Traveling over the holidays can be your worst nightmare, or your greatest endeavor. If you plan ahead and use your smarts, you can ease through security, avoid the middle seat on the plane, and enjoy the comfort of club lounges. One of the best ways to minimize travel hassles, especially at the holidays, is with your airline and hotel loyalty points. With all the restrictions, fraction of percentages on dollars spent and rankings based on locations and miles, how do you know what loyalty program will give you the best rewards back on your money?
NextAdvisor.com, an independent research company, completed a study analyzing airline and hotel reward programs, offering travelers a glimpse of the most valuable programs, and which ones will offer the best payout during holiday travels. The analysis was based off of each card’s amount of points or miles earned per dollar spent as well as special sign-up bonuses, perks, interest rate ranges and annual fees.
Here's what they found:
#1 Starwood Preferred Guest®: Starpoints offers $.021 per point for hotel stay redemption, the highest point value NextAdvisor found in their study. If you're a Starwood Preferred Guest® Card from American Express® user, you can rack up an additional 4-5 points per $1 spent at Starwood hotels and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
#2 Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards: NextAdvisor found the Southwest Rapid Rewards® program a close second to Starwood, thanks to a 2 cent-per-point value for flights. Additionally, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Plus Card from Chase gives users 2 points per $1 spent on all Southwest flights, and 1 point per $1 spent on other purchases.
#3 United MileagePlus®: This program offers 1.1 cents per point payout on free flights. United MileagePlus® Explorer Card members earn 2 points for every $1 spent when they purchase tickets from United or Continental, and 1 point for every $1 they spend on everything else.
#4 American Airlines AAdvantage: The jury is still out on whether or not the recent news of American Airlines parent company, AMR, bankruptcy will affect frequent flier miles or dollars spent. However, before the bankruptcy news NextAdvisor found the Citi® Gold/AAdvantage® World Mastercard® with American Airlines a good deal for frequent fliers. Users earn 1 point per $1 spent on all purchases, but the program caps out at 60,000 points per year per user.
#5 Delta Skymiles: Members of Delta Skymiles earn a simple 1 cent-per-point value redemption for free flights. However, you can only use your points on flights, as Delta currently doesn't have any hotel partners available with their loyalty program.
#6 Continental Airlines OnePass®: OnePass members earn slightly less than a cent for free flights. Continental Airlines OnePass Plus Card users earn 2 points for every $1 spent when they purchase tickets from Continental or United and 1 point for every $1 they spend elsewhere. Frequent Continental fliers also get two annual complimentary passes to the United Club, priority boarding privileges and are able to check their first bag free on Continental and United flights.
#7 Marriott Rewards®: The Marriott program offers its members points based on every night stayed at a Marriott hotel. NextAdvisor calculates a point value of $0.008 for free hotel stays, but if you're a Marriott Rewards® Credit Card from Chase user, you'll earn 3 points for every $1 spent at Marriot locations and 1 point-per-dollar for all other purchases.
#8 Hilton HHonors: NextAdvisor ranked the Hilton HHonors program on the low side of point value at $0.05 per point for hotel stays, but Citi® Hilton HHonorsSM Visa Signature® users can get a good deal. You'll earn 6 points for each $1 spent at a participating hotel within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio, 3 points for each $1 spent on purchases at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations and 2 points for each $1 spent on all other purchases. Card holders also acquire Hilton HHonors Silver status for as long as they remain a cardmember. Bottom line: if you like the Hilton brand, go with the Hilton credit card. If you're already a Hilton HHonors member, you can use points to book rooms and suites with no blackout dates; combine points with money to book a standard room; or use points to upgrade your room.
You can review NextAdvisor's entire analysis here.
Readers: What is your preferred airline or hotel loyalty program?
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