My Votes For The Best In Airline And Hotel Loyalty

Every year for as long as I can recall I’ve cast my vote for the best travel loyalty programs.  I generally write a story about who I voted for each year.  This year, as with so many other things, I’m running behind sharing my ballot.  That being said, you can still vote for a few more days in this year’s Freddie Awards.

If you’re not familiar with the Freddie Awards, I’ve heard them referred to as the “People’s Choice Awards” of the travel world  Each person gets one vote, there are no “expert panels”.  The best loyalty programs are determined by each of us.  I’ve helped organize the Freddie Awards for a number of years now, though I realize no financial benefit from it.  The Freddie Awards has always been a labor of love of their creator, Randy Petersen.  Gary Leff of View From The Wing and I have helped him coordinate the awards for quite some time now, with the exception of a brief hiatus during the pandemic.

There are a number of categories to vote in.  You don’t need to vote in all categories, nor do you need pick your 3 top choices in each category,  But, that’s what I did with my ballot.  Let’s take a look at how I voted.  I’ll also provide an explanation of each of my choices.

My Freddie Awards Ballot

For those that just want to see all my choices, here’s my full ballot:

Now, let’s break it down by category.  Some of these will be quicker than others.  While I think many Freddie voters cast their votes for the programs they like most in general, I try to consider the specific category.

Best Elite Hotel Program

Hyatt is clearly my favorite hotel chain and I think they have the best elite program.  I don’t think it’s even really a discussion.  Even those who lament that Hyatt has too small a footprint don’t generally try to make persuasive arguments as to a hotel chain that does a better job with elite recognition.  In particular, the Globalist benefits like free (guaranteed) late check-out, free breakfast (actual breakfast) and Globalist suite upgrades confirmed at time of booking.

I chose Hilton as my second favorite elite program over Marriott.  Hilton has done a pretty good job with suite upgrades over the past 6 months or so for me.  That makes a huge impact on me.  I don’t have positive feelings about Marriott as a hotel program but I think their elite program is better than the others I have experience with.

Best Elite Program (Airline)

I really struggled with this and ultimately decided on Southwest Airlines.  “Elite program” is a bit fuzzy to define with Southwest, since they don’t have a ton of benefits for elite members.  That being said, one of those benefits is truly one of the best any airline offers.  The Companion Pass, which requires 100 one-way flights or 125,000 points in a calendar year, affords you a free companion for every flight, whether you book a paid ticket or redeem points.

Aeroplan was the other program I wrestled with as my top elite program.  They launched a new program less than two years ago and put a lot of thought into it.  They provide plenty of value for elite members and could have edged out Southwest on my ballot.  Delta was a third choice mostly as the “least worst” of the Big 3 in the US.

Best Loyalty Credit Card

My vote here is more a factor of how the nominees appear on the ballot.  Chase is listed as “Chase Ultimate Rewards” as opposed to one specific card.  I have multiple cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points and the combination of those cards edges out Capital One Venture X.  Being able to earn 10 points per dollar on hotel booking with the Venture X card wasn’t enough to get the second spot on my ballot.  Now that I’ve used the Capital One Travel portal, I also know it’s pretty functional.  I’m thrilled to earn 10 points per dollar booking through a third party versus booking a limited service hotel directly.

The Bilt Rewards Mastercard takes up my 3rd place spot.  I think all of these currencies are really close in value, and I think your spending and redemption patterns will determine the best path for you.  I got roasted a bit because I didn’t pick a definitive “most valuable” currency in a recent story.  I can clearly understand why certain folks might value Ultimate Rewards more than Bilt Rewards or Capital One Venture Miles, and also understand if the order was reversed.

Best Customer Service (Hotel)

No surprise, World of Hyatt tops my list for hotel customer service.  I could talk for hours about the number of incredible customer service experiences I’ve had with Hyatt.  Hilton and Wyndham have both delivered mostly positive customer service to me over the past year or so.  Honestly, Marriott isn’t even on my radar here, if only because my podcast co-host Richard Kerr continues to tell stories of how bad their service is.

Best Customer Service (Airline)

Maybe not a popular choice but I’ve generally had good customer service experiences with American Airlines AAdvantage.  I might not love their award inventory availability, but I do like their customer service.  Behind them, Delta SkyMiles and Southwest Rapid Rewards are fine, if not outstanding.  United Airlines, my primary airline for business travel, is quite poor at customer service.  I paid an extra 10,000 miles for an award last week after spending 45 minutes on the phone with an agent who couldn’t get the system to ticket at the lowest price.  The agent showed no desire to get a supervisor involved to assist.

