All the major airlines offer programs for their customers to earn reward travel. The programs are an effective way to foster repeat customers. However, not all reward programs are created equal. An overview of the factors that determine how well a program works will let you determine which is best for you.

  1. Location - This is the single biggest factor determining if a reward program offered by an airline is right for you. By location, what is meant is whether the carrier even offers flights in your home airport. There may not be any need of trying to accumulate Delta Skymiles if Delta doesn’t service your home airport. Perhaps the carriers in your home airport don’t offer you the best programs but 60% of what you want is better than 100% of something you can’t use.
  2. Flexibility in booking - Reward travel that requires you to book reward one-way travel is the most flexible. Southwest Rapid Rewards allows you to book travel for one-way travel. Delta Skymiles will likely charge you more miles for a one-way ticket than for a round-trip ticket because their reward travel is based on round-trip rewards.
  3. Flexibility in Changes or Cancellation - No matter who often or little you travel you will eventually encounter the need of changing your travel dates or cancelling them altogether. Many of the major carriers will assess you a charge for the price difference between travel dates which is fair. Some carriers may charge a fee of $50 for cancellation. It should be noted that thus far it appears that Delta Airlines has the highest charges in this category. Check with each airline for their specific change/cancellation fees.
  4. Black Out Dates. Some carriers can make it difficult to redeem miles during holiday travel by outright disallowing reward redemption or limiting it. Check each airline’s website for information on how they handle blackout dates.
  5. Accumulation of Miles - How fast you can earn miles isn’t limited to how often you fly. Airlines offer credit cards or partner programs where miles can earned. Check the offers available on their airline’s website.
  6. Redemption – The number of miles it takes to earn reward travel vs. how long it will take you to earn the miles will give you a measure of the benefits of the program.
  7. Personal Preference – The airline you enjoy traveling most matters just as much as the quality of their reward travel. There’s little benefit of traveling on an airline you dislike just because you can earn more reward travel.

Some programs have definite advantages or disadvantages but that alone should not be the determining factor in which program suits you best.