In the current financial climate, aren’t we all looking for ways to spend less without impacting our lifestyle? One of my favorite ways to do so is to use airline reward programs to cover the cost of my travel. It is a great way to go on vacation or even travel for business without having to break the bank! In this article I look at some of the best air travel reward programs I have encountered.
Travel Reward Credit Cards
If you are looking to pick up travel rewards but are not particularly loyal to one particular airline, then you might find the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card a good fit. This reward card allows you to collect air miles which can be redeemed for travel on a wide range of participating airlines. Chase often offer additional bonus miles not only for joining, but also for spending over a certain amount. Do bear in mind that credit card rewards are only worthwhile if you are not spending any more than you normally would if you were paying cash.
If you prefer to be loyal to one particular airline then you may find that it is worth checking out the credit cards offered by them. American Airlines, Delta and United all offer co-branded credit cards, which not only allow you to earn air miles rewards, but often offer additional perks such as free check-in of your first bag or free access to VIP lounges at the airport.
Frequent Flier Reward Programs
It is not necessary to use a credit card to get air travel rewards. Many airlines offer frequent flier reward programs that you can participate in.
Reward Seat Availability
One of the most common complaints from consumers in regard to airline reward programs is a lack of availability when it comes to booking travel with the reward points. This means that it is important to choose a program where you will actually be able to use your rewards. In a recent study by ezRez Software and IdeaWorks it emerged that when test bookings were made with 22 different reward programs the availability of reward seats ranged from 99.3% to as low as just 10.7%. This makes some programs more attractive than others. The 9 major North American airlines ranked as follows :
- Southwest (99.3%)
- Air Canada (93.6%)
- Alaska (75.0%)
- Continental (71.4%)
- United (68.6%)
- AirTran (67.9%)
- American (57.9%)
- Delta (12.9%)
- US Airways (10.7%)
Choosing The Right Program
There is also a large amount of disparity between the various reward programs in regard to how easy it is to actually accrue the reward points or air miles. This means it is important to look at all features when it comes to making the choice about which air travel reward program is beat for you. To illustrate this point I am going to compare the Delta and Continental frequent flier programs.
It is widely accepted that Delta offer one of the best programs in terms of your ability to actually earn miles. The reward rates offered and additional bonus rewards are generally considered to be fairly generous. However, if we look at the reward set availability they only managed to rank 8th with 12.9%. This in addition to poor flexibility and a lack of upgrade opportunities negates the ease of accrual and pushes them down the rankings in terms of the best all round reward program. However, if we look at Continental who are middle of the road for ease of accrual and reward availability, their additional perks combine with otherwise average scores to make them one of the top programs.
If you are looking for ways to travel for less then airline reward programs, whether via a credit card or as a frequent flier program, are a good way to earn free flights and other perks. However, it is important to shop around and compare programs in order to choose the one that is best value for you.
Tim Baker is a writer who loves travelling around the world spending as little as possible by taking advantage of his Tesco Clubcard and other reward programs.
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Category: Money Basics