 airline and hotel loyalty programs. It ranked frequent flyer programs according to the number and type of perks provided, the ease of earning rewards, award flight options, the overall quality of the airline, how many routes are flown and how many flights are offered.
Hotel programs had to have locations in the U.S. and had to let members earn rewards and perks for staying in affiliate hotels. Wyndham Rewards took second place, Best Western Rewards and Club Carlson tied for third place, and IHG Rewards Club came in fourth.