Whew! It was a heck of a busy week leading up to the 27th annual Freddie Awards. Last week, 4.2 million travelers spoke, telling us who they thought were the best airline and hotel loyalty programs. The biggest reason why I’ve enjoyed being involved in the Freddie Awards is that I have the exact same say you do in who the “best” is. We both get one vote.
I shared my ballot with you a few weeks ago, and I was eager to see how my picks lined up with the winners. Since I’m a US-based traveler, this post will focus just on the winners in the Americas, a region that’s looking decidedly less US-centric every year!
Best Elite Program (Hotel): Marriott Rewards
Wow! This one continues to surprise me. I voted for Hyatt, SPG and Hilton, in that order. Hyatt didn’t even make the top 4. That’s not terribly surprising given some of the reaction to their recent changes.
Marriott fans continue to be rabid ones. Even if you set aside my preference for Hyatt, I think SPG has much better elite recognition than Marriott. Given, it’s gotten better with Marriott adding a late check-out benefit and a few other pluses for elite members. Still, a bit of a head shaker to me.
Best Elite Program (Airline): American Airlines AAdvantage
I actually voted for American. That vote got me quite a bit of grief. I stand by it, though. I don’t think United or Delta is doing better with elite recognition. You could argue Alaska is better, but I don’t have any firsthand experience there. I think this win by American shows that the Freddie Awards voting isn’t all a popularity contest. It’s the only category they won, which makes sense given that their award availability is pretty poor right now. Voters said they thought their elite program was valuable, but didn’t score them highly anywhere else.
Best Redemption Ability (Hotel): Marriott Rewards
Seeing a pattern here? I voted SPG here, but I understand a Marriott win for redemption much more than on elite program. Marriott has tons of properties, making it easy to redeem your points. That being said, you’re going to redeem a LOT of them to score a free room.
Best Redemption Ability (Airline): Southwest Rapid Rewards
Given the actual title of the category, Southwest certainly qualifies. Theirs is a revenue-based program, which generally means every seat is available for an award redemption using points. I think Southwest runs a really good airline. But, I do have a bit of a problem saying they have the best value for award redemption, given the fact that those awards are tied to the price of a ticket.
Best Customer Service (Hotel): Marriott Rewards
I voted for Hyatt again. I really haven’t had great experiences with Marriott Rewards customer service. I’ve had some satisfactory ones, and I’ve had a few where the reward redemption was badly mishandled. I will say that I find their phone agents very pleasant to talk to. My few redemptions just haven’t yielded representatives that were deeply knowledgable about the program.
Best Customer Service (Airline): Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
You won’t get any argument from me here, even though I gave the nod to Alaska on my ballot. I really enjoy talking to Southwest agents on the phone. They’re almost always over-the-top cheerful and helpful. Every once in a while I have to wait longer than I’d like on the phone. But, that’s just nit-picking. This is well deserved.
Best Loyalty Credit Card: Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card-Chase
This one strikes me as the beauty contest winner. Southwest did really well in a bunch of categories from voters that love them. That love is well deserved. But, the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve are better cards. They earn points in bonus categories the Southwest card doesn’t earn and you can transfer the points 1:1 directly to Southwest. But, you’re not locked in, and can transfer those points to United, Hyatt, Marriott and others.
Program of the Year (Hotel): Marriott Rewards
Marriott really cleaned up this year. They’ve improved the program since last year, so I guess the results shouldn’t be shocking. All-around, I still think Hyatt and Starwood were better bets for your money in 2016. I get that Hyatt made big changes for 2017, but 2016 was pretty rewarding if you were a Hyatt elite.
Program of the Year (Airline): Southwest Rapid Rewards
Southwest continues to excel at customer service, loyalty and operating an excellent airline. They won in a variety of categories, the hallmark of a program that serves their members well. They were very deserving of Program of the Year, the second year in a row they took home this trophy. Jonathan Clarkson, the guy tasked with running the Rapid Rewards program, is a very genuine man. His team reflects the commitment they have to their customers. The folks down at Dallas Love Field won’t be getting cocky anytime soon, but you can be sure they’ll be gunning for this award again next year.
The Final Two Pennies
I agree with some of the winners and disagree with others. That’s absolutely the best part of the Freddie Awards. We each have our own voice. Over 4 million people cast ballots this year for their favorite program.
One of the biggest surprises for me was the top city in terms of ballots cast. Not New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. No, Buenos Aires had more votes cast than any other city out there. I’m very proud to see the global participation in the Freddie Awards. Here’s hoping we see even more of it next year.
Jonathan, I think I hear some programs in Argentina and Colombia nipping at your heels.
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