Is there anything more frustrating than having a whole slew of reward miles from an airline and not being able to book a seat on a flight? A recent survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal looked at the availability of seats that could be purchased through reward programs on 25 international airlines. What it found was that some airline reward programs far exceed others in terms of seat availability, particularly airlines that have switched to a points system based on the number of dollars you spend, rather than miles flown. If you are looking for the best reward programs where you can actually spend your points/miles, look no further than the following ten airlines.
10. British Airways (Executive Club)
Although this airline rewards program doesn’t use points, it also doesn’t use miles. Avios is the name that they have given to the ‘currency’ that is collected and spent via their rewards program. Flyers earn a certain number of Avios depending on the following: which airline you fly, how far you fly, the cabin you fly in, the type of ticket you hold and your Executive Club tier. Basically what that means is the easiest way to find out how many Avios you will earn is to use their online calculator. You will also earn points on certain car rentals and hotels by flashing your card. Spending the Avios isn’t hard. The study mentioned above found seat availability to be at 80% and flexible options allow flyers to pay partly in cash and partly in Avios if they do not have enough Avios collected.
9. Alaska (Mileage Plan)
The good news is you will earn miles on every Alaska Airlines flight you take, as well as eligible flights with one of their partner airlines. The bad news is that this company is still using miles instead of points, which has proven to be the better option for consumers. However, seat availability for reward users has increased 21.4% since last year and the study found it to be at 80%, which means this airline was paying attention to the demands of flyers. Miles can also be earned through 13 different hotel partners and numerous retail stores. The more you fly the more you earn with this reward program and the upgrades just keep on adding up, including free luggage check, first class, complimentary drinks and more. For the infrequent flyer, once you have saved enough for a seat, at least there will be plenty to choose from.
8. AirAsia (BIG)
AirAsia comes in at number eight with their BIG reward system that is based on points not miles. The reward program entitled BIG came out a few years ago and has been a popular program with those who fly the airline frequently. Points are earned based on the amount of money you spend on a flight, including add-ons. Once you have reached 500 points you can start to spend them. Just recently they announced a fixed points system that will allow guests to know how far they are able to travel with the amount of BIG Points they have earned. The BIG Fixed Points range from 4,500 BIG Points for flights that are less than an hour, up to 30,000 BIG Points for flights that are more than six hours. With an 85% rate of seat availability for reward users; the opportunities to fly are endless.
7. Lufthansa (Miles & More)
This program may have started with just Lufthansa but is now the primary reward program for 13 European airlines. The program can be quite confusing for newcomers as earning miles depends on which country you are flying into/within, which airline you are flying on and sometimes the distance matters as well. This reward program works in miles and this year it saw a jump by 5% in the increase of seats available to purchase through miles. The study by the Wall Street Journal found them to have an 87% availability rate. Miles on this program can also be earned and spent by booking certain hotels or car rentals. Like many other mile reward programs, the more you fly the better you benefit from this program. Benefits include free luggage check, priority check-in, complimentary upgrades and no expiration date on your miles.
6. JetBlue (TrueBlue)
JetBlue and their TrueBlue rewards system lets flyers book flights without blackout dates and points that never expire. JetBlue recognized that many of their passengers weren’t flying frequently enough to redeem points without them expiring first. So, JetBlue changed their program and introduced family pooling, no expiration and opened more seats up to reward users. This friendly points system lets passengers earn points for every dollar spent on flights, vacation packages and hotel partnerships. The nice thing about this reward program is the amount of points a certain trip requires is directly tied to the current fares, and when flight fares are lower, so are Award Flight point fares. With a seat availability rate of 87%, it is easy to use these points when booking with JetBlue.
5. Singapore (KrisFlyer)
Although this program works in miles and it has been said that points programs are the way of the future; Singapore’s award program is one of the best and most fascinating. This is perhaps the most connected program out there and offers ways to earn miles on countless partner airlines. The award chart can be overwhelming though and it’s best to use the mileage calculator online. Redeeming your miles is easy on Singapore Airline, SilkAir and 32 partners worldwide. With a 90% seat availability for reward users, it is even possible to book the highly sought after suites and these actually give you the best bang for your buck. Long haul flights are the best deal in terms of value when using your reward miles through this program and passengers can also use the handy cash plus miles option for some flights.
4. Air Canada (Aeroplan)
The only Canadian airline rewards program to make this list is Air Canada with their Aeroplan program. Aeroplan works in miles but that hasn’t set them back in giving passengers ample opportunity to earn and spend these miles. They boast that ‘an Aeroplan Member takes off every 20 seconds on a reward seat’ and with the study discovering that they have a 90% seat availability for reward users, we don’t doubt that statistic is true. Miles are awarded based on distance flown and the fare option you purchase and users can earn additional miles with hotels, car rentals and select flights operated by Star Alliance members. With flights offered pretty much anywhere in the world, it is easy to fly Air Canada using your reward miles.
3. Virgin Australia (Velocity)
Virgin Australia’s reward system is right up with the best of them in terms of seat availability, ease of use and point earning ability. This rewards system works on points versus miles which seems to benefit passengers more. Velocity is divided into four tiers and as always, the more you fly the better the benefits. Points are collected in the air via Virgin Australia flights and selected partner airlines or on the ground with car services, participating retailers and travel insurance. Points can be spent on flights, upgrades, hotels, vacations and even at their rewards store which offers gift certificates, electronics and more. The overall seat availability for reward users was found to be 96%, thus making it easy to fly when you want and where you want on with this airline. As an added bonus this reward program lets families combine their points or transfer them to one another and even rewards pets for flying.
2. Air Berlin (Topbonus)
Air Berlin comes in tied with Southwest for having 100% seat availability and thus making them one of the best reward programs for spending your miles. Earning miles with Topbonus is as easy as flying with them or partner airlines, using one of their co-branded credit and debit cards or booking one of the many hotel or car rental partners. Redeeming the miles is also quite easy, along with the high seat availability users can also redeem their miles to cover the taxes and fees, an option that hardly ever exists in reward programs. They also have a generous 50% discount companion program in which users can book a ticket for their traveling partner for just 50% of the miles needed. Miles do expire after three years and if you don’t fly far and often it is harder to earn such miles, but after all is said and done, you will have no problem using your miles to fly on Air Berlin.
1. Southwest (Rapid Rewards)
It is certainly easy to spend your reward points here as the study showed that seat availability was at 100%. This may be because this airline promises no blackout dates, unlimited reward seats and no expiry dates on rewards. Redeeming points is easy as passengers use them like cash. Which means is there happens to be a seat sale; fewer points will be required to book that flight. Earning points is easy too, both in the air and on the ground with hundreds of partners all over the world. A user friendly website allows customers to discover the easiest ways to earn points and book online without having to pick up the phone. Southwest also happens to remain one of the only airlines who don’t charge fees, such as bag fees, cancellation fees and phone booking fees.
If you enjoyed this, check out our best airlines ranking