The Freddie Awards have recognized the best in airline and hotel loyalty for almost 30 years. The thing I love most about the Freddie Awards is that you and I decide, not a room full of supposed “travel experts”. Look, I travel a lot. But, my travel patterns are probably different from yours. Why is my vote more important than yours? With the Freddies, everyone gets one vote. Then, we tally up the votes (over 4 million ballots cast so far this year) and majority rules. I wanted to show everyone who I picked in each category. I’d love to hear who you picked, and also hear why you think my choices are wrong! And, if you haven’t voted, I hope you’ll take a moment and do so now. Here are my choices:
Best Elite Program (Hotel)
Hyatt announced some big changes in 2016, but those didn’t go into effect until 2017. I think things will be better for me under the new program, but I bet they’ll lose votes from folks who won’t qualify for top-tier status any longer. At any rate, they are still the best elite program, by far.
Best Elite Program (Airline)
I struggled with this one for quite some time. American Airlines was my airline for years and years. They’ve made some pretty significant changes. United made a number of those changes before they did. Does that make United better than American, because it’s been longer since they carved things up? I struggled with this decision before making a change in airlines late last year.
I thought long and hard about putting Alaska number one. They haven’t moved to revenue-based earning. I know folks who are elite members of their program and swear by it. In the end, I gave the nod to American and United in 2016, though I think I could have mixed or matched these 3. If I had more experience with Alaska, I probably pick them.
Best Loyalty Credit Card
The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card has been in my wallet for a long time. It was one of the very first loyalty cards I ever carried (the 3rd if my memory is right). Chase Sapphire Preferred has been in my wallet for quite some time. I think I could make the argument that Chase is a better overall card than the SPG AMEX. But, I’ve been dealing with a Chase problem since November which impacts my thinking.
Both the SPG AMEX and Chase Sapphire Reserve earn flexible currency, points you can use for a variety of different travel programs. Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program earns points you can transfer to United and Hyatt, two programs I use extensively. However, SPG points are hard to earn, making the credit card essential to any earning strategy.
I picked Hyatt based on the benefits the card offered in 2016. It gets a bit less valuable under the program changes we’ve just seen, but it’s still a solid addition to your wallet. It’s also got one of the best sign-up bonuses, 2 free nights at any Hyatt in the world.
Best Customer Service (Hotel)
Hyatt wins this one hands down. The reason I’ve stuck with Hyatt over the past 8 years or so is because of their consistent delivery of benefits. When things do go wrong, they’ve always made it right. As a simple example, asking me every time I check-in, “Do you need your 4pm late check-out?”
Fairmont has always provided me with great customer service. SPG is a chain I have a lot of experience with. For the most part, they do a good job with customer service.
Best Customer Service (Airline)
The most enlightening thing here is what’s missing. None of the big airlines are listed here. That’s not a huge surprise to folks that are paying attention. Alaska and Southwest have always treated me well. I consider customer service to be a hallmark of both. Up until this year, I’d never flown Frontier Airlines. My one and only experience with them was really positive. The big 3 airlines (American, Delta, United) just don’t have as good a grasp on customer service as they had back in the day. They just don’t.
Best Redemption Ability (Hotel)
SPG wins this one because of a bit of a flaw in their booking engine. It’s one I used to only talk about when I would speak at seminars like Frequent Traveler University. I’ve also shared it with folks who are looking for the best strategies to get that awesome room at a top-notch property using points. It’s probably going away in the next year as Marriott assimilates SPG as part of their merger.
At some of the premium properties (Hotel Danieli in Venice, for example) there are a number of room categories that you can redeem points for free rooms. The catch? Generally only a few of those categories are online. But, place a call to the call centers and there’s a bunch of “hidden inventory” that most customers aren’t aware of. That makes SPG number one in my book.
Best Redemption Ability (Airline)
I’ve got to hand it to United. They have a ton of availability to Europe, a frequent destination for family trips. And, no fuel surcharges on awards, though it may cost more miles than American. Southwest has true last seat availability because it’s revenue-based. That’s both a positive and a minus. American used to have solid availability, enough so that I didn’t mind paying fuel surcharges on awards to Europe. Those days are long gone. I keep hoping we’ll see them again someday, but, Doug.
Best Promotion (Hotel)
I maxed out Hyatt’s 75,000 point promo so it got my first place vote. Though I didn’t participate, I really like M Life’s holiday event. Triple points with Hilton sounds great even though I didn’t jump in. Honorable mention to IHG. I like Accelerate, but my most recent offers weren’t as lucrative as the first round.
Best Promotion (Airline)
Southwest’s shortcut to a Companion Pass has to rank as the best of the year. I qualified for a companion pass last year. While I haven’t used it a ton, it’s hands down the best benefit in airline loyalty. The AAdvantage promo may not have earned most folks a ton of points, but it didn’t take much effort. A good way for folks who don’t travel a lot to keep their miles from expiring. Virgin America got my 3rd place vote for double points.
Program of the Year (Hotel)
Some folks will give me grief for ranking Hyatt at the top. But, this is for last year’s program, before they made their changes. And, I really like the changes. So, they’re still tops in my book. If you can’t achieve top-tier status with them, I’d consider looking elsewhere. But, for business travelers, it’s hard to beat Globalist benefits. SPG has a weaker top-tier but a stronger mid-tier/bottom tier than Hyatt. Hilton has a big footprint and some decent promos, which gives them the nod over Marriott here for me. I could see giving Kimpton consideration here, but I don’t follow their program closely.
Program of the Year (Airline)
I’m looking at my choices and thinking I could have jumbled these 3 in any order. I love the excitement and energy of Southwest employees but revenue-based earning doesn’t light my pants on fire. United did a pretty good job wrecking certain aspects of their program, but award availability is really good for my needs. Alaska doesn’t have the footprint of others (though the Virgin American merger helps there), but they run a really good shop. If you live in one of their focus cities and haven’t given them a chance, you’re missing out.
Summing It Up
I’m sure I’ll get some grief for my choices. That’s exactly the point of the Freddies. Millions of travelers won’t agree on each point, but we all get a chance to speak. I love hearing people tell me why I’m wrong, why their favorite program is better than my favorite. Tell me why I’m wrong.
Bring it on!
Tell Me Why I’m Wrong! Here Are My Favorite Airlines And Hotel Chains was published first on Pizza in Motion