Best Airline and Hotel Rewards Programs of 2023

Alaska and Hyatt each lead the way in airline and hotel loyalty programs.
Sally French
Sam Kemmis
By Sam Kemmis and  Sally French 
Edited by Meg Lee

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Travel rewards programs are based on a simple concept: Rewarding frequent airline flyers and hotel guests. But that’s where the simplicity ends. Between interpreting what elite status perks you actually get, and calculating ever-changing point and mile values, knowing which airlines and hotels actually offer the best value for customers is no easy undertaking.

Thankfully, you don’t have to undertake it. We at NerdWallet spent months collecting data, analyzing the fine print and generally nerding out to determine the best domestic hotel and airline loyalty programs in 2023.

How we picked

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to these rankings. Some travelers might prioritize the thread count on their hotel sheets, while others might be particular about the quality of their coffee.

With this in mind, we prioritized elements of travel programs that offer clear, objective and measurable benefits. We then boiled these elements into a single overall rating across airlines and hotels. Here’s what we compared:

Airlines

Hotels

We rated each hotel brand and airline across all of these categories on a five-point scale, then used a weighted average of these ratings to determine an overall winner. Use the links above to learn more about how we built these ratings.

The best airline rewards program

Winner: Alaska Airlines

After winning in 2022, 2021 and 2020, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan takes top honors for the fourth year in a row — but the competition is narrowing.

What made this West Coast airline’s rewards program stand out? Unlike others, which stumbled in one or several of the rating criteria, Alaska notched above-average marks across the board. From the value of earned reward miles to best-in-class pet policies, Alaska has proved itself the most customer-friendly airline.

Of course, you might not have a pet. Or you might not care about elite status benefits. Here’s how each airline performed across all criteria.

Low-cost airline Spirit ranked predictably low, as it offers cheap fares and little else. Since our analysis didn’t consider average fare costs, this no-frills approach resulted in low scores for, well, the frills.

Some might be surprised to see United near the bottom of the list. Our analysis is data-driven, so we don’t know how the ratings will shake out until we complete the last spreadsheet formula. But it seems that United’s lackluster mileage earning rate, basic economy offering and pet policies were enough to sink it.

The best hotel rewards program

Winner: World of Hyatt

Another result with a clear winner. The World of Hyatt loyalty program notches the win in 2023, and with authority.

Hyatt ranked especially high for its earnings rate, meaning that the program rewards you handsomely with points whenever you spend money with Hyatt. You can get closer to a free stay more closely with Hyatt than any other hotel brand we analyzed. It also has a high elite earning rate, meaning Hyatt gives even greater recognition to frequent travelers with elite status.

Here’s how it shook out.

Most hotel brands got dinged for at least one category. Despite being the winner, even Hyatt got marked down for its high and frequent resort fees. Hilton’s poor rewards (its points are worth far less than the competition, and not awarded in high numbers) dropped its score. Wyndham suffered with a low score on elite status perks and pet policies.

Radisson was the only program that received above-average scores across every category.

Marriott Bonvoy, one of the largest and most well-known programs, ended up being solidly in the middle. It failed to shine in any single category.

Methodology to determine the best travel rewards programs

Read our editorial guidelines for additional information.

Airlines

How we picked the programs to evaluate

For an airline to be eligible, it had to be based in the U.S. and have a publicly available rewards search calendar with availability from 15 days to eight months from the time of search.

Nine airline programs fit these criteria: Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United.

How we chose the winner

We looked at the rewards rate, basic economy fares, elite rewards rate, pet policies, in-flight entertainment and the fee rate. We rated each of these factors separately, then determined an overall rating based on the weighting described below.

How we rated and weighted each factor:

  • Rewards rate (20%). We determined the dollar value of each program’s rewards miles and the earnings rate of miles. To determine the rewards rate, we multiplied the value of each mile by the earnings rate and then multiplied by 100. For example, if an airline’s rewards miles were worth $0.01 apiece (the value of rewards miles) and 10 miles were earned per dollar spent (the earnings rate of miles), its program would have a 10% rewards rate. (In this example, the two equations would be: first $0.01 x 10 = 0.1, then 0.1 x 100 = 10, or 10%.)

  • Basic economy (10%). Six of the airlines (Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, United) offer basic economy fares. We rated these fares across nine factors, from which we derived a single composite rating. Elite status value rate (20%). We determined both (A) the value and (B) the cost of earning elite status with each program, and determined an overall value by dividing A by B.

  • Operations (20%). We rated each airline according to on-time performance, cancellations and passenger rebookings, and baggage mishandling. We developed a composite rating from these categories.

  • Elite status value rate (10%). We determined both (A) the value and (B) the cost of earning elite status with each program, and determined an overall value by dividing A by B.

  • Fees (20%). We compared the cost of fees across several fare classes in two categories: (1) bag fees and (2) seat assignment fees.

  • Entertainment and Wi-Fi (10%). We analyzed the airlines’ entertainment offerings based on factors like Wi-Fi availability/cost and movie availability/cost. We also took into account other metrics, like whether seatback screens were available.

  • Pet policies (10%). We analyzed flying the airlines with a pet, including whether pets were allowed in the main cabin, whether they were allowed in cargo, limits on the number of pets or their size, and cost. We also looked at Department of Transportation data around pet losses, injuries or deaths, and passenger complaints against airlines about their handling of animals.

How we assigned star ratings

For each factor, we subtracted the lowest value from the highest value to determine the range. We then split this range into five separate “star rating” ranges. We assigned each airline program an appropriate star rating based on where its value fell in the range.

How we verified our data

We independently spot-checked data collected on rewards bookings to ensure accuracy. Information about loyalty programs was verified on the airlines’ websites.

Hotels

How we picked the programs to evaluate

To be eligible, a hotel brand had to have properties in the majority of states in the U.S. and offer a loyalty program with a publicly available rewards search calendar. Rewards booking availability from 15 days to eight months from the time of search was also required.

Six hotel brands met these requirements: Best Western, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Wyndham.

How we chose the winner

We compared the rewards rate, the value of the elite status program and the fee structure for each program. We rated each of these factors separately, then determined an overall rating based on the weighting described below.

How we rated and weighted each factor:

  • Rewards rate (30%). We determined the dollar value of each program’s rewards points and the earnings rate of points. To determine the rewards rate, we multiplied the value of each point by the earnings rate and then multiplied by 100. For example, if a hotel’s rewards points were worth $0.01 apiece (the value of rewards points) and 10 points were earned per dollar spent (the earnings rate of points), its program would have a 10% rewards rate. (In this example, the two equations would be: first $0.01 x 10 = 0.1, then 0.1 x 100 = 10, or 10%.)

  • Elite status value rate (30%). We determined both (A) the value and (B) the cost of earning elite status with each program, and determined an overall value by dividing A by B.

  • Resort and parking fees (30%). We determined the average resort and amenity fees across each program.

  • Pet fees and policies (10%). We rated pet friendliness on four factors: (1) the percentage of hotels where pets are allowed, (2) average pet fee, (3) average pet fee as a percent of room rate and (4) the existence of a “pet-friendly” search filter on the website.

How we assigned star ratings

For each factor, we subtracted the lowest value among all programs from the highest value among all programs to determine the range. We then split this range into five separate “star rating” ranges. We assigned each hotel program an appropriate star rating based on where its value fell in the range.

How we verified our data

We independently spot-checked data collected on rewards bookings to ensure accuracy. Information about loyalty programs was verified on the hotels’ websites.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:

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