Picking the right frequent flyer programs for your
Start by assessing your travel patterns and booking habits (deep-discounted economy vs. full-fare economy or business/first) and reviewing both the redemption side as well as earning ability of potential programs. Some programs however generally stand out by their number of partners, ease of achieving elite status and overall value. Here’s a rundown.
Best for Economy Flights – Capital One Venture
While not technically a frequent flyer program, the Capital One Venture program has become increasingly important in my reward travel game. The reason is simple: it’s becoming harder and harder to find the best redemption rates and award availability through frequent flyer programs, particularly for the cheapest economy seats.
My solution has been to rely more on programs, like Capital One Venture, that allow me to redeem rewards for any travel from any vendor. The ease and flexibility
There are no blackout dates and no restrictions. So if I can’t find a good redemption through a frequent flyer program or even a credit card rewards program travel portal, I turn to my Capital One Venture card and buy the cheapest fare I can find. Then I just redeem miles to cover the cost.
Alaska Airlines MileagePlan
MileagePlan is one of the best programs for international travel for both earning and redemption. Since Alaska Airlines is not aligned with any alliance, they have a unique range of partners that cover most of the
Those partners include American, British Airways, Air France, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Emirates. And you can rely on Alaska’s network to connect to these airlines U.S. gateways. Most partners can be booked online.
Alaska Airlines is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest.
Their award pricing is generally very reasonable, but it depends on the carrier, as award charts are carrier specific.
From the continental U.S. to Europe in Business class, a one-way journey costs: 62,500 miles on Air France/KLM, 50,000 miles on American Airlines, 60,000 miles on British Airways or a steep 105,000 miles on Emirates. Unfortunately, you can’t mix and match partners on the same award.
MileagePlan is the only U.S.-based program that I am happy to mention in this list. It’s not that the other major domestic programs aren’t valuable for international travel: in fact, each of them may have their sweet spots for redemption, but:
- Revenue-based mileage accrual (on UA, AA
andDL) can result in very low earnings on long distancetravel, compared to distance-based accrual, especially on cheap economy tickets.
- United and Delta charge a premium for award travel on partner airlines (on which you eventually need to rely at some point for international travel).
- American has had really poor saver award availability recently, especially for international premium classes, which means British Airways is often the only transatlantic award option. And it comes with a hefty carrier surcharge.
There is however one substantial downside to MileagePlan. Since Alaska isn’t a member of any airline alliance, you usually won’t get any elite benefits with their partners.
Air Canada Aeroplan – Star Alliance
Aeroplan isn’t as good as it used to be, but it can still offer reasonably priced redemptions on excellent carriers through the Star Alliance network — e.g. 55,000 miles without fuel surcharges from the U.S. to Europe on Swiss.
I would not call Aeroplan the best Star Alliance program overall, but it is a pretty good value for most. Elite status
You can transfer both American Express Membership Rewards and SPG points to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio.
British Airways Executive Club –
Again, it depends on your travel patterns, but
On the redemption side, the program offers very cheap short-haul awards (as low as 4,500 miles in economy or 9,000 in business class), thus perfect for domestic flights within Japan (with no taxes!) on JAL or within Australia with Qantas, for example. However, long-haul premium cabins can be very expensive.
Air France-KLM Flying Blue – SkyTeam
It is surely not the perfect program for everyone, but
On the redemption side, the award chart to/from Europe isn’t too bad (62,500 miles for a transatlantic one-way in business class), and you get access to much better availability on AF/KL’s own flights that when booking with Delta.
Moreover, they offer Promo Awards to certain destinations every month at 25% or 50% off the regular number of miles, so you can occasionally get a transatlantic flight in business class for only 31,250 miles or economy class for only 12,500 miles. Award prices to Asia or Oceania, on the other hand, can be steep to downright horrendous.
It’s very easy to get miles into the Flying Blue program considering they are a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards
Singapore Airlines Krisflyer (SPG, Amex, Chase, Citi Transfer Partner) – Star Alliance
A very interesting program to both earn and redeem miles, and to top up your balance as they partner with all major transferable points. You can credit both JetBlue and United flights, and earn 100% of the distance even in deep discount economy, making elite status relatively easy to reach.
You will also get access to very desirable redemptions in Singapore’s amazing business and first class (including Suites class) that are otherwise generally not available to partner programs.
Even domestic redemptions (on United) an be an excellent value at 40,000 miles round-trip in a premium cabin, compared with 50,000 United miles for the exact same flights.
If your travels take you to Asia, and you can make Singapore Air your carrier of choice, then it is definitely an amazing program. Do note that award miles expire after three years regardless of earning or redemption activity.
Like Flying Blue, Singapore KrisFlyer is a 1:1 transfer partners of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards
You’re going to have to look at where you want to fly, how you want to travel (business/first or economy) and what
Whatever you decide, I recommend getting an extremely flexible travel card, like the Capital One Venture, that allows you to redeem miles for travel purchased from any airline or hotel. It’s hard to find the best redemption rates and award availability through frequent flyer programs these days, but you can sidestep this issue with the easy-to-use Venture card.