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SPY Guide: Frequent Flyer Programs at All Major US Airlines Compared

best frequent flier programs
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* Compare plans to see which is best for you
* Different airlines offer different perks — and different redemption policies
* Find the fastest way to free flights

If you do any kind of traveling, you no doubt have wondered if you’re getting the best deals on your frequent flyer miles. Well, wonder no longer. Here’s a breakdown of all the different loyalty program tiers to help you comparison shop.

1. United — MileagePlus

frequent flier

United’s MileagePlus Program lets you earn miles with your daily activities and use them on trips, experiences, dining and more. Perks include complimentary Economy Plus seating as long as seats are available and complimentary premier seating upgrades.

Premier Silver

  • Requires 25k qualifying miles and $2,500 Premier Qualifying Dollars.
  • Earn 25% more miles than someone without status.
  • 1 free checked bag.

Premier Gold 

  • Requires 50k qualifying miles and $5,000 Premier Qualifying Dollars.
  • Get a premier seating upgrade 48 hours in advance of departure.
  • Earn 50% more miles than someone without status.
  • 3 free checked bags.

Premier Platinum 

  • Requires 75k qualifying miles and $7,500 Premier Qualifying Dollars
  • Get a premier seating upgrade 72 hours in advance of departure
  • Earn 75% more miles than someone without status
  • 3 free checked bags.

Premier 1K

  • Requires 100k qualifying miles and $10,000 Premier Qualifying Dollars
  • Earn twice as many miles than someone without status
  • Get 3 free checked bags
  

2. Delta — Skymiles

frequent flier

Delta invites you to fly the friendly skies. How friendly are they? Depends on which Medallion Status you have…

Medallion Status Silver

  • Complimentary First Class Upgrades 24 hours prior to departure
  • Unlimited Comfort Upgrades 24 hours prior to departure
  • Unlimited Complimentary Delta Comfort & Seat Access 24 hours prior to departure
  • Unlimited Complimentary Companion First Class + Delta Comfort + Upgrades
  • Complimentary Preferred Seats
  • Priority Wait List
  • Earn 7 Miles Per Dollar

Medallion Status Gold

  • Complimentary First Class Upgrades 72 hours prior to departure
  • Unlimited Comfort Upgrades 72 hours prior to departure
  • Unlimited Complimentary Delta Comfort & Seat Access 72 hours prior to departure
  • Unlimited Complimentary Companion First Class + Delta Comfort + Upgrades
  • Complimentary Preferred Seats
  • Priority Wait List
  • Earn 8 Miles Per Dollar
  • Waved Same-Day Confirmed Fees
  • Waved Same-Day Stand By Fees

Medallion Status Platinum

  • Complimentary First Class Upgrades 5 days prior to departure
  • Unlimited Comfort Upgrades shortly after ticketing
  • Unlimited Complimentary Delta Comfort & Seat Access (Complimentary Access)
  • Unlimited Complimentary Companion First Class + Delta Comfort + Upgrades
  • Complimentary Preferred Seats
  • Priority Wait List
  • Earn 9 Miles Per Dollar
  • Waved Same-Day Confirmed Fees
  • Waved Same-Day Stand By Fees

Medallion Status Diamond

  • Complimentary First Class Upgrades 5 days prior to departure
  • Unlimited Comfort Upgrades shortly after ticketing
  • Unlimited Complimentary Delta Comfort & Seat Access (Complimentary Access)
  • Unlimited Complimentary Companion First Class + Delta Comfort + Upgrades
  • Complimentary Preferred Seats
  • Priority Wait List
  • Earn 11 Miles Per Dollar
  • Waved Same-Day Confirmed Fees
  • Waved Same-Day Stand By Fees
  • Delta Sky Club Membership

Book Delta flights

  

3. American — AAdvantage

frequent flier

With American Airlines’ Elite Status, you can enjoy a world of perks and benefits designed to make your travel experience more enjoyable when traveling with American Airlines, oneworld member airlines and Alaska Airlines. Perks are measured in EQMs (Elite Qualifying Miles) or EQDs (Elite Qualifying Dollars)

Elite Status Gold

  • 25,000 EQMs or $3,000 EQDs to qualify
  • Free upgrades on flights 500 miles or less
  • Upgrade 1 companion on same flight with 500-mile upgrades
  • Confirm upgrades 24 hours before departure
  • 40% mileage bonus
  • 1 Free Bag

Platinum

  • 50,000 EQMs or $6,000 EQDs to qualify
  • Free upgrades on flights 500 miles or less
  • Upgrade 1 companion on same flight with 500-mile upgrades
  • Confirm upgrades 48 hours before departure
  • 60% mileage bonus
  • 2 Free Bags

