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WalletHub study: 2022’s best frequent flyer programs

With U.S. air travel expected to rebound in 2022 as pandemic concerns decline, airfare savings will be increasingly important in the months ahead. To help travelers make the best decisions for their wallets, the personal-finance website WalletHub released its report on 2022’s Best Frequent Flyer Programs, which ranks the 10 largest domestic airlines based on 21 key metrics, ranging from the value of a point/mile to blackout dates for reward flights.

WalletHub’s report also features a custom calculator that allows travelers to personalize the results based on their own budget. Key takeaways are below, followed by commentary from WalletHub experts.

  • Best Frequent Flyer Program: Alaska Mileage Plan is the best frequent flyer program of 2022, beating last year’s winner United MileagePlus.
  • Savings Available to Frequent Flyers: The average airline rewards program saves frequent flyers 12% on airfare, and these programs are all free to join.
  • Increased Rewards in 2022: Three of the 10 largest airlines are offering more rewards in 2022 than in 2021, sweetening the pot by an average of roughly 10%.
  • Earn and Redeem with Partner Airlines: Six of the 10 largest U.S. airlines allow program members to earn and redeem miles with partner carriers.
  • Best Airline Credit Card: The JetBlue Plus Card is 2022’s best airline credit card, according to WalletHub’s editors.

Q&A With WalletHub

What is the best frequent flyer program in 2022 and why?

“The best frequent flyer program in 2022 is Alaska Mileage Plan,” said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst. “Alaska Mileage Plan ranks in the top 5 among major airline loyalty programs in terms of rewards-earning policies, redemption policies, rewards value, geographical coverage, partner-airline coverage, and other features. No other airline excels in so many categories.”

What benefits do the best frequent flyer programs offer?

“A lot of people think that frequent flyer programs only give you miles, but that’s not true. The best frequent flyer programs also offer benefits like free checked bags, priority boarding, complimentary upgrades, higher priority on overbooked flights and expedited baggage services,” said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst. “The average program from a major airline saves members around 12% on airfare. Hawaiian Airlines offers the most rewards value per dollar spent, followed closely by Alaska Airlines.”

Are the best frequent flyer programs different than before the pandemic?

“Since the pandemic began, four major frequent flyer programs have reduced the rewards value they offer to members, yet the top 10 programs are still providing an average of 3.7% more value now than they did in 2019,” said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst. “The pandemic has also changed the pecking order among frequent flyer programs. After a five-year run as the best program, Delta SkyMiles lost the top spot to United MileagePlus in 2021, which was then overtaken by Alaska Mileage Plan this year.”

What are some of the best ways to save on airfare?

“One of the best ways to save on airfare is to join your favorite airlines’ frequent flyer programs for free, which will save you 12% on average. Another smart choice is using the right credit card to pay for airfare, which can save you hundreds of dollars more,” said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst. “If you always fly with the same airline and are comfortable booking flights directly through them, getting an airline credit card is a good idea. If you’d prefer to shop around for the best deals on airfare, get a general-purpose travel rewards card.”

What are some notable features frequent flyers should be aware of?

“Free flights, seat upgrades and free checked bags tend to get all the attention, but there are lots of other perks and policies frequent flyers should be aware of as well. With some frequent flyer programs, miles will expire if you don’t earn or redeem any miles for 12-36 months. In some cases, if you forget to book a flight with your frequent flyer number, you can retroactively get credit for the miles you would have earned at no extra charge. And most major airlines allow you use their points and miles to book flights with partner airlines,” said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst.

What is the outlook for airlines in 2022?

“Life seems to be getting back to normal as Covid cases decline, and we can expect people to continue to regain their trust in traveling if things keep going on the current trajectory,” said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst. “Expert projections indicate that the aviation sector will recover to about 60-80% of its pre-pandemic size in 2022.”

For the full report, including the custom calculator, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/best-frequent-flyer-program/25943/

This article was released by WalletHub.