May 25, 2017

Everything You Need To Know About Every Airline's Loyalty Club

If you are an avid traveler, it’s highly likely that you’re a part of one or more travel reward programs. Road warriors, those that travel frequently for work, might find this news exciting: when you book with TripActions, you can still earn points and miles with your favorite loyalty clubs. Loyalty clubs are a great way to rack up miles to use for future flights, upgrades and other travel benefits. Using airline credit cards can also increase your earning potential with these loyalty clubs. Some rewards programs are better for travelers on a low budget, and some are better for extremely frequent travelers, so we did some research to find the best ones out there to suit your travel needs.

Alaska Airlines: Mileage Plan

While Alaska is not a member of OneWorld, StarAlliance, or any other airline partner groups, they do have a vast lineup of global airline partners - 15 to be exact. These span from Virgin America who they acquired, AeroMexico, AirFrance, British Airways, all the way to American Airlines. (Delta separated ties on April 30, 2017.)

Alaska’s long list of partners is unique in creating a group of alliances for loyalty members who can earn and use Alaska miles on these other carriers - making this loyalty program thought of as one of the best and points the most valuable. As other airlines, including many of these partners, turn to a cost of your ticket model for points, Alaska will continue to grant miles based on distance flown. This is especially great for American loyalty members and those purchasing discounted tickets who can credit their flights to the Mileage Plan to earn more miles.

Note that when Virgin America and Alaska Airlines merged on March 22, 2017 they created the Mileage Plan in which both airline loyalty clubs would be one. Members have similar benefits to their previous programs and points from Virgin’s Elevate Program are good through 2017 where they will then move to Mileage Plan points in 2018. Here’s how to qualify for the new Mileage Plan:

 Qualification Levels for 2017 MVP MVP Gold MVP Gold 75K
Eligible miles earned on Alaska Airlines and Virgin America 20,000 40,000 75,000
Eligible miles earned on Alaska Airlines, Virgin America, and elite-qualifying partners 25,000 50,000 90,000
Segments flown on Alaska Airlines, Virgin America, and elite-qualifying partners 30 60 90
 

Upon qualification for any membership level, passengers earn 50,000 bonus miles. When it comes to earning benefits, MVP members earn 50%, MVP Gold earn 100%, and MVP Gold 75K members receive a 125% bonus on elite miles. Below is a summary of each membership tier - MVP, MVP Gold, and MVP Gold 75K.

MVP MVP Gold MVP Gold 75K
Priority check-in and boarding
Two free checked bags
Preferred seating
Alaska lounge membership initiation fee 50% off waived waived
One-year Alaska Lounge membership $25 off $55 off $55 off
Three-year Alaska lounge membership $75 off $165 off $165 off
Standby and wait list for full flights
Express security line at select airports
Four Alaska Lounge day passes

Alaska jumped on board with other airlines allowing passengers to earn miles through hotel and car partners. If you’re looking to really get the special treatment, fly 1 Million miles and you’ll be awarded MVP Gold Status for life!

American Airlines: AAdvantage

American Airlines is part of the OneWorld Alliance, which gives loyalty members access to multiple airline partners and recognition of their status across carriers. (You can check how your AAdvantage status aligns with oneworld levels check here.) Being a member of OneWorld makes American’s program valuable to those that travel frequently and commonly across various airlines, however changes over the years have made the program slightly favorable to those that fly frequently and at more expensive fares.

For example, in the past year they began offering a low tier short-haul flight and those flights under 500 miles in distance earn you 7,500 miles in economy vs. 15,000 in first class. However, all elite members are eligible for complimentary upgrades on these 500 miles or shorter legs giving everyone the shot at first class. How do you qualify for each level of the AAdvantage program?

 Qualification Levels for 2017 Executive Platinum

oneworld® Emerald

Platinum Pro

oneworld® Sapphire

Platinum

oneworld® Sapphire

Gold

oneworld® Emerald

Elite Qualifying Miles 100,000 75,000 50,000 25,000
Elite Qualifying Segments 120 90 60 30
Elite Qualifying Dollars $12,000 $9,000 $6,000 $3,000

American does not offer a waive of EQD requirements for their Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum status through credit card spending. Contrastly, it is easier to earn elite level with Delta, as the EAQ requirements are waived if you send $25,000 in a calendar year on one of their credit cards and the same goes with United Airlines on their qualifying card. For those that do reach Platinum Pro anytime during the 2017 calendar year there is good news! You’ll get status for the rest of 2017 along with all of 2018.

Upgrades are dependent on each tier. Gold and Platinum status are the same, earning four, 500 miles upgrade certificates for every 12,000 EQMs. At the Executive Platinum level, members earn four upgrades automatically for hitting this tier.

