2021’s Best Frequent Flyer Programs – WalletHub Study
With U.S. air travel expected to rebound in 2021, as coronavirus concerns decline and more areas open for business, airfare savings will be increasingly important in the months ahead.
To help travelers make the best decisions for their wallets, the personal-finance website WalletHub released its report on 2021’s Best Frequent Flyer Programs, which ranks the 10 largest domestic airlines based on 21 key metrics, ranging from the value of a point/mile to blackout dates for rewards flights.
WalletHub’s report also features a custom calculator that allows travelers to personalize the results based on their own budget. You can find a few highlights from those results below, in addition to a Q&A with WalletHub experts. Audio files are also included.
- United MileagePlus is the best frequent flyer program of 2021, ending a five-year streak for Delta SkyMiles atop the rankings.
- The average airline rewards program gives frequent flyers 11% off their airline spending, and these programs are all free to join.
- Hawaiian Airlines offers the most rewards value per dollar spent, followed by Frontier Airlines.
- Five of the 10 largest airlines are offering more rewards in 2021 than in 2020, sweetening the pot by an average of 30%.
- The Citi Premier Card and the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard are 2021’s best airline credit cards, according to WalletHub’s editors.
Q&A With WalletHub
Are the best frequent flyer programs different than before the pandemic?
“The hierarchy of the best frequent flyer programs has changed a bit since the coronavirus pandemic began, so travelers shouldn’t assume they can just pick up where they left off. The biggest change is United MileagePlus dethroning Delta SkyMiles as the top program, ending Delta’s five-year run atop the rankings,” said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst.
“Major airlines are also offering more rewards value in an attempt to lure people back into their planes. Five of the 10 largest carriers have increased their rewards value – by 30% on average.”
Will people be penalized for not flying in 2020?
“Frequent flyers will not be penalized for staying grounded due to COVID-19. Most of the major frequent flyer programs have adjusted their policies to give people extra time to meet elite-status requirements,” said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst.
“For example, Delta SkyMiles, American Airlines AAdvantage, and United MileagePlus are all extending existing elite status through January 2022.”
What are some of the best ways to save on airfare?
“The best way to save on airfare is to join your favorite airlines’ frequent flyer programs for free, which will save you 11% on average, and then comparison shop for flights well ahead of your trip. Using the right credit card to pay for airfare can also be a smart way to save more,” said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst.
“If you’re brand-loyal to a particular airline, you should use that airline’s credit card. Otherwise, a general travel rewards credit card will be a better way to earn free flights.”