The 3 Most Valuable Airline, Hotel, and Points Programs for the Average Joe

When it comes to collecting and redeeming points and mileage, we all fall somewhere along the line of newbie to fanatic.  Depending on your personal classification, that will impact which program you think is the best.

However, for today I’m going to have a conversation with the average Joe.

I think most of my readers are the average Joe.  You travel a couple of times a year.  You want to be able to use points and miles when you travel.  You’ll make some time in your schedule to earn and track miles, but you’re not going to stay up late reading blog posts about travel hacking.

If that describes you, then here are my recommendations:

Most Valuable Airline, Hotel, and Points Programs

1.  Ultimate Rewards

After last week’s post talking about the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you shouldn’t be surprised that I’m putting the Ultimate Rewards program at the top of the list.  What I like about UR is the flexibility and access to at least one airline in every major alliance (United – Star Alliance, British Airways – One World, Korean Air – SkyTeam).  Not only that, but you can also use the points for hotel stays by transferring to partners like Hyatt (recommended if needed), Hilton, and Priority Club (rarely recommended).

You simply cannot beat the flexibility and broad reach of UR points.

2.  Starwood Starpoints

Like the Ultimate Rewards, this program has the distinct advantage of flexibility.

The points can be very valuable if you use them at Starwood hotel locations.  My favorite way to use them is with the cash and points.  Additionally, you can transfer 20,000 points to designated airlines with a 5,000 bonus. (20,000 Starpoints becomes 25,000 miles with most airline programs).

Personally, I tend to value airline miles more than hotel points because we often visit friends when we travel.  Also, since we have three kids, sometimes a non-traditional hotel, bungalow, condominium, or apartment is better for our family.

I do wish the Starwood program had more earning opportunities, but for now, the best offer is with the Starwood American Express.

3.  American Airlines AAdvantage miles

Since my first preference is Ultimate Rewards, it makes sense that AAdvantage miles would be on this list.  While British Airways Avios gives you access to all One World airlines, it also is a distance-based airline and has hefty fuel surcharges and certain routes.

Since one of my preferred ways to use UR points is on United, then it makes sense to focus next on American Airlines miles.

A few of the things I personally like most about the AA program is that there is a lot of economy class availability when you’re traveling with a family, and there are no fuel surcharges.  Also, the off-peak awards do allow for some discounted award flights.

I also think it’s a great earning program because, in addition to the ability to do the two browser trick, there are other earning opportunities like Bank Direct.

Suspiciously Missing: Membership Rewards

It seems like Membership Rewards should be on this list.  The problem is that many of their best redemption is for upper class flights with internationally based airlines.  I don’t think the average Joe could get full use out of those miles.  Perhaps soon I should do a post that explores some of the best Membership Rewards options. Maybe I could convince myself to move their program into the top three.

One of the biggest advantages of the Membership Rewards program is the multiple earning opportunities and frequent transfer bonuses.

Would you have another program that you’d suggest should be in the top three?

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