Loyalty programs offer great value to frequent travelers … in theory. Yet, determining which airline and hotel rewards program offer the best value and experience can feel overwhelming. That’s why we’ve done the hard work for you, analyzing hundreds of data points to identify the best rewards programs in 2021 for different kinds of travelers.
We analyzed each hotel and airline program across several factors:
We combined these factors into a single score and ranked them from best to worst for the overall rankings. We weighted these scores differently for the “family” and “frequent traveler” rankings; for example, we gave more weight to elite status programs for frequent travelers, but gave more weight to fees for families.
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The list is here.
See 2021’s best travel reward programs and more. All backed by tons of nerdy research.
Best airline rewards program (overall): Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Alaska’s Mileage Plan outperformed other airlines in nearly every area we considered, from the value of elite status and rewards to COVID-19 response and add-on fees.
As the overall score demonstrates, the only close calls were between the so-called “legacy” carriers — American, Delta and United — which clumped near the bottom. Alaska’s Mileage Plan quite simply dominated the competition.
Best airline rewards program for families: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Why Alaska won: Since Alaska received top marks in every factor, it was going to win each category no matter how we weighted them. Alaska’s customer-friendly COVID policies and relatively low fees make it an ideal choice for families.
Best airline rewards program for frequent travelers: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Why Alaska won: Alaska’s frequent flyer miles are worth an average amount — 1 cent apiece — but the rate at which they are earned is higher than most competitors. In other words, frequent travelers earn more valuable rewards through Alaska’s program.
Best hotel rewards program (overall): IHG Rewards Club
IHG was the only brand in our analysis to offer both low fees and good rewards on hotel stays. Plus, its dynamic reward pricing kept these bookings in line with cash prices during the low demand of 2020.
Best hotel rewards program for families: IHG Rewards Club
IHG’s low fees and good response to the COVID-19 pandemic make it a strong choice for traveling families.
Best hotel rewards program for frequent travelers: World of Hyatt
A best-in-class elite status program and high-value rewards program set Hyatt apart for frequent travelers.
Please see our methodologies on the below pages: