Airline loyalty: 2018’s best frequent flyer programs named

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Airline loyalty is hard to come by. Most travelers are willing to jump to another jet for the slightest of discounts. Yet roughly 7% of flights are paid for with points or miles, according to PWC. So there’s obviously value in committing to a carrier. You just have to find the right one.

To help the travelers earn more free flights and other assorted perks, WalletHub compared the 10 largest domestic airlines’ loyalty rewards programs across 23 key metrics, ranging from the value of a rewards point or mile to blackout-date policies.

Here are the best frequent flyer programs:

Frequent Flyer Program

Overall WalletHub Score

Delta SkyMiles 64.14
Mileage Plan 50.87
HawaiianMiles 49.38

This comparison was based on three hypothetical annual airline budgets: Light ($453), Average ($4,088) and Frequent ($7,722).

Main Findings

Delta SkyMiles is the best frequent flyer program for the third straight year, earning an average score of 64.14% in the three usage scenarios.

Hawaiian Airlines offers the most rewards value ($19.95 per $100 spent), with Alaska Airlines coming in a close second ($19.87 per $100 spent).

Airline

Frequent Flyer (7,722)

Average Flyer (4,088)

Light Flyer (453)

American Airlines $8.23 $7.2 $5.14
Delta Air Lines $12.9 $11.29 $8.07
Southwest Airlines $11.64 $9.31 $9.31
United Airlines $10.05 $8.79 $6.28
JetBlue Airways $11.15 $4.21 $4.21
Alaska Airlines $19.87 $14.9 $9.93
Spirit Airlines $6.62 $6.62 $3.31
Frontier Airlines $8.36 $8.36 $8.36
Hawaiian Airlines $19.95 $16.03 $10.69
Sun Country Airlines $8.4 $8.4 $8.4

Four of the 10 largest airlines offered more rewards in 2018 than in 2017, sweetening the pot by an average of 20%.

Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways are the only two major airlines whose miles do not expire because of inactivity.

7 out of 10 airlines do not impose blackout dates on tickets purchased with miles.

40% of airlines will retroactively credit members with miles earned on a flight for up to 12 months after the fact.

6 out of the 10 largest U.S. airlines allow rewards-program members to earn and redeem miles with partner carriers.

Airline miles cost an average of 62% more than they’re worth when purchased rather than earned.