Time To Disagree With Me! The Best Airlines And Hotel Chains Are….

Which airline has the best award space?

Which hotel chain treats their elite members the best?

We all have an opinion. The thing I love most about the Freddie Awards is that you and I decide who the best are, not a room full of supposed “travel experts”.

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.

Disagree with my choices? Great! Tell me why. And, if you haven’t voted, I hope you’ll take a moment and do so now. I’ve enjoyed being a volunteer who helps organize the Freddie Awards for the past 6 or 7 years. I always love to see more people voting.

Here are my choices:

Best Elite Program (Hotel)

Hyatt announced some big changes in 2016The changes got implemented in 2017, along with some changes. Improvements since then have included awarding elite credit for award nights and extending expiration of free night certificates.  Then, surprisingly, they retroactively credited folks for their 2017 progress based on those free nights.

Finally, they folded in their partner Oasis into earning and burning and elite status (whether you should redeem with Oasis is a different question).

Things are definitely better for me under the new program. They definitely list some votes from folks who won’t qualify for top-tier status any longer.  You might be disappointed in the changes. But, they are still the best elite program, by far.

Best Elite Program (Airline)

2017 was a year where I learned more about Air Canada. I’ve had a number of conversations with elite members, especially Super Elite members. The level of customer service being delivered seems impressive. Improvements like their Signature Suite are awesome, even if only indirectly targeted towards top elite members.

Air Canada gets to with a sheet of white paper when it comes to re-engineering their loyalty program once Aeroplan goes away next year. It’ll be interesting to see how that all shakes out.

I doubt I’ll ever be an Air Canada elite. That’s too bad. I’d love to have firsthand experience.

Air Canada on top is a change for me from last year. I don’t think any of the main US-based airlines did anything meaningful in 2017 to make me think about the order after the top slot.  Another year with United as my primary airline hasn’t done anything to change my opinion.

Best Loyalty Credit Card

A change in how Chase is categorized in the awards this year has me bumping that program up to the top slot.  I love both the SPG Amex and Chase Ultimate Rewards.  Last year, the entry for Chase was Chase Sapphire.  I like that card but I the Chase Ink Business credit cards have better bonus categories for my spending than Sapphire.  I still like the Ultimate Rewards currency best of all

Both the SPG AMEX and the Chase cards 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.

Best Customer Service (Hotel)

Hyatt wins this one hands down.  The reason I’ve stuck with Hyatt over the past 10 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. I had Frontier in here last year because  my one and only experience with them was really positive.  However, a few positive experiences dealing with American in 2017 make me think they still have some of their good DNA left.

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 ZorkFest.  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.  Southwest is in here because, even though they’re revenue-based, they have frequent flash sales that drop the price of award tickets.

Best Promotion (Hotel)

Hyatt offered double points in 2017.  Hilton offered double and triple points.  SPG had a decent promo, but you always have to worry about participating properties with them.

Best Promotion (Airline)

Southwest had another great promotion to earn the companion pass.  I qualified for a companion pass in 2016.  While I didn’t use it as much as I wanted to, it’s hands down the best benefit in airline loyalty.  Aeroplan had an interesting promo to get members engaged.  The rest of the promos from folks like United and American were very bleh, so I didn’t bother nominating a third.

Program of the Year (Hotel)

This was the exact same rank I had last year.  Hyatt has done a few things to improve their program, so I didn’t see a reason to change their rank.  SPG hasn’t been wrecked by Marriott yet, so ditto there. And, Marriott’s lack of progress to combine with SPG makes it tough to elevate them to 3rd here.

Program of the Year (Airline)

No changes to my ranking on Program of the Year from last year. Here’s what I said back then:

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.

In the end, being able to redeem my miles is a big plus.  United stays in the Top 3 for that reason alone (and probably only that reason).

Summing It Up

Tell me why I’m wrong.  I want to hear who you think is best.  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 crazy, why their favorite program is better than my favorite.

Bring it on!

Oh, and don’t forget to vote if you haven’t already.

Time To Disagree With Me! The Best Airlines And Hotel Chains Are…. was published first on Pizza in Motion


  1. I like Hyatt amd SPG and we get that you like Hyatt but they are too limited on hotel choices not to mention they have dumb names for elite levels. SPG as a stand alone is also very limited. It would be like saying Kimpton is best yet no locations in Asia and Europe.

    I’d like to see the airline customer service broken down to ground service versus in air service which can be really different. Southwest and Alaska are hard to beat but limited to metal in North America.

    IHG has better promos than other big chains. Acclerate, free mastercard gift cards with certain stays, etc. They also have a much longer shelf life and a “book by” expiration date than Marriott on free night certs and they don’t usually limit the category. Marriott certs are usually 6 months or so and are a “use by” date. Hilton promos are hurt by devaluation which is another reason that program is not as good as the others in general.

    1. Dan, I don’t judge a hotel program based on the names of their levels (Spire?). Hyatt’s footprint works fine for me. I manage to get at least 60 nights a year. The Accelerate promos have been all over the board for me. I had one that was rewarding and within my reach. All the others have had some enormous night component to max out. They also generally lack the type of properties I like for our family vacations. And, it’s very tough to get them to guarantee connecting rooms for me, something Hyatt does great with. I just can’t see myself ranking IHG ahead of SPG or Hyatt. Maybe Hilton or Marriott, but I’d have to really think about it.

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