Probably one of the biggest questions in the points and miles world is, what is your favorite frequent flyer program? Unfortunately, this is one of the most challenging questions to answer since it will depend on many factors.
Before deciding on your favorite program, you need to understand what you want for a program. Since every program has unique strengths and weaknesses. But what is the perfect program for one traveler could be terrible for another.
The biggest question you need to ask is whether the program delivers for your travel needs and objectives. For instance, if you take lots of very short domestic flights, the program for you may not be the same as for someone who travels far less but mainly travels international long haul. You need to match a program to your travel, not the other way around.
How We Choose A Program
The first criterion we looked at when selecting a program was the value of awards on long-haul international travel in premium cabins. This is of crucial importance since we regularly use points for transpacific and transatlantic travel. A program that had great perks but whose awards were outrageously expensive would not make the cut.
The second are we looked at was how easy is it to earn points with the program. This included looking at program transfer partners, as well as co brand credit cards. Also whether it is easy to substantially boost your points balances without spending days and days in the air.
Finally, we also looked at the relative ease of achieving status with the program. This is primarily for upgrades, improved boarding groups and more. While many travelers associate status with lounge access, that is not the primary concern. Since more often than not if you are flying in a premium cabin status or not, you will have lounge access.
Based on the above criteria we have selected our favorite frequent flyer programs out of the three major alliances.
Best Star Alliance Frequent Flyer Program: Air Canada Aeroplan
When it comes to Star Alliance, the best program for us, hands down, is Air Canada Aeroplan. The standout feature of the program is its outstanding value of awards. No tot mention the fact the website is a breeze to navigate and search for award space. Not to mention, you can book everything online without having to reach out and make a phone call.
Also, although Air Canada is a Star Alliance member, it has a well-developed network of partners outside of the alliance. You can redeem your Aeroplan points for awards with airlines like Emirates, Etihad, Oman Air, and more.
Not only is the partner network extensive, but the Award pricing is very reasonable. For instance, 100,000 points for an award from Bangkok to Frankfurt via Muscat in first class is not to be sneezed at and was a phenomenal redemption. Also, we flew ANA business class earlier this year from Vancouver to Tokyo for 60,000 points. That is another fantastic deal on a ticket that would normally cost several thousand dollars.
The other main motivator that makes Aeroplan so good for us is the Chase Aeroplan Credit Card. The card has a wide range of features and benefits, including: Access to Maple Leaf Lounges and upgrade credits, not to mention great earning rates on several categories of purchases. Overall, Aeroplan is hard to compete with as the best frequent flyer program in the Star Alliance ecosystem.
Best One World Frequent Flyer Program: Alaska Mileage Plan
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan has long been one of our favorite frequent flyer programs, even before the airline joined Oneworld. Joining only made the program stronger despite the several devaluations that it has undergone over the last few years.
That said, there is still some stunning value to be had when redeeming Alaska points with partners. Two of our best flights of the last year were JAL first-class from Tokyo Haneda to Chicago, which set us back an absolute bargain of 70,000 miles plus taxes and fees. This was followed by a JAL business class flight from Tokyo Narita to Seattle, which only cost 60,000 miles plus taxes and fees. If you are regular on the transpacific route to Japan. Then the Alaska award chart has some excellent sweet spots, which is just what the doctor ordered!
What makes Alaska also work is a couple of other factors. First, even when purchasing Alaska miles with a bonus and then redeeming them for premium cabins, you can end up saving a ton. For instance, purchasing 70,000 miles at a base rate of ₵2.75 per mile will set you back $1,925. However, a JAL first-class ticket on the same route will generally set you back over $13,000. That is a fantastic saving of over 85%.
In addition, Alaska is not a transfer partner with any major credit card point currencies. However, you can still transfer Marriott Bonvoy points. This makes Alaska an ideal target loyalty program to burn your Marriott points for premium travel.
Best SkyTeam Frequent Flyer Program: Air France KLM Flying Blue
Before we go into why Flying Blue is our favorite, keep in mind that up to last year, the answer would have been Delta SkyMiles. However, in light of the recent devaluation of the program and Delta making elite status harder to get and lounge access more restrictive, it is no longer our favorite.
Deciding on our SkyTeam frequent flyer program for next year was a tough call. It was a close-run thing between Virgin Atlantic and Flying Blue, which won out in the end. The main reason is that while Virgin has some excellent award deals, the carrier is still relatively small compared to the Air France KLM behemoth.
Also, Virgin has a much smaller footprint on its own metal-making bookings. Thus using your miles for flights is more difficult, especially when you consider how limited its network is. While Flying Blue is arguably not the best option for award redemptions and status is hard to earn, it does have some outstanding features.
First and foremost, it is one of the airlines that is a transfer partner with virtually every single point currency around. This means that even if you do not have a large balance of one type of point, you can use your Flying Blue account by consolidating multiple smaller balances into one larger one.
Second, and this is on the aspirational travel side of things, the only way you can book the now legendary Air France La Premier award is by holding elite status. So, earning status with Flying Blue should open the door to one of these aspirational redemptions.
Finally, Flying Blue also has a US-issued credit card, which can boost our earnings for everyday spending and keep our mileage balance growing.
The three programs mentioned above are ones that work with the Oscape travel goal and strategy. Which in turn is governed by where you live, your budget, and where you regularly travel. If you have similar travel aspirations they are great starting points. However with time and experience many points and miles fans switch between programs to get the best deal for themselves.
Ultimately, while they are called loyalty programs, there is very little loyalty involved. You need to choose what works best for you at any given phase of your travel journey, and if you need to change, so be it. Fortunately, in many cases, you don’t even need to earn status from scratch. And you can status match before switching your allegiance to a new frequent flyer program.