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The Best Frequent Flier Programs of 2018

Posted on March 25, 2018 at 1:00 PM

The top airline rewards program is Delta SkyMiles, according to a new study from the personal finance site WalletHub. It’s the third straight year that Delta has won top honors. Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines came in second and third place, respectively.

The study takes a broad view of rewards programs, evaluating much more than just the ease of getting upgrades and free flights, two of the biggest perks of these programs. WalletHub also evaluates the number of flights, destinations served, whether points expire, blackout dates, and other minutiae. Also under consideration in WalletHub's data gathering is whether a traveler flies a little, an okay amount, or a ton. Delta, for example, offers great value for people who fly an “average” amount, while Southwest does best for those that fly only infrequently. JetBlue by contrast does the most for its most devoted passengers.

So is Delta’s program really the best? Mileage obsessives don’t seem convinced, no matter what WalletHub says. “One of the first things that stood out to me about this study is that they named Frontier’s credit card tied for the best even though they say the miles you’d be earning with the card are among the worst,” says Gary Leff, of the firm Book Your Award, in an email. “The results here just make no sense. That’s not surprising when the value of the miles themselves only accounts for one quarter of the scoring. [This study is] at least as much about the airline itself rather than the frequent flier program.”


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The Points Guy, which also tracks rewards programs, has previously called Delta SkyMiles “perplexing” and “rather turbulent,” which leaves passengers “unsure about whether you should collect as many SkyMiles as possible or avoid the program entirely.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Still, there’s a valuable takeaway from WalletHub’s analysis: Their frequent flier calculator tool lets you punch in the amount you spend annually on airfare to determine which program is (probably) a good choice for your personal circumstances. If you’re just getting started in earning and spending frequent flier points, it’s a very helpful jumping off point.

Here’s how the airlines' rewards programs stacked up, per WalletHub:


Delta Air Lines

Alaska Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines

American Airlines

United Airlines

JetBlue Airways

Southwest Airlines

Sun Country Airlines

Frontier Airlines

Spirit Airlines


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