The Best Frequent Flyer Programs on the Planet 2015
Frequent flyers know that one of the best ways to lower their travel costs and score pampering perks is to take advantage of airline loyalty programs. But, of course, not all mileage plans are created equal.
Every year in our annual World’s Best Awards survey, we ask readers to rank airlines based on everything from their in-flight service to the quality of the food.
This time, we took a close look at which airlines earned raves for their frequent-flyer programs. And while a few members of the top 10 list aren’t surprising (repeat winners such as Emirates and Singapore airlines pleased travelers with their ease of use and elite perks) others were: namely, Scandinavian Airlines.
While the airline didn’t receive top scores in other categories, its loyalty program truly impressed World’s Best voters. One reader called it the “best in the industry,” which is no small accomplishment for a smallish carrier specializing in Northern Europe. Standout features include partnerships and campaigns with global companies including Hilton Worldwide, car-rental brands Avis and Hertz, and Best Western Hotels & Resorts.
While the best rewards program for any individual traveler depends on many factors, all of these airlines strive to provide a simple, straightforward redemption system and a diverse portfolio of partners. In a world where most airlines are siphoning away elite bonuses and honoring flyers for how much they spend rather than how much they fly, savvy travelers are more conscious than ever about where they bank their points and miles.
Whether you’re looking to upgrade your status, or reap rewards from even the most modest stash of miles, consider joining these reader-approved clubs.
No. 10 Swiss
As a member of the Star Alliance, Swiss entices travelers with the opportunity to use miles with an extensive group of partner airlines. After reaching only the second tier (Frequent Traveller) of Swiss’ Miles & More program is free to join, and after reaching only the second tier (Frequent Traveller) members get expiration-proof miles, business class check-in, and up to three free checked bags in First Class.
No. 9 Southwest Airlines
“Their Rapid Rewards program is wonderful,” said one devoted World’s Best voter. Another agreed, citing the program’s simplicity as its greatest feature: “No confusion about points, or how and when to use them.” One reader went so far as to call Southwest’s the “best loyalty rewards program in the travel industry,” thanks largely to the airline’s Companion Passes. Unlike most companion passes, which are redeemable for a free ticket (often made costly by additional fees), Southwest’s Companion Pass allows you to bring a designated companion with you on any Southwest flight for an entire year—and the year after. Needless to say this has made it extremely well-liked amongst domestic travelers.
No. 8 Alaska Airlines
According to our readers, Alaska Airlines has an “excellent frequent flyer program,” thanks to the ease with which travelers can find award seats. Companion fares and miles that never expire are two more reasons flyers are loyal to Alaska Airlines. This month, the airline added yet another benefit: members can redeem miles for TSA Precheck, exchanging 10,000 miles to cover the $85 application fee.
No. 7 Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
Scandinavia’s flag carrier, also known as SAS, allows members of their EuroBonus frequent flyer program to earn basic points (accumulated while traveling on Scandinavian or with a Star Alliance partner) and extra points (earned on charter flights or with non-airline partners).At entry level, members receive free wi-fi and special offers. Move up the ladder, and you’ll enjoy everything from business class check-ins and SAS lounge access (for a guest or up to four family members) to award flights at a discounted price and free extra checked bags. But jet setters and over-achievers should strive for Pandion, a semi-secret fifth level of elite membership awarded to an intimate group of hand-selected customers. According to LoungeBuddy, there are only about 1,500 people who know what Pandion perks look like.
No. 6 Qantas
Club lounges are the highlight of Qantas’ frequent flyer program, which also has a network of 35 affiliates, including the oneworld alliance (an alliance whose roster includes American Airlines and British Airways) and Emirates. If you earn enough points to find yourself relaxing pre-flight in an Emirates lounge, you can enjoy such over-the-top pampering as a free spa treatment, on-site shoe shine, and champagne breakfast.
No. 5 Air New Zealand
Airpoints—Air New Zealand’s frequent-flyer program—can be amassed by traveling with the Kiwi carrier or any Star Alliance airline. Members can easily step up a cabin class on international flights, and Elite, Gold, and Silver members receive up to 50 percent match from Air New Zealand when they bid on higher-class cabins? . Points can also be used to purchase companion passes on select flights.
No. 4 Cathay Pacific Airways
Considered one of the most-loved travel reward programs in Asia, the Marco Polo Club is affiliated with oneworld, as well as prominent mainland Chinese carrier Dragonair. Next month, Cathay will introduce major changes to its much-loved program, which will include more benefits for mid-tier levels (think: lounge passes, priority check-in). You can reach the initial Green stage by paying a $100 annual fee or earning just 100 club points, and immediately get access to priority check-in and boarding, ability to redeem miles for extra-legroom seat redemptions, and an exclusive service line. Diamond tier members get an annual companion pass and two lounge passes for fellow travellers.
No. 3 Emirates
One World’s Best Awards voter said, “it’s extremely easy to deal with [their loyalty program].” In addition to offering all the standard benefits, Emirates also has a Skywards Skysurfers program for travelers under the age of 16. Young flyers can use their miles to buy a book for their next long-haul flight, to spend a day at Dubai’s Wild Wadi Water Park, or even upgrade to a Business Class seat. See you at Arrivals, Mom and Dad!
No. 2 Virgin Atlantic Airways
Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club is popular with frequent travelers, thanks to the airline’s wide range of partners (including Delta and All Nippon Airways) and member perks like the ability to select seats for free. When you’ve reached Gold status, you receive a companion ticket, access to the chic Clubhouses, and priority treatment regardless of your class of travel. Not too shabby, Richard Branson.
No. 1 Singapore Airlines
As a member of the Star Alliance, travelers found Singapore Airlines’ loyalty program—known as KrisFlyer—extremely convenient. A recent partnership with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia only made accumulating miles and acquiring elite status easier than ever. Once you’re a silver member, you get priority airport standby, while gold members enjoy priority check-in, increased luggage allowances, priority boarding, and bag handling. And if all that seems kind of standard, think again, because what frequent flyers with Singapore are really interested in is getting access to the airline’s famous airport lounges. Here, you’ll find everything from sushi stations to luxurious showers, Givenchy pillows, restaurants serving foie gras burgers and dedicated attendants. Talk about frequent flyer rewards worth striving for!