There’s nothing revolutionary about a good loyalty program. You shop, then earn points and rewards for your purchases. Frequent flyer loyalty points, for instance, have been around for a while and allow members to use them for travel, upgrades, and other perks. A hallmark of some of the best programs is access to an airline’s executive lounge (which is like the clubhouse you always dreamed of when you were a kid). They often include free Wi-Fi, reclining seats, hot meals, and complimentary beverages.
What may be revolutionary, however, is the offerings included in these top airline reward programs for frequent travelers.
- Southwest Airlines. The most frustrating part of any frequent flyer program is the difficulty of redemption. So, it will benefit all fliers to know that of all American-based air operators, Southwest Airlines ranked No. 1 among patrons in seat availability for point users. That’s right—this airline actually allows frequent flyers to use their miles for travel.
- British Airways. With two locations in New York’s JFK and London’s Heathrow airports, the Concorde Room is considered the most elite of all executive lounges. After earning 5,000 tier points through British Airways or one of their affiliates, travelers are issued a Concorde Room card. With private full-service dining, complimentary champagne and fine wines, boardroom facilities, and private cabanas for a quick snooze, British Airways sets the standard in luxury lounges.
- United Airlines and the Star Alliance. Serving 194 countries in more than 1,300 airports, the Star Alliance surpasses other loyalty programs with 27 airlines serving every continent. (They even have more than 1,000 executive lounges.) One of the domestic standouts of the Star Alliance roster is United Airlines, whose Mileage Plus Program has earned much prestige and is repeatedly voted “Best Frequent Flyer Program” by Global Traveler Magazine. On globetrotting adventures, fliers earn points while exploring the world, and with United’s loyalty program, members can earn points at home, too. The Mileage Plus affiliates range from residential electric companies (yes, you earn points by paying your bills) to Lancôme Cosmetics. Almost anything fliers regularly pay for can earn points through select vendors.
While value airlines might have the easiest redemption policies, access to executive lounges and affiliations are limited. If you don’t travel enough to qualify for extra perks through points, don’t worry. Choose the right loyalty program and you can purchase your lounge membership on a daily basis or join a program such as Priority Pass. Priority Pass has a number of different programs starting as low as $100. While it may not grant you access to the Concorde Room, it will get you rubbing elbows with the elite (who will be none the wiser).
Strategic Tip: Airlines often have affiliations with multiple companies. Whether you are saving for a special trip or just collecting as you go, you want your points to send you as far as possible. Take time to research and make sure your loyalty program rewards you for as many of your travels and everyday activities as possible.