A traveler’s guide to the best regular customer programs

Regular customer programs have gained popularity since they were introduced three decades ago, with savvy travel hackers having figured out how to leverage them to get much-discounted (and upgraded) trips. But you don’t need to be a seasoned professional to get started with these programs. All you need to do is a quick registration process, a little research on ways to earn miles, and remember to include flights in your account.

Traveler’s guide to the best frequent flyer programs
Traveler’s guide to the best frequent flyer programs

While regular customer programs are free to join, and you can definitely sign up for all of them, you should focus on one major program to gain status. With so many options, how do you choose? Here’s an overview of the best regular customer programs and how to choose one that suits your needs.

What is a regular customer program?

The Frequent Flyer Program is the airline’s loyalty program that provides rewards to encourage customer loyalty. Rewards are issued in the form of redeemable miles and elite status, eligible for upgrades and other perks.

Until recently, members were limited to accumulating miles based on fare class and distance. However, in recent years, airlines have moved towards a revenue-based system in which the number of miles you earn depends largely on the cost of airfare and the attainment of elite status that comes with spending requirements.

The good news is that despite the difficulty of earning miles and status through flights, most airlines have partnerships that make it easy to earn miles (and in some cases elite status) through other means. Co-branded credit cards, dining rewards programs, and shopping portals all offer viable (and lucrative) ways to earn frequent flyer miles without flying.

What is the best regular customer program?

The best regular customer program depends on your central city, travel habits, and goals. As the central cities go, if you’re in Atlanta, Delta SkyMiles may be a good fit, while American AAdvantage is better suited to those living in Dallas. If your goal involves using air miles to travel abroad, then the appeal of Southwest’s Quick Rewards may be lost to you.

All of that aside, some programs for regular customers will be more rewarding than others. They make it easy to earn miles and elite status while providing reasonable conversion rates. While some programs are linked to foreign service providers, you don’t need to fly those programs to achieve status or mileage. You can travel on domestic partner airlines and credit your flight to the foreign rewards program for better value.

Here are the best regular customer programs in Oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance.

Alaska Mileage Plan

As part of the Oneworld Alliance, alaska mileage plan is one of the best regular customer programs for domestic travelers. The program has reasonable requirements for elite status and is one of the few airlines that still publishes awards rankings. This makes it easier for members to determine how many miles they need for a flight. Alaska Mileage Plan’s free stopover allowance for one-way rewards allows you to expand your mileage even further by making multiple trips in exchange for one-time rewards.

American Airlines

American Airlines’ AAdvantage program isn’t perfect, but it does have some things to do. For starters, the show still publishes awards rankings, with some low and low exchange points on the board.

American Airlines is also the only frequent flyer program that counts nearly all the rewards earned for elite status. This includes purchases made through credit card spending, shopping portals, and dining rewards. In other words, with AAdvantage, you can achieve top elite status without stepping on a plane.

All Nippon Airlines (ANA) Mileage Club

If you’re looking for cheap reward flights, ANA MileageClub is one of the best frequent flyer programs out there. ANA is part of the Star Alliance, which has the most comprehensive routing network of all alliances. You can travel almost anywhere with your ANA miles.

The best part is that ANA requires fewer miles for long-distance prizes to popular destinations. Notably, you only need 88,000 miles to receive a business class round-trip bonus to Europe. Compared to United MileagePlus, which typically charges 70,000 miles or more each way for the same prize. When Japan reopens to tourists, your ANA mileage will take you there during the low season with just 40,000 round-trip miles for economy class and 75,000 miles for business class. Again, this is about half of what some other Star Alliance members ask for for the same award.

ANA MileageClub is a 1:1 transfer partner of the Amex Membership Rewards program. That means you can convert the points earned from the Platinum® Card from the American Express Card and the American Express® Yellow Card into some incredible prize redemptions.

Miles and Turkish smiles

Turkish Airlines’ Reward Miles & Smile program has two notable attributes. It has some incredible points awards that are significantly cheaper than most other loyalty programs. For example, you can fly to Hawaii on United Airlines for just 15,000 round-trip miles in economy class. How many miles United Airlines charges for one-way tickets, making Miles & Smiles a much better option.

Miles & Smiles also offers one of the easiest ways to achieve Star Alliance elite status. It only takes 25,000 miles to reach Classic Plus status, the equivalent of Star Alliance Silver. There are no revenue requirements, which gives you the status of making money from cheaper flights.

On top of that, Turkish often organizes promotions that match the status, so elite members from other programs can take advantage of the existing status for promotion.

Air France / KLM Flying Blue

Air France and KLM’s joint Flying Blue program is one of the best options in the SkyTeam alliance. The program cooperates with all four transferable reward programs:

Membership rewards
Capital One Venture
Chasing the ultimate reward
Citi Thank You Rewards
Not only is it easy to earn blue miles, but they also go a long way thanks to generous award points.

For example, economy class tickets to Europe start at just 21,500 miles each way. Business class flights to North Africa and Israel are also a bargain, at just 53,000 miles each way. Most programs charge at least 70,000 miles for the same prize, which makes the mileage used great.

If you like to travel to the states, flights to Hawaii cost only 17,500 miles each way in economy class. Flying Blue’s monthly promotional rewards offer value in excess of the standard prize chart, with discounts of up to 50 percent.

Southwest Quick Rewards

The Southwest Rapid Rewards program is great for domestic travelers who want a simple loyalty program that offers practical rewards. Members earn points based on the type of fare and cost. In addition to gaining higher status, members may be eligible for the Southwest Companion Card after earning 125,000 miles.

The best part? Points earned from the Southwest credit card registration bonus qualify for the Companion Card. By selecting the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, you can earn enough points for the companion card.

The redemption of the prize is also very simple, with each point worth about 1.4 cents.

Southwest famously offers two free checked baggage per passenger, making it a priority airline for value travelers who want a no-frills travel experience with practical perks and easy return.

How to choose the best regular customer program for you

Choosing the right program depends on which airline’s service is in your area and your travel goals and status. You should also take into account how easy it is to earn miles.

For example, the Asiana Club’s loyalty program is one of the best to quickly achieve elite status. But their mileage isn’t easy to earn for most people, so we removed it from this list. If your goal is to fly international first class, then Southwest Rapid Rewards is probably not the best program for you.

While you should ask for your mileage when flying Southwest, you can skip a co-branded credit card.

In the end, frequent flyer miles will be a bonus. Think about what that means to you and which programs can best serve those needs.

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