TravelNews: Alaska Airlines MileagePlan rated best airline award program!

US News & World Travel Report rated the US airline rewards programs and picked Alaska Airline’s Mileage Plan as the top rewards program. Runner up is Jet Blue’s Tru Blue program, followed by Southwest Airline’s Rapid Rewards program. Different people look for different things in an airline award program, so take a look at my review of these awards and see how it helps you to pick the right program for your travel needs!

Similar to the Hotel Rewards Program ranking I reviewed two weeks ago, the big players are further down the list, so here are all ten players:

USWorld AirlineAwardRankings 2016

You’ll find the big three US airlines in the middle of the field and the low cost carriers Frontier and Spirit at the bottom of the rankings.
Some of the rankings came as a surprise to me, so let’s look at the criteria US News & World Travel Report used and how they were weighted:

45%:   Ease of Earning Free Round-trip Flight
25%:   Additional Benefits
10%:   Network Coverage
10%:   Award Flight Availability
5%:   Number of Daily Flights
5%:   Airline Quality Rating

I commend US News for using an evaluation method that’s based on clearly defined criteria. That gives us a chance to review in detail and compare their criteria and weightings with our own. Even if we don’t agree with the ranking, it does provide a valuable data point in picking your reward program, rather than relying on the anecdotal evidence and personal opinions you can read all over the web.

Here is my personal opinion on the criteria and weighting as an example: I generally agree with the criteria selected, although my personal criteria for evaluating the programs are very different:
The ease of earning a free round-trip is based solely on the assumption that you earn miles with points. In today’s world, a big portion of miles is earned via credit cards, partners and promotions, so to me the variety of ways to earn miles is important and is completely left out. If you are only earning miles with flights, check out my “Spend Less” section for ideas on how you can earn more miles quicker to earn your awards!
The study looks at the redemption cost for economy flights, when the best value in redemptions is really in business and first class and I almost exclusively use my miles for premium cabins!
The ranking also gives little weight to the availability of flights – which to me is an important factor: If I can’t use my miles for travel they are worth nothing. I sat on Delta miles for more than a decade, because I could never find saver award flights, drastically reducing their value.
Lastly, the Airline Quality Rating used is based on the analysis done by Wichita State University. It is a sign of the sad state of affairs of US airline service, because it only looks at how consistently the airlines deliver the minimum service of getting you and your luggage to your destination on time, without extreme issues. I frankly expect a lot more from an airline, for example comfortable seating, friendly service on the ground and in the air or good food and entertainment. Getting people from A to B just means that you are doing your job, but it is not a “job well done”! I find the SkyTrax airline ratings a lot more helpful in picking an airline!

So, if you are a US based flyer with mostly domestic flight needs and an occasional international flight, fly mostly in economy and don’t use rewards credit cards, this ranking should be very relevant for you and you should take a closer look at what airlines to give your travel spend and where to credit your miles!
If that doesn’t describe your travel needs and award redemptions, you get an extra data point in evaluating airlines and their award programs!

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