The Best Travel Rewards Programs to Join
As we mentioned in Part I, a rewards or loyalty program is any program that offers customers an incentive to continue using a particular brand. This is huge in the travel industry. Any discerning airline, hotel, car company or travel service has a rewards program these days. If they don’t, they should.
YOU need to be involved with ALL of them. Domestic and foreign, unique and exclusive. The best part is, joining a rewards program is free. Even if you may only stay at a particular hotel brand once in your life, wouldn’t you rather get a great deal or an upgrade when you do? It doesn’t hurt to enroll, and if it’s receiving obnoxious emails that concerns you, just unsubscribe.
Joining the best credit card rewards program, airline rewards program or hotel rewards program will pay long-lasting dividends. In many cases, the credit cards you’ll ultimately apply for are co-branded with the airlines and hotels themselves. This lets the savvy consumer and or business professional rack up points and miles in rapid succession.
Below, we’ve highlighted and summarized many of the mainstream travel rewards programs that are going to help you on your way to becoming a travel hacking guru. These mainly include the important airline and hotel loyalty programs, but we’ve also added car, bus and even train rewards programs. We’ve even given you the ability to enroll directly from this page. Just take a look below and click on the programs you’re interested in.
*Pro Tip* — Enroll in all of the free rewards programs we mention below. However, consider focusing your attention on one particular airline AND hotel that you prefer or frequent. This will allow fast-track access to the most exclusive benefits offered by those respective rewards programs.
Recommended: Are the dozens of rewards programs below intimidating? Worried you won’t be able to manage all of your points for free travel? Signup for free with Award Wallet and track all of your major rewards earnings in one place.
Best Frequent Flyer Progams
- Alaska Air
- Alaska’s rewards program offers members an opportunity to earn points both in the air and through any number of their numerous partners. Including British Airways, American, Bank of America credit cards, Delta and so many more.
- Iceland Air (Sage Club)
- My favorite country… Iceland Air offers frequent flyers an opportunity to earn miles and enroll for the opportunity to receive exclusive, discounted travel deals and packages. Many times all inclusive.
- JetBlue (TrueBlue)
- JetBlue is by far my favorite domestic carrier. They’re also beginning to expand their routes. Capitalize on low-cost fares and signup for this easy to manage program. Their app is also fantastic.
- Air France (Flying Blue)
- A OneWorld partner, Qantas offers Frequent Flyer members an opportunity to accrue points for award bookings, car rentals and hotels.
- Spirit (Free Spirit)
- Although it’s one of the most budget airlines out there, being part of the Free Spirit Frequent Flyer program allows members access to exclusive deals, fares and more. I’m actually flying on Spirit next month to Costa Rica… While I’d prefer JetBlue, the fare was too good to passup.
- EasyJet offers members great deals and benefits for short haul flights throughout Europe. I like this rewards program because you get to breeze through security as well as priority boarding.
- Vueling (Punto)
- I use Vueling mainly when I’m traveling through or within Spain, but they also offer flights to over 160 destinations within Europe. Becoming a member of their rewards program offers frequent flyers an opportunity to accrue points fast. This is a great program if you want to travel around Europe often.
- American (Aadvantage)
- American is my favorite international carrier. In fact, this is the program I’m aiming to build the most loyalty with. I love the service, the routes, and the fact that they recently merged with US Airways. Travel to over 1000 locations and get significant upgrades on long-haul flights. Another cool aspect of this program is how it’s tied to the Admirals Club. Aadvantage members who hold status can get reduced fees, buy or renew membership with Aadvantage points. Per American… “if you’re a oneworld® Emerald or Sapphire (Chase) member or traveling in First or Business Class on any OneWorld member airline, you can access more than 600 airport lounges around the world.”
- Delta (SkyMiles)
- Another SkyTeam member, Delta offers a lucrative rewards program that offers redemption on any SkyTeam partner airlines. You’ll also get access to faster airport security passthroughs. If you work towards Medallion status, your MQMs can lead to priority check-in, waived checked baggage fees and more.
- British Airways (Executive Club)
- Another one of my early frequent flyer memberships, the British Airways Executive Club offers travelers an opportunity to accrue miles on OneWorld partner airlines. They’re also partnered with Chase Sapphire, which allows for even more maximizing of reward earning potential. Executive Club “Avios” points can be utilized on partners like American Airlines and Alaska Air.
- Hawaiian Air (Hawaiian Miles)
- The Hawaiian Miles rewards program offers travelers an opportunity to capitalize on non-advertised fares, elite status, faster mileage accrual rates and special inflight and airport service.
- Fiji (Tabau Club)
- Earn extra-weight baggage allowance, faster accrual rates on revenue tickets for business class upgrades and much more.
- LAN (LANPass Soon to be LATAM)
- In April 2016, LAN will be rolling out their re-branded rewards program LATAM Pass. Get access to exclusive promotions and mileage accrual.
- Virgin (Elevate)
- With no blackout dates, a unique flying experience and award redemption starting as low as 2,500 points, Virgin’s Elevate rewards program is worth signing up for.
- United (MileagePlus)
- United is a popular rewards program among travel hackers and consumers a like. Earn miles faster without even flying and use those miles towards award bookings, shopping and more.
- Southwest (Rapid Rewards)
- Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program offers customers an opportunity to expedite their earning potential and book low cost award fares. They’re also partners with major hotels like Hyatt, Marriot, La Quinta and SPG.
- Earn miles with partner airlines, banks, car companies and hotels. Emirates works closely with American Express, which equals flexible redemption optionality.
- Frontier (EarlyReturns)
- Earn miles with hotel partners as well as when you fly on Frontier. Redemption for award flights starts at as little as 10,000 miles.
- Iberia (IberiaPlus)
- Join Iberia Plus, a OneWorld partner and start earning Avios points towards expedited earning potential, hotel bookings and car rentals.
- Qatar Airways
- Baggage allowance, unlimted lounge access, duty free purchases, complimentary flights and upgrades are just a few of the benefits you’ll get when you begin earning Qatar qMiles.
- A Star Alliance member, earn miles when you book directly with Singapore Air or with any StarAlliance partner airline.
- Air Canada (Aeroplan)
- Air Canada makes for a great rewards program because they work with Chase Ultimate Rewards and offer relatively cheap fares to hot destinations. They’re also a Star Alliance member which makes award bookings through partner airlines easy. In addition, your rewards can be spent on duty free retail.
Top Hotel Loyalty Programs
- Club Carlson
- Hyatt (Gold Passport)
- Hilton (HHonors)
- Marriott Hotel Rewards
- Marriott recently bought out Starwood’s Preferred Guest rewards program. Join Marriott now, even if you’re already an SPG member, as these programs will utlimately be consolidating. We’re still waiting on details, so keep an eye on the blog for updates.
- La Quinta Returns
- IHG offers one of the largest hotel loyalty programs in the world. You should probably be in it.
- Starwood Preferred Guest
- Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), offers far too many benefits to list out in this particular article. But we do focus on them in several others. Join this program now, consider getting their AMEX co-branded credit card, and stay in some of the nicest hotels in the world heavily discounted. They’re also partnered with numerous airlines and points can be used towards free and discounted flights. Even though Marriott recently bought out SPG, these points are still valuable, and even after consolidation, members will not be left empty handed.
- Wyndham Rewards
- Fairmont President’s Club
- Best Western
- Ritz Carlton Rewards
- The cream of the crop luxury hotel rewards program.
Rental Car Reward Programs
- Budget Car Rental
- A bit more unconventional, Frequent Flyer members can earn points on partner airlines when you rent a car through Budget.
- Avis Preferred
- Get access to exclusive deals, have your paper work ready to go prior to arriving at your destination.
- Enterprise Plus Rent-a-Car
- This isn’t just a domestic car rental rewards program, you can earn rewards abroad, too. They also recently partnered with National.
- Hertz Gold Plus Rewards
- Save money on rentals and have your car ready when you arrive. Earn rewards faster.
- National Emerald Club
- Now partnered with Enterprise, enjoy more optionality with rentals. Plus, at now over 50 airports you can have your car waiting for you down the “Emerald Club Aisle.” Pick whichever car you like best in the row. Also enjoy free rental days!*
- Thrifty Blue Chip
- Earn points and free days faster when you enroll in Thrifty’s Blue Chip rewards program. Enrolling in the Blue Chip rewards program also allows members to gain AAdvantage (American) miles, Southwest, Alaska miles and more when you rent a car through Thrifty.
Bus and Train Reward Programs
Is there a frequent flyer, hotel or transportation rewards program you frequent but isn’t mentioned here? Let us know in the comments!