Wondering what frequent flyer programs to sign up for?
You aren't alone. The first step in elevating your travels is to become a member of the programs. The first frequent flyer program was started by American Airlines in 1979; since then, over 20 trillion miles have been accumulated by people worldwide, which corresponds to well over a trillion US dollars. The programs are highly profitable for airlines, hotels and banks, which means there is ample opportunity to earn miles.
Below I outline the best frequent flyer programs and those I recommend signing up for initially. Once you sign up for these – and organize the numbers, usernames and passwords – you can move onto step two.
Note that clicking the name of each program will redirect you to their enrollment page.
American Airlines AAdvantage – There are many that complain about American but I am not one of them. Their new fleet of planes is top notch and award flexibility is huge. Citibank has continued to offer big bonuses for their credit card as well.
Delta Sky Miles – Delta remains a top-tier airline for domestic award flights. Several American Express card options and the ability to transfer from Membership Rewards are big positives, but recent miles devaluations have limited the program's competitiveness domestically. Still a must have for anyone in this space.
Southwest Rapid Rewards - Southwest has been expanding their destinations rapidly as a great program for domestic flyers. Their credit card is with the world’s largest credit card issuer, Chase. Many of this bank's cards are transferable to Southwest, only increasing the program's value even more.
United MileagePlus – This is my preferred U.S. carrier for international award flights, especially in economy class. Another credit card relationship with Chase means the same flexibility as Southwest, a considerable perk when redeeming award flights requiring more than a single card bonus.
Fairmont President's Club – The unique portfolio of hotels is somewhat limited in number of locations but makes up for it in style. A great Chase credit card is also a big positive.
Hilton HHonors – Hilton properties are everywhere with extensive redemption options. While value-per-point has dropped recently, good credit card options with Citibank and the luxury Conrad properties make it a must.
Hyatt Gold Passport – Hyatt properties, specifically Park Hyatt, are pure elegance and somehow redemption value is still better than most. Several credit card options with Chase make this my personal favorite.
IHG Rewards Club – An extensive collection of hotels, including InterContinentals, make this a solid program. As with Hyatt, a Chase credit card relationship means multiple earning opportunities.
Marriott Rewards – Marriott properties, as well as the luxurious Ritz-Carlton, are all over the world with good redemption options. Having a Chase credit card - and similar flexibility - makes it another must-have.
Starwood Preferred Guest – SPG may have the best quality-to-point ratio of any hotel program, a significant feat. American Express credit card options are available as well.
Amtrak Guest Rewards – This is ideal for those residing in the U.S. Northeast. Amtrak has a credit card and often runs point promotions. Less lucrative than international flights, but nonetheless a good value for some.
AAdvantage Dining Rewards – These are available for all the major airlines, but I recommend AA. Register your credit cards and then let it be; if you live in a big city, you can expect random bonus miles every week or two.
Need a break yet?
I agree - the process of setting up your future, enhanced travel is not particularly fun. But the good news is once you have set up your programs - and organized them appropriately - you rarely have to worry about them again. It's a one-time investment of time with the potential for an extremely lucrative return.
And, with a robust collection of the best travel tools at your disposal, the process of remembering program numbers and passwords has never been easier.
OK, enough chit-chat. You are ready - on to step 2.