Picking the best airlines and hotel chains is definitely a subjective task. The more you travel, the bigger viewpoint you have. But, we all have different things we like. I wrote about a survey recently that tried to peg the best and the worst but ended up missing here and there, likely due to the small number of respondents.
The Freddie Awards have over 3 million individual travelers weighing in with their opinion, so I consider those a much better gauge of the best and worst. I’m biased, since I’m affiliated with the Freddie Awards, but it’s hard to argue with 3 million independent folks voicing their opinion.
As an aside, it’s not too late to vote. Click here and take a few minutes to add your vote for the best airline and hotel programs.
There are a number of categories to vote in. I cast my ballot today. You can cast up to 3 votes in each category. Here’s how I voted and a brief explanation as to why:
Best Promotion (Airline): Not every airline in the Americas is entered, only if they submitted a promo. I voted for:
1. American Airlines: Their milestones promo was very rewarding last year. It was a big change from how they ran the promo in previous years, where now everyone could participate.
2. US Airways: I took advantage of their 100% bonus miles purchase offer this year to help out a family member.
I might have voted for Aeroplan’s “Stars” promo, but I don’t follow that program closely. It sounds a bit like US Airways’ Grand Slam promo. United’s “People Power” promo was absolutely horrid.
Best Promotion (Hotel):
1. Hyatt Gold Passport: I maxed this promo out, earning 50,000 points for staying 20 nights. Nice.
2. IHG Big Win: I didn’t participate in this promo but thought it was very imaginative on IHG’s part and pretty rewarding for IHG loyalists.
3. SPG Your Choice: Gold and Platinum members who re-qualified got double Starpoints or a discount on an award reservation. Oddly, I’m pretty sure I totally forgot to redeem this one.
Best Redemption Ability (Airline):
1. United MileagePlus: The only reason I selected them #1 is because I’m voting for their 2013 performance. In 2013, US Airways was still part of the Star Alliance in 2013 which added a lot of options. That won’t be the same in 2014, especially when you add in how much more it will cost to redeem partner awards. You could argue that’s not part of redemption ability, but if you need a lot more miles, I would argue you’re less able to redeem.
2. American Airlines AAdvantage: I didn’t have any issues redeeming on American last year, but United’s network was bigger. With US Airways merging with American and other oneworld improvements, I would expect AA to be my top vote next year.
Best Redemption Ability (Hotel):
1. Hyatt Gold Passport: This is really like 1 and 1A between Hyatt and SPG. I have no issues with redemption ability with either one. Hyatt’s suites are cheaper than SPG and the top of the chart there is more affordable.
2 (1A). Starwood Preferred Guest. They really do have a spectacular network of properties in Europe.
Best Customer Service (Airline):
1. American Airlines. Since the Freddie Awards are the best loyalty programs I can technically only judge American based on the customer service offered by their loyalty program. No problem, they win on that as well. This was the only vote I cast in this category.
Best Customer Service (Hotel):
1. Hyatt Gold Passport. Again, this is a 1 and 1A scenario. I’ve had a Hyatt “Private Line Agent” assigned to me for a number of years and the service has always been top notch.
2. Starwood Preferred Guest. I’ve had an Ambassador with Starwood for a little over a year. My first Ambassador didn’t fit my needs and caused me to book less with SPG in the first half of 2013. My current Ambassador is awesome, hands down. He’s one of the best customer service folks I’ve ever interacted with on a regular basis.
Best Loyalty Credit Card:
1. Citi AAdvantage. I actually shuffled my original choices after thinking about this some more. My Citi Executive card allows me to earn 10,000 EQMs every year towards elite status with American Airlines. Since I love spending time with my family, earning status without having to leave the family is number one in my book.
2. Chase Sapphire Preferred. This easily could have been #1 because of its flexibility. I used my Chase points for a lot of things, but in 2013 it was primarily for United Airlines and Star Alliance redemptions. United’s draconian award chart changes in late 2013 will likely bump this card down a peg for next year.
3. Starwood Preferred AMEX. This is still the oldest loyalty card in my wallet. I’ve had it for over a decade now and I’m not planning to get rid of it anytime soon. With the drastic devaluation of MileagePlus, I’ll be looking to redeem miles with other airlines and using my SPG points for hotel stays as well, likely pushing them up the charts for me in 2014.
Best Elite Program (Airline):
1. American Airlines AAdvantage. Hands down, my Executive Platinum status with American Airlines is my most valuable airline status. I’ve had it since the middle of the last decade and had some sort of status with American for a decade now. Their domestic upgrade policy is tops, IMO. The systemwide upgrades they give Executive Platinum members are ultra-valuable. They remain flexible when I need them to be, always making me feel highly valued.
United did such a poor job for me in 2013 as it related to elite benefits I couldn’t even bring myself to vote for them as my #2. Sorry, United.
Best Elite Program (Hotel):
1. Hyatt Gold Passport. Hyatt is the most rewarding elite program, IMO. Diamond members receive 4 complimentary suite upgrades each year. The bonus points awarded to elite members are generous, though not as much as they used to be. Free breakfast benefit for Diamond is pretty awesome.
2. Starwood Preferred Guest. Starwood used to be head and shoulders above the rest. They’ve come back to earth a bit. As a Platinum I’m still treated very well. But, the new upgrade benefits launched in 2013 for Platinums flopped for me (and, based on this info probably a lot of elites).
Program Of The Year (Airline):
1. American Airlines. Overall, American comes out ahead for me. Even though United had better redemption ability for me in 2013, American far outscored them in customer service and treatment of me as an elite member. I have no idea what 2014 brings with the merger of American and US Airways, but for now American Airlines AAdvantage ranks number one in my book.
2. United MileagePlus. United offered great award redemption for me in 2013, something I don’t expect to continue in 2014. Their customer service was average and their elite recognition was poor. Domestic upgrade percentages for me continued to lag far behind American and I wasn’t able to effectively use my systemwide upgrades.
3. US Airways Dividend Miles. Acquiring their miles was still pretty cheap in 2013. I wasn’t an elite member so didn’t get any benefit there, but the ability to fly on US Airways and earn United miles was a plus for me. In the end, the 100% mileage bonus in 2013 earned them enough brownie points with me to add them to my top 3.
Program Of The Year (Hotel):
1. Hyatt Gold Passport. Hands down, the best program in hotel loyalty. Diamond upgrades and breakfast benefit are top notch. Suite awards are reasonably priced. Customer service and delivery of benefits is unparalleled. The only thing you can discount Hyatt for is the total number of properties, which they’re doing their best to make a non-issue.
2. Starwood Preferred Guest. Still a reliable stalwart with a decent sized network of properties. New lifetime Gold and Platinum status is a plus but the new suite night award flop is a minus. Still number 2 on my list.
There you have it. Those are my thoughts on airline and hotel loyalty.
If so, who did you vote for?