Looking for more out of vacation than tropical drinks and luxurious hotel robes? First off, you’re sounding a little spoiled. Secondly, I applaud that. I’m here to help you figure out how to earn points and essentially get paid to travel, so you can think of me as a travel guru guiding you toward living the dream.
With an abundance of programs out there that claim to have the best benefits around, it can be tough to wade through the discounted waters. Not to worry, I’ve done the splashing around for you and here is a list of the top frequent flyer programs, sure to score you some free flights:
United Airlines, Mileage Plus®
Offering more than 3,000 daily flights, United Airlines is quite the busy bee and this program is great for the traveler who spends more time in the air than on the ground. Beginning in 2015, Mileage Plus® members will earn miles based on their ticket prices. Previously, miles were accumulated based on the distance of your flight. The standard membership grants you five miles to the dollar (if you purchase a flight for $50, you’ll be earning 250 miles)…and all of a sudden that expensive flight home for Christmas is looking a lot more appealing. Another huge perk is that United is a member of the Star Alliance™, so you’ll earn points anytime you book flights with its partner airlines. Additionally, Mileage Plus® members have access to 45 comfortable airport lounges. You’ve always felt like a V.I.P, good thing people are beginning to recognize!
With points that never expire and no blackout dates on JetBlue®-operated flights, TrueBlue is a winner for East Coast travelers. The airline makes most of their stops in New York and other major Eastern cities like Boston, Baltimore, and Charlotte, but it maintains frequent routes to the Caribbean as well. Say “Hello” to using your miles to travel to tropical beaches, wink wink. Currently, you earn three points for each dollar you spend on flights or other purchases with TrueBlue. Hey, isn’t three your lucky number? And doesn’t blue bring out your eyes? It’s just that easy.
Delta Air Lines, SkyMiles®
As a SkyMiles® member, you can save up your sweet, sweet points and use them to get free flights on Delta, as well as with other SkyTeam® Global Alliance partners (you currently earn five miles for every dollar). Like those canned beans in your bunker, these miles will never expire, and you can also give them to a friend (not that you’d want to give Jerry the beans or the miles). Flying to 300 destinations, Delta is a top pick for people who start to itch if they’re home for too long. When you’re not spending your points on flights, you can use them to splurge on retail purchases, car rentals, or hotel stays.
Southwest Airlines®, Rapid Rewards®
As a California girl, I frequently fly Southwest. The airline mostly caters to the needs of travelers in the Southwestern United States—so yes, you could say it did a good job with its name. Flying to more than 90 destinations, you can earn miles when traveling with Southwest Airlines or its partner, AirTran Airways®. Right now you’ll get 750 points to sign up with the rewards program, and once you’re enrolled, you rack up miles to use toward free flights. The program gives travelers six points per dollar, and your points never expire. In addition to offering no blackout dates, Rapid Rewards® lets you bring two checked bags for free, which is what we call a huge game changer.
American Airlines, AAdvantage®
American Airlines’ frequent flyer program was a crowd favorite in 2014. Winning the FlyerTalk “Best Rewards Program” for the third year in a row as well as earning the title of “Program of the Year/Americas” at the 2014 Freddie Awards, it’s clear that people are head over heels in love with AAdvantage®. You’ll find that AAdvantage® offers its members the ability to use miles with over 1,000 companies, from different airline carriers to restaurants to retail stores. With opportunities to earn bonus miles galore, you’ll be sittin’ pretty on your next flight to one of more than 1,000 destinations. If you choose to sign up for an affiliated credit card with Citi Executive®/AAdvantage® or World EliteTM MasterCard®, you’ll gain access to 50 Admirals Club® lounges too. Yes, sir—you heard me right.
Before you jump online and start signing up willy nilly, keep two tips in mind: 1) Check if there is an annual fee associated with your desired program, because if you’re not using your miles appropriately, paying $100 a year might hurt you in the long run; and 2) Keep in mind that while these programs are designed for flight expenses, you typically can earn miles on a variety of spending, from rental cars and hotels to retail purchases. That being said, get out there and get rewarded for your troubles…I mean, travels.
**Please note that the programs listed above reflect the standard level of membership, and many frequent flyer programs offer elevated tiers of membership if you’re a high roller.