What are frequent flyer programs?
Frequent flyer programs reward you for your loyalty to one airline. Every time you fly, you earn points or miles that you can use for free flights, seat upgrades and other perks that make traveling even more fun. Great rewards and experiences make happy, loyal customers — which is a win for both you and the airline.
You might think that the only way to earn miles and take advantage of the best frequent flyer programs is to just fly all the time, but there’s another, better way. Many of the best credit cards reward you with airline miles for your normal spending. Whether you choose a co-branded airline credit card or a general travel credit card, you can earn frequent flyer miles for your favorite airline quickly through your normal spending and earning valuable sign up bonuses.
The best frequent flyer programs
There are far too many airline loyalty programs to explore them all in detail, so we chose four of the best for our shortlist. They each include a combination of strong customer service, extensive rewards flight options, great redemption rates for miles and the ability to earn miles or points with rewards credit cards.
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
Southwest leads the pack for flights within the United States. Known for its great customer service, generous checked-baggage policy and open seating on every flight, Southwest’s frequent flyer program, Rapid Rewards, makes flying on Southwest easy.
While many airline loyalty programs rely on an award chart for determining how many miles a flight will cost, Southwest rewards tickets are loosely based on the ticket’s cash price — meaning cheaper flights will generally cost fewer Rapid Rewards points and more expensive flights will cost more.
Southwest has no blackout dates for rewards tickets. If a seat is available on a flight, you can purchase a ticket with points just as you would with cash.
Southwest Rapid Rewards also features the Southwest Companion Pass — one of the best frequent flyer perks you’ll find. With Companion Pass, you can bring one designated person (your “companion”) with you for free any time you buy a ticket on a Southwest flight. To qualify, you either need to fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 125,000 Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year.
How to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points
You can earn Rapid Rewards points with one of the Southwest credit cards from Chase. Our favorite is the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card, which earns two points for every dollar you spend on Southwest purchases, plus one point per dollar on everything else for an annual fee of $69. You’ll also earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months after opening your account plus 3,000 points after your cardmember anniversary each year.