The best airline rewards programs of 2020

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The best airline rewards programs help you to earn miles for your travel and to redeem those rewards for award flights. When you fly, you can earn miles (or points) simply by joining an airline’s loyalty program, or earn even more when you purchase your ticket with the airline’s co-branded credit card. And we estimate all the miles/points listed in this article to be worth more than 1 cent apiece, according to Credit Karma’s point valuations.

Let’s take a look at the best airline rewards programs.



Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

How much are your miles worth?

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® points are worth an estimated 1.81 cents each, based on Credit Karma’s point valuations.

Rewards and redemptions

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards members earn a minimum of six points for every $1 they spend on Southwest flights, in addition to any points they might earn through a Southwest credit card. They might also be able to earn more points if they qualify for A-List or A-List Preferred status.

If you’re interested in earning Southwest Rapid Rewards, you might be able to boost your points with one of these Southwest co-branded airline credit cards.

Standout perk

Flyers need to earn at least 125,000 qualifying points (or fly 100 qualifying one-way flights) in a calendar year to earn the coveted Companion Pass benefit. The 2020 qualifying points requirement is a 15,000-point bump from 2019, making this perk a little harder to get.

The Southwest Companion Pass allows you to bring one guest every time you fly, while only paying taxes and fees (starting at $5.60 one-way) for their ticket. So you’re essentially getting buy-one-get-one-free airfare, although you can assign the benefit to only one person and can’t change your companion each flight.

Once you qualify, Companion Pass is good for the rest of the year, plus the entire calendar year after that.

Take a look at Credit Karma’s guide to the Southwest Rapid Rewards program to learn more.

JetBlue TrueBlue

How much are your miles worth?

JetBlue TrueBlue points are worth an estimated 1.54 cents each, based on Credit Karma’s point valuations.

Rewards and redemptions

For starters, you could earn a minimum of six points for every $1 you spend when you book your flight directly through www.jetblue.com (but not on Blue Basic flights).

JetBlue also offers additional bonuses for frequent flyers.

  • If you fly three round-trip flights or six one-way flights in a calendar year, you’ll receive 5,000 bonus points.
  • If you fly seven round-trip flights or 14 one-way flights in a calendar year, you’ll receive 7,000 bonus points.
  • If you fly 10 one-way flights — each 1,600 miles or more — in a calendar year, you’ll receive 10,000 bonus points.

If you’re interested in earning JetBlue TrueBlue points, you might be able to score even more with one of JetBlue’s co-branded airline credit cards.

JetBlue doesn’t use blackout dates, either. The airline promises you’ll be able to use your points for any seat.

Standout perk

Cardholders with the JetBlue Plus Card earn 5,000 bonus points after their account anniversary every year. That’s a nice bonus just for keeping the card open, but not as valuable a perk as you might see from some other programs.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan™

How much are your miles worth?

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan™ miles are worth an estimated 1.46 cents each, based on Credit Karma’s point valuations.

Rewards and redemptions

Figuring out just how many miles you’ll earn when you fly with Alaska Airlines can be a little confusing. All members of the airline’s rewards program earn tier-qualifying miles based on the miles physically flown, rather than what is spent for the flight. But if you use a co-branded credit card to pay for a flight, you’ll also earn miles based on the amount you spend. Take a look at this option for more details.

Unfortunately, Alaska Airlines uses blackout dates to restrict which flights you can book with miles.

Standout perk

What sets this rewards program apart is the potential to earn Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare annually.

Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare allows you to bring a guest for only $99, plus a minimum of $22 in taxes and fees.

To qualify, you must be approved for one of Alaska’s co-branded airline credit cards.

Take a look at Credit Karma’s guide to the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan™ to learn more.

Delta SkyMiles®

How much are your miles worth?

Delta SkyMiles® are worth an estimated 1.32 cents each, based on Credit Karma’s point valuations.

Rewards and redemptions

Delta SkyMiles basic members earn a minimum of five miles for every $1 they spend on Delta flights.

You could earn even more SkyMiles® with one of these Delta co-branded airline credit cards.

Delta Air Lines doesn’t have blackout dates, so feel free to use your miles to book any available flight.

Standout perk

The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card both include a companion certificate each year following your account anniversary. You can use the companion certificate to bring a guest for no more than $75 in taxes and fees.

Take a look at Credit Karma’s guide to Delta SkyMiles® to learn more.

American Airlines AAdvantage®

How much are your miles worth?

American Airlines AAdvantage® miles are worth an estimated 1.26 cents each, based on Credit Karma’s point valuations.

Rewards and redemptions

American Airlines AAdvantage® basic members will earn a minimum of five miles for every $1 they spend on American Airlines flights, up to 75,000 miles.

You could earn even more AAdvantage® miles with an American Airlines co-branded airline credit card.

American Airlines doesn’t have blackout dates for its AAnytime® Awards bookings, according to the airline.

Standout perk

Rewards members willing to shell out for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® can take advantage of a complimentary Admirals Club membership, which will earn them admission to one of the airline’s dedicated airport lounges.

Take a look at Credit Karma’s guide to the American Airlines AAdvantage® program to learn more.

United MileagePlus®

How much are your miles worth?

United MileagePlus® miles are worth an estimated 1.21 cents each, based on Credit Karma’s point valuations.

Rewards and redemptions

United MileagePlus basic members earn a minimum of five miles for every $1 they spend on United flights.

You could earn more MileagePlus miles with one of United’s co-branded airline credit cards.

Unfortunately, United reserves the right to enforce blackout dates. But with certain United credit cards, you might be able to get these blackout dates waived.

Standout perk

The Excursionist Perk is essentially an airline stopover program. When you use your miles to book a trip with at least three one-way flights, you might be eligible to receive a free one-way flight between two of those cities. You can learn more about how to qualify on United’s website.

Take a look at Credit Karma’s guide to United MileagePlus® to learn more.


How to make the most of your airline rewards

There are a few things you can do to make the most of your flights.

  1. Sign up for the loyalty programs of the airlines you fly with most often.
  2. When you book your flight, don’t forget to include your membership number so the points you earn will be deposited into your rewards program account. This could help you earn award flights and elite status.
  3. If you fly with a particular airline on a regular basis, take a look at the credit cards it offers to see whether you could earn more points and enjoy a more comfortable flight every time you travel.
  4. Take advantage of any special flight perks your airline offers, like a companion ticket or stopover program.

Although the specific rules and benefits of rewards programs vary from airline to airline, these steps should help you get value out of your travel.

How we picked the best airline rewards programs

To find the best airline loyalty programs, we analyzed the most popular U.S. airlines to see which offer rewards. We also tried to focus on airlines that serve a large number of cities, not just one region of the country.

Within these frequent-flyer programs, we also looked at Credit Karma’s estimated point values, how many bonus miles you can earn by flying with a particular airline, how many credit cards are offered and any other unique flight perks.