Best Redemption Ability (Hotel)

Hyatt is the clear winner here.  They have very few properties that play games with award inventory.  Up until recently, they didn’t have peak and off-peak charts.  Unlike Marriott, they don’t have any dynamic award charts.  Hilton and Wyndham are further behind and similar to each other.  Hilton has a massive list of properties and due to their dynamic award chart there are some values to be had amongst some otherwise egregious redemption prices.  Wyndham Rewards has a much simpler chart and some truly great values, though overall availability isn’t as strong as with Hyatt or Hilton.

Best Redemption Ability (Airline)

Aeroplan is a clear winner here.  They have a wonderful network of partners and they make it easy to redeem across their network.  Features of the new program such as being able to add on a stopover for 5,000 miles make it even easier to add on multiple destinations to the same trip.  United comes up just behind Aeroplan.  I think United has plenty of availability though I’ve seen far less saver award inventory as of late.  Whereas you could count on discounted domestic flights in the past I find very few of those lately.  Delta rounds out my top 3.  They have noticeably less domestic redemption options for travelers but they also have plenty of truly cheap (under 10,000 miles one-way) award flights.  Those cheap award flights help balance out a noticeable lack of availability on some routes.

Best Promotion (Hotel)

The best loyalty programs usually have the best promotions, though that’s not always the case.  Here are the 3 hotel promotions I voted for, in order:

Hyatt’s triple points promo:

Double points and elite credits from Marriott:

While I do love the Hyatt triple points promo, the reality is that at the time these promos rolled out many folks still weren’t traveling regularly.  Because of that I put more weight into promotions geared to earn points without travel.

Best Promotion (Airline)

In order, my top 3:

It should be no surprise to folks that I’m a fan of elite status.  Elite status won’t get you as far as it used to but it’s still very helpful when things go wrong.  In this case, Delta and Aeroplan edge out Southwest.  However, if Southwest had extended the length of their mini Companion Pass just a bit longer they would have taken the top spot on my ballot.

Program of the Year (Hotel)

To win program of the year on my ballot you need to be a well-rounded loyalty program that’s solid on earning, redeeming and elite benefits.  It’s no surprise that World of Hyatt tops my list.  They have phenomenal elite recognition and really good award redemption.  Whereas other programs might offer the ability to earn more points off of individual stays and other methods, Hyatt holds their own here with double-dip opportunities through their American Airlines partnership.

Hilton is strong because of the sheer amounts of points they award along with the introduction of an automated process for suite upgrades.  Their redemption ability isn’t nearly as strong as Hyatt, and the reduction in their breakfast benefit make top-tier Diamond status makes them less desirable.  But, overall Hilton is a solid program.

Wyndham is a new arrival on my top 3.  This is partially due to Marriott’s drop in prestige over the past few years.  I never really gave Wyndham Rewards a serious look.  The award chart is simple and has some decent pockets of value.  Elite benefits could be stronger, but they’ve upped their credit card game.  Overall, you could do a lot worse than Wyndham.

Program of the Year (Airline)

Aeroplan tops my list for airline program of the year.  Their revamped program is very thoughtful and rewarding. The folks running Aeroplan really understand loyalty and it shows in the program details.

Delta SkyMiles is my second choice this year.  Now that I’m a Delta Diamond I’ve gotten a chance to experience their customer service firsthand.  It’s definitely better than what I’ve experienced with United, though not as awesome as I was expecting based on the reports of others.  Getting rid of most fees leads to lower value overall from top-tier elite status, so customer service takes on a much bigger role in the decision-making process.

United Airlines squeaks into 3rd place on my ballot.  They lack in customer service but have superior award availability as compared to Delta.  In the end, Delta nudged out United on my ballot though I could argue either could be second best to a superior Aeroplan.

Bottom Line

Few surprises on my ballot, though the presence of Wyndham Rewards multiple times is notable.  My recent experience with Delta Diamond have given me better perspective as to what the airline offers.  World of Hyatt continues to lead the way for me in terms of best overall loyalty program.

We have just a bit more time before voting closes on this year’s Freddie Awards.  I hope you’ll take a few minutes to vote for your favorites!

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2 Comments

  1. There’s more to an elite program than it’s top level. Hyatt doesn’t offer much to its lower tiers.

    I’m not sure that you could do worse than Wyndham.

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