Highlight of Airline Program Overview: What’s the BEST Airline Reward Program?

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a couple of questions asking about certain program rules and restrictions.  I’ve done a series that highlights all the airline benefits, but I want to put everything into one easy-to-access post so you can bookmark it for future reference.

Here are the quick links to the programs:

British Airways Avios

Delta SkyMiles 

American Airlines AAdvantage 

United MileagePlus

Southwest Rapid Rewards 2.0

US Airways Dividend Miles

My best piece of advice is to determine your preferred airline, but not to ignore other airline programs.  You need to have enough focus to be sure that you don’t end up with a bunch of accounts with orphaned miles, but you also need to see your miles and points like a tool box. The greater variety of points you have, the greater flexibility you’ll have when it comes time to book plane tickets.

Here are some of my recent experiences with each of the programs (in an effort to highlight their unique benefits).

British Airways Avios:

I’ve been booking a lot of short haul flights where I can take advantage of their lowest award redemption levels of 4,500 points each way.  In 2013, this has included Denver to Dallas, Chicago to Toronto, and Buffalo to Chicago.  My wife and I are also getting tickets for my parents to fly from Boston – Dublin, Ireland for 25,000 Avios round trip.

Delta SkyMiles

This is the program with points I least desire.  However, I had a last minute flight last summer to a small Michigan airport where Delta was the only airline option.  I was sure glad to have a small stash of SkyMiles.

American Airlines AAdvantage

I gotta say that is is probably my favorite airline rewards program.  If you’re willing to travel internationally in economy, their off-peak rates are hard to beat. This year, I was able to book 50,000 AAdvantage roundtrip flights to Japan.  The best part is you can always add on a one-way flight.  I think 40,000 miles RT between North America and Europe is hard to beat.  Best of all, you can add a free one-way to Hawaii.

United MileagePlus

I haven’t used many United miles lately because I’ve been saving them up for a big trip.  I’m think about Australia with a stop in Europe.  MileagePlus miles are the best for stops overseas.

Southwest Rapid Rewards

When you can find a good price on flights, there is no better option than flying Southwest.  I love their product, free bags, and cheap flights.  We just got back from our 3,000 point round trip flights from Denver to Phoenix.

US Airways Dividend Miles

The best way to use these miles is in business class to Australia with a stop in either Europe or Asia for 110,000 miles.  You can also fly to Asia with a stop in Europe for 90,000 miles in business class.  That’s amazing since flights to Europe alone are 100,000 miles.  My biggest beef with US Airways is that you can’t change your flights once the trip has begun.  This really hurt earlier this year when I had a cancelled flight on another airline.  This caused me to miss my connection to my US Airways flight and the rest of my trip home was lost.  Still, the award chart does have some sweet spots and will soon be merged with your American AAdvantage miles.

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