 AAdvantage Tier Benefits Executive Platinum Executive Pro Platinum Gold
Priority check-in and boarding
# of bag fees waived 3 2 2 1
Priority baggage delivery
Complimentary same-day standby
Complimentary same-day flight change
Discounted club membership

Similar to most airline loyalty programs, members can redeem miles for car rentals, hotel stays, and vacation travel. Besides the various benefits and statuses, all flights earn members 100% and premium fares earn up to 300% of eligible miles, just make sure to redeem miles every 18 months to avoid expiration!

Delta: SkyMiles

Delta is part of the SkyTeam Alliance which has partners like AirFrance, China Southern, Korean Air, AeroMexico, and many others that give Delta passengers access to 1062 destinations and benefits across various carriers. As a SkyMiles member you earn five miles for every dollar spent as Delta’s program is a revenue based model. The first 25,000 miles you fly with Delta do not provide any benefits but once you hit that threshold there’s a variety of tiers you can hit.
Delta SkyMiles Benefits Silver Medallion Gold Medallion Platinum Medallion Diamond Medallion
Miles needed to qualify 25,000 50,000 75,000 125,000
Miles earned per dollar 7 8 9 11
Unlimited first class upgrades 24 hours prior to departure 72 hours prior to departure 5 days prior to departure  5 days prior to departure with priority
Unlimited complimentary Companion First Class and Delta Comfort+ Upgrades
Complimentary Preferred Seats
Priority Wait List
Waived Bag Fees
Priority Check-in
Priority Boarding Sky priority Sky priority Sky priority
Priority Security Line Access
Sky Club 2017 membership

The good news? Miles accrued above your earned tier roll over to the next qualifying year so you’re that much closer to the next level. This also means miles don’t expire so you can keep them for the next year or use them for shopping, lounges, upgrades, and the many other ways to spend miles on Delta.

Delta also secured a new partnership with Lyft, the ridesharing company, offering business travelers a great way to earn miles while traveling to and from meetings or the airport. You’ll earn Delta SkyMiles on every Lyft ride you take when you link accounts. The sweeten the deal, TripActions travelers can quickly call Lyft when needed right from their live itinerary on our native mobile app.

We did find one downside of the program - you cannot redeem loyalty miles for first class international redemption. However, Delta SkyMiles is a great program for those SPG members who can use their Crossover Rewards program to earn eligible stays with Starwood just by flying with Delta. Frequent business travelers can definitely see the benefits in this partnership.

Frontier Airlines: EarlyReturns

Frontier’s loyalty program is as simple and under the radar as the carrier itself. To become an EarlyReturn member you can fly, stay at one of their participating hotels or take a ride in one of their rental car partners. You can also redeem these EarlyReturn miles for the same services, additionally you can get a magazine subscription or donate them to charity.

The airline does have a Frontier Elite program for those extra frequent flyers. To qualify for this level passengers must fly 20,000 miles or 25 segments within 365 rolling days. This status does expire unless qualified again within the next 365 days. What perks do Frontier Elite members receive? The standard is alll. Priority services, advance seat assignment, complimentary carry-on, are the highlights on the list.

Being a low cost carrier, Frontier’s loyalty program is great for those very occasional and low budget travelers.

JetBlue: TrueBlue

After Alaska bought Virgin America, it seems like JetBlue is the only sexy airline left alongside Southwest. Their loyalty program, TrueBlue is the truly a manifest to the brand they want to create with their passengers. With new ways to earn points like 18 travel partners, and other cool guys like Amazon, Lyft and SoFi, the program is setup to engage the new wave of frequent travelers.
Blue Blue Plus Blue Flex Mint
Bonus Points Earned per Dollar Spent 3 4 5 3

The highest tier of JetBlue’s loyalty program is Mosaic. To qualify, passengers must travel 30 segments and 12,000 points in one year or fly 15,000 points. The benefits are much what a frequent traveler would expect and hope from their loyalty club - waived change and cancellation fees, two free checked bags, 15,000 qualification bonus points, early onboarding, shorter security lines, an extra 3 TrueBlue points per dollar, and free alcoholic beverages on flights.

When redeeming your points you can book other travel, subscribe to magazines, donate, increase your seat room for 200 points, and even fly with your pet for 300. TrueBlue has hotel partners like Marriott and Hilton, roadwarriors can build an arsenal of loyalty clubs that all support one another.

One feature unlike any other airline loyalty program is TrueBlue’s Family Pooling. This allows family members to combine their TrueBlue points to earn more faster, share points between members without a transaction or transfer fee, and closely share travel plans. With no blackout dates or expiration date, TrueBlue is a great program for all frequency and budgeted travelers.

