When you boil down all the tips, tricks, loopholes and crazy information of the travel world, at the end of the day you really just want something for free. There are so many loyalty programs, each promising to make your life better, but for the most, when it comes to the "show me the money" part, there seems to be endless red tape. Here are the best frequent flyer programs for easy redemption of free flights. We're not necessarily maximizing, but we're finding the process easy enough that we don't care...
Easiest To Redeem
These programs allow you to use your points for any seat that's available with cash. It doesn't get any easier than that. Unlike airlines with fixed prices in points for certain routes, these prices using points will vary based on ticket price. No blackouts, no restrictions, just fluctuating amounts of points needed, depending on the price of the ticket.
Southwest Rapid Rewards
Southwest's program is perfect for those who hate the idea of "availability". If there's a seat open on a flight, it's also available using points. No questions asked. Your Southwest miles have an essentially pre set value, so there's no maximizing points, you just use a specific amount to cover a specific fare. Basically, on any day, if a flight is not totally sold out, you can get a seat on the flight using your miles. That's easy.
Ways to Earn: Credit Card, Shopping Portal, Buy Points, Fly, Chase Transfers.
JetBlue True Blue
JetBlue's True Blue program is as easy as it gets, and your points never expire. Your points have a certain dollar esque value, and you can apply them to any flight that's not sold out. Essentially, much like Southwest, you can use a varying number of points, dependent on the ticket price to grab a seat using points. If a ticket is expensive using cash, it will require more miles, if it's cheap using cash, it will require fewer miles. No matter what, any seat that's available with cash is also available with points, and that's a lot of headache to miss out on!
Ways To Earn: Credit Card, Partner Flights, Shopping Portal, Amex Transfers, Car Rental.
Norwegian doesn't even bother offering you points, giving you a false sense of value with an inflated figure. Instead, they offer cash back ranging from 2-20% per ticket booked. When logged in, you can choose any time you wish to apply the cash back towards part or all of the cost of a ticket. For every six flights you take, you receive a 2% increase in the cash back amount. Basically, you can use your points, or rather cash back for any seat on any flight. That's pretty simple.
Ways To Earn: Flights, Car Rental, Hotel Stay.
Virgin America Elevate
Virgin America Elevate has been a very popular program, partly because of the ease of using points on any flight, but also because unlike JetBlue and Southwest, you can use a relatively small sum of miles for extraordinarily nice flights on their partners, including Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia and Singapore Airlines. Again, just like Southwest and JetBlue, you'll be able to snag any open seat on any flight using points. Just plug in your dates, find the lowest fares, and you'll find the lowest points needed, boom, you're done.
Ways To Earn: Credit Card, Partner Flights, Shopping Portal, Amex Transfers.
Not The Easiest, But Best Value Programs
The fundamental difference with these programs is that miles do not fluctuate on a day by day or flight by flight basis. If there's space, you'll be able to use a fixed amount of miles, which does not change on a daily basis, to grab a seat. That opens up opportunity in the form of sweet spots...
British Airways Executive Club
The British Airways Executive Club has made tremendous strides in availability using miles, and where that falls short, much like Alaska, you find excellent partners. The Executive Club program allows you to book flights on exciting partners, including American, Qatar, TAM, Finnair, Japan Airlines, Qantas and Cathay. Essentially, if there isn't space on a British Airways flight, you find great access on their partners. I find Executive Club points extremely valuable for last minute flights in America, where you can use your points on American Airlines, which tends to open up tons of space in the days just before a flight.
Ways To Earn: Credit Card, Shopping Portal, Partner Flights, Buy Points, Car Rentals, Hotels, Amex and Chase Transfers, Tesco Transfers, Heathrow Rewards Transfers.
Alaska Mileage Plan
Alaska's Mileage Plan can be a gold mine, not generally for flights on Alaska, but flights on their numerous partners. You can use your miles to fly American, Delta, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Qantas, Air France and Korean. Essentially, you'll still need to find space, but their online search is very powerful and since you can grab a seat on so many airlines, you can usually find some luck. It's arguably the best program for luxury flights on Cathay Pacific, therefore I find it extremely valuable...
Ways To Earn: Credit Card, Shopping Portal, Partner Flights, Buy Points, Car Rentals, Hotels.
American Airlines AAdvantage
The AAdvantage program is one of the most generous programs for earning and redeeming. Even after the programs recent devaluation, you'll find extremely good rates in all cabins, especially those up front on longer flights. This is where real maximization of your miles sets in. There are few better ways to get to Europe, Asia or Australia and Pacific using miles than with American Airlines miles, and you can use those miles for luxury flights on Etihad, Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific and many leading carriers.
Ways To Earn: Credit Card, Shopping Portal, Hotel Partners, Car Rentals, Partner Flights.
Air France + KLM Flying Blue
Air France and KLM offer a unique frequent flyer program and though it fails to differentiate itself in most ways, it offers one excellent opportunity, in the form of monthly "promo awards". These flights offer a discount on the set number of miles required for flights in all cabins to many destinations. From month to month you'll get up to a 50% discount on some great trips, giving real value to your miles, not to mention generally excellent availability on Air France, KLM, Delta, Korean and more.
Ways To Earn: Shopping Portal, Hotel Partners, Car Rentals, Partner Flights.