Platinum Pro

  • 75,000 EQMs or $9,000 EQDs to qualify
  • Free upgrades on flights 500 miles or less
  • Upgrade 1 companion on same flight with 500-mile upgrades
  • Confirm upgrades 72 hours before departure
  • 80% mileage bonus
  • 2 Free Bags

Executive Platinum

  • 100,000 EQMs or $12,000 EQDs to qualify
    Free upgrades on flights 500 miles or less
  • Complimentary upgrades on award tickets
  • Upgrade 1 companion on same flight with 500-mile upgrades
  • Confirm upgrades 100 hours before departure
  • 120% mileage bonus
  • Complimentary Same Day Flight Change
  • 3 Free Bags
  

4. Southwest — Rapid Rewards

frequent flier

Southwest Airlines believes you deserve recognition for every flight you take and every point you earn. As a reward for your continued loyalty, they offer a couple of distinct status opportunities.

A-list

Qualification: Fly 25 one-way qualifying flights or 35,000 tier qualifying points

Perks:

  • Priority boarding
  • Priority check-in
  • Earn 25% more points on each flight
  • Free same-day standby

A-list preferred

Qualification: Fly 50 one-way qualifying flights or 70,000 tier qualifying points

Perks:

  • Priority boarding
  • Priority check-in
  • Earn 100% more points on each flight
  • Free same-day standby.
  • Free inflight WiFi

One other cool benefit…Southwest also offers the Companion Pass, which lets you choose one person to fly free with you every time you purchase or redeem points for a flight. To qualify, you simply fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year, and you’ll earn Companion Pass for the following full calendar year, plus the remainder of the year in which you earned it.

Book Southwest flights

  

5. Alaska Airlines — Mileage Plan

frequent flier

Alaska is part of American Airlines’ Elite Rewards program, but with its own distinct set of benefits.

Elite Status MVP

  • Get 50% bonus on base miles earned.
  • 2 free checked bags
  • Preferred seating on Alaska and its global partners
  • Dedicated phone line for reservations and customer service

MVP Gold

  • Get 100% bonus on base miles earned.
  • Express Security lines at over 70 airports worldwide
  • 2 Free checked bags
  • Unlimited First Class upgrades for you and a companion.
  • Preferred seating on Alaska and its global partners
  • Dedicated Gold reservation phone lin

MVP Gold 75K

  • Get 125% bonus on base miles earned.
  • Top priority for stand by lists, waitlists and upgrades
  • Complimentary inflight entertainment player
  • Waivers to cover service charges and ticket change fees
  • 2 Free checked bags
  • Unlimited First Class upgrades for you and a companion.
  • Preferred seating on Alaska and its global partners
  • Dedicated Gold reservation phone line

Book Alaska Airlines flights

  

6. Virgin America — Elevate

frequent flier

Virgin is on the verge of being acquired by Alaska Airlines. Post-acquisition, Virgin will be switching over to the Alaska Airlines mileage system starting in 2018. In the meantime, their current perks may be just what you need.

Elevate Silver

  • Reach status at 20,000 points
  • +50% bonus points
  • Complimentary preferred main cabin seating at booking
  • Complimentary upgrades to Main Cabin Select 12 hours from departure
  • Priority Check In and baggage handling
  • 2 Free Checked Bags

Elevate Gold                                                                    

  • Reach status at 50,000 points
  • +140% bonus points
  • Complimentary preferred main cabin seating at booking
  • Complimentary upgrades to Main Cabin Select 24 hours from departure
  • Priority Check In and baggage handling
  • 2 Free Checked Bags

Book Virgin America flights

  

7. JetBlue — TrueBlue

frequent flier

JetBlue’s TrueBlue program keeps it simple with only one status level. Here are the perks:

  • No blackout dates on JetBlue operated flights
  • Use points for any seat, any time
  • Earn 6 points per eligible dollar when you book on JetBlue.com
  • Points don’t expire
  • Family Pooling lets you earn and share points together

Book JetBlue flights

  

8. Spirit — Free Spirit

frequent flier

In keeping with Spirit Airlines’, uh…spirit of “less money, more go”, the Free Spirit program costs nothing to join and allows you to bank miles every time you fly. Of particular interest is their $9 Fare Club. It gives you exclusive access to some of Spirit’s lowest available fares, as well as discounted prices on bags. Plus, you’ll get special deals that are available only to our $9 Fare Club members. That program costs $59.95 to join.

Book Spirit flights

So which frequent flyer program is right for you? It depends on where you travel — and how often. Spirit and Southwest offer mostly domestic routes, while United, Delta and American have the most international flights. And while most of the programs are free to join, many of them — like United and JetBlue — have attractive credit cards tied to their mileage programs, that offer additional miles with every purchase. Those ones will have annual fees, of course.

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