Southwest Airlines: Rapid Rewards

It’s no surprise to most travelers when we say that Southwest is one of the more unique carriers and their loyalty program is no different. On the benefit side, they have no blackout dates and unlimited rewards seating. Here’s a breakdown of their tiered program levels:
  Base A-List A-List Preferred
Qualification within 365 days 25 one-way qualifying flights or 35,000 points 50 one-way qualifying flights or 70,000 points
Priority Boarding
Free same-day standby
Earning Bonus 25% 100%
Priority check-in and security lane access
Free inflight WiFi

When it comes to expiration, points stay active as long as you have flight or partner earning activity every 24 months. However, Southwest passengers earn points based on the type of fare purchased which sounds familiar to many other airlines making the switch. Likewise, points can be redeems for international flights, cruises, hotels stays, rental cars, gift cards, and other services.

Points Earned Per Dollar Based on Program Level and Fare Purchase Base A-List A-List Preferred
Business Select 12 15 24
Anytime 10 12.5 20
Wanna Get Away 6 7.5 12

So what makes Southwest different? Their Companion Pass. Those that fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 qualifying points within a calendar year can qualify. Those that do are allowed one person to fly free with them every time they purchase or redeem points for a flight. The pass is valid for the following full calendar year and the remainder of the year in which it was earned.

Separate from their loyalty program and available to anyone willing to pay, Southwest offers EarlyBird Check-In. For $15 one way, they will automatically check you in at their 24 hour mark reserving you a priority seat. This might seem like a small cost to save you from manually clicking a button but services like TripAction’s free automatic check-in can provide these services free to business travelers using the system as part of their company’s travel program.

Spirit Airlines: Free Spirit

Like Frontier, Spirit is a low cost carrier that offers extremely discounted ticket fares in exchange for many benefits most travelers expect when flying. As part of their loyalty program, members can only earn miles as they fly with Spirit or one of their partners.

Anyone can qualify for their basic membership, which earns passengers 50% of the miles flown. To become an Elite member you must spend at least $1,200 on base fares over a six month period. This membership level earns you 12,000 Spirit miles to be used within six months and 100%of miles flown. Their highest member tier is VIP, which like Elite earns 100% of miles flown in addition to 24,000 miles over six months if you spend at least $2,400 on base fares within six months.

Miles stay active if you make a purchase every month on their Spirit credit card but they are not clear as to how many miles you earn on each flight. This program is a nice to have if you’re traveling Spirit, mainly applicable for low budget personal travelers although there are better programs out there for this audience.

United Airlines: MileagePlus

Since the beginning of 2017, United has been in hot water for multiple incidents of mistreating passengers. While United continues to see their name in the news, their general passenger satisfaction and ticket sales has only increased. One even found a way to maximize the MileagePlus program and earn 100,000 miles.

As a founding member of the StarAlliance, United is part of a network offering benefits and increase flight inventory across 28 airlines with 35 partner carriers in total. Similar to American Airlines, United’s MileagePlus program also switched to offer passengers miles based on revenue, aka the price of the ticket vs the distance of the flight. Here’s a breakdown of the MileagePlus program benefits:

United MileagePlus Benefits Premier Silver Premier Gold Premier Platinum Premier 1K
Premier Qualifying Miles Requirement 25,000 50,000 75,000 100,000
Award Miles per Fare 7 8 9 11
Complimentary Access to Economy Plus At Check-in At Booking At Booking At Booking
Complimentary Premier Upgrades
Complimentary Premier Companion Upgrades
Instant Upgrades on Y or B class Full-Fare Economy Tickets
Priority Check-in
Priority Security Screening
Priority Baggage Handling
Access to Sold Out Flights
Lounge Access When Traveling Internationally
10% Discount on Inflight Duty Free Purchases

The club’s upgrade and reward qualifications per flight can be quite confusing to most so it’s important for travelers to know which fare you are paying for and what points you should receive for that ticket. Especially with United’s basic economy fare they introduced in early 2017 to provide passengers with an extremely low cost fare. These tickets might seem ideal price wise, but travelers and especially business travelers, should be aware of the downside of these flights.

In addition, miles on United expire after 18 months of inactivity, which is actually longer than most airline clubs where miles expire after 24 months. Due to this and other factors listed above, US Travel News ranks United as having the sixth best loyalty program.


Disclaimer: TripActions did not receive any compensation for any references to programs and services mentioned. All brands and services named in this post were included for the benefit of our readers. Opinions expressed here are the authors of this post and are not reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any other entity. Images from Google Images.