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The beginning of each year gives us the opportunity to evaluate last year’s travel patterns – especially flying and hotel stays – and if we want to continue with the loyalty programs we have been using; both frequent flyer programs and frequent guest programs are as equally important. The best time of the year to make the switch to a different air or hotel loyalty program is at the beginning as you haven’t had any significant activity post to those accounts/programs yet.

Let’s say that last year you were loyal to United Airlines but didn’t find much value in the program based on your travel patterns and you flew a few flights with American Airlines and enjoyed the benefits and perks of AAdvantage, then perhaps now is the time to make the switch. Many air and hotel loyalty programs offer status matches, which means that they will match your status based on select criteria in the program you’d like to start using; some may offer a status challenge whereby you need to stay a certain number of nights or fly a certain amount to maintain the status beyond the trial period.

There are a few factors which you should take into consideration when selecting the best loyalty program for you and your family, you can apply the same key points when making a decision to switch to a different program.

can your loyalty program help you explore the world?

can your loyalty program help you explore the world?

How Many Miles/Points You Earn

One of the most important aspects of a loyalty program is how many miles/points it awards you for your flights or hotel stays. Some programs award miles based on how much you spend on a flight and some based on how much you actually fly. Hotels generally award you points for how much you spend on a hotel night and unlike with flights, you actually have to credit a hotel stay to that hotel chain. When you fly, you always have the option of crediting your flight to a partner airline’s program – which might actually gain you more miles.

For example, if you fly with United Airlines you might find that if you credit your flight to Lufthansa, their partner, you might actually earn more miles as United awards you miles based on the ticket cost (on a United flight) – whereas Lufthansa will award you miles based on the distance flown for flights on United. You do not have to credit your miles to the airline with which you fly the most – sometimes always flying airline A and crediting to airline B makes the most sense. You should also check how else you can earn miles/points in your desired program – for example, for hotel stays, car rentals, online shopping, etc.

Loyalty Program Credit Card

Research and check if your program offers a credit card that awards you points for spending – this can be a huge determining factor on what program you should be loyal to. We all spend money and if we can be rewarded for spending, then that’s a no-brainer and you should pick up the credit card that earns you the most amount of miles/points based on what you frequently spend on. You might also want to check if you can transfer in points to your desired program from a major transferable bank points program.

Elite Status Benefits

If you fly a lot, elite status will matter. From upgrades to priority everything, perks like these are important to have when you’re frequently flying. Some frequent flyer programs offer more benefits than others – for example, one airline might offer you free upgrades but no lounge access if you have elite status, and another program might offer you both. Carefully looking at the benefits for each elite status level is important when making your decision on what program you should credit your flying to. Similarly with hotel programs, some offer stronger benefits (Marriott and Hyatt) while others don’t even guarantee you late check-out or upgrades (Hilton).

Loyalty Program Award Redemptions

The best part of a loyalty program is actually using the miles and points earned – one of the most important aspects of a loyalty program is how great of a redemption it can offer you. Each frequent flyer program determines how an award redemption works with them – some are distance-based and some are revenue-based, for award flight redemptions. You should look at your aspirational award redemptions and then analyze which program will offer you the best value when spending your miles – you should stay away from revenue-based programs and rather focus on traditional frequent flyer programs which still publish award charts, as those offer superior value.

The whole purpose of a loyalty program is to reward you for your loyalty, and some programs reward you better than others – it is crucial to look over your past redemptions and benefits earned and determine if the value you received was good or if you can get something better from a different program. Being loyal to more than one program is always an option, too.

a loyalty program should offer you superior benefits

a loyalty program should offer you superior benefits

All in All

It is never easy selecting the “right” program because no program has everything you could want – that’s why people who travel a lot are often loyal to multiple airlines and hotel chains and then pick and select which one happens to work best for that specific flight or hotel stay. If you easily earn status with your primary program and have left over status miles or credits, perhaps it might also be time to look at a second loyalty program which you could use alongside of your existing program.

The best way to determine if you should switch programs or not is to review your past years earnings, redemptions, benefits used, how easy it was to engage in the program, the customer service, etc., everyone has different travel patterns so there isn’t one single program that will work for everyone and rather you have to make that choice based on your past and future travels and the benefits that work for you the best – even if you live in an airline’s hub city, sometimes it might make sense to be loyal to a competing airline that might offer better fares. Loyalty Programs do a lot to attract customers – some are better than others and each traveler will find different value from a given program.

Travel Miles 101 has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Miles 101 and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.