A new study looks at the 10 largest carriers in the U.S.

Marco Bottigelli/Getty Images

Having status on an airline can make a big difference, and some people are obsessed with maintaining it. Why blame them? When you have top-tier frequent flyer status on an airline you can get perks like upgrades, free checked bags, priority boarding, and more. But not every frequent flyer mile program is created the same and every airline has its list of pros and cons. That’s why personal finance website WalletHub just released their report on 2023’s Best Frequent Flyer Programs to help consumers figure out which airlines are worth being loyal to.

To figure out the rankings, the team at WalletHub looked at the frequent flyer programs operated by the 10 biggest airlines in the U.S. (based on number of passengers) across 21 key metrics (like the value of a point/mile, blackout-date policies, and membership perks). They compared the programs based on three annual airfare budgets: Light ($472), Average ($4,659), and Frequent ($8,846)—so the list can be helpful for all types of travelers. Take a look at the rankings below:

Best Frequent Flyer Programs, According to WalletHub

1. United MileagePlus (Best for Overall & Redemption Policies)

More Videos From Sunset

2. Alaska Mileage Plan (Best for Partner Coverage & Rewards Value)

3. Delta SkyMiles (Best for Redemption Policies)

4. HawaiianMiles (Best for Most Additional Features & Rewards Value)

5. American Airlines AAdvantage (Best for Airline Coverage)

Holiday airport travel

Photo by izusek

Some main findings from the study reveal that seven of the 10 largest airlines are offering less reward value in 2023 than in 2022. They also discovered that Hawaiian Airlines offers the most reward value at $15.37 per $100, with Alaska Airlines taking second place with $14.14 per $100 spent. But overall, it pays to be a part of an airline rewards program—WalletHub found that the average airline rewards program saves frequent flyers more than 9% on airfare. And in the age of overbooked flights, it can come in handy since the study showed that American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Alaska Airlines give preference to frequent flyer members when deciding whom to bump when a flight is overbooked. 

Many of us probably have frequent flyer accounts for a bunch of airlines (why not, it’s free to join!), but if you find yourself staying loyal to one particular airline for all of your travels, you might want to consider applying for its credit card, too, WalletHub Analyst Jill Gonzalez says. “The best ways to save on airfare are to join your preferred airlines’ loyalty programs and apply for a credit card with good rewards on airfare, both of which you can do for free. Frequent flyer programs save members an average of more than 9% on airfare, and the best travel rewards credit cards can easily provide hundreds of dollars in additional savings,” said Gonzalez. “People who always fly with the same airline should definitely consider getting an affiliated airline credit card. These cards often provide extra rewards and benefits that brand-loyal frequent flyers can take advantage of.”

To see the complete rankings and more details, go to WalletHub. The site also has a Frequent Flyer Miles calculator to help you find the best program.

Read the Current Issue Here!

Get one year of Sunset—and all kinds of bonuses—for just $24.95. Subscribe now!

Keep Reading: