Best Airline and Hotel Rewards Loyalty Programs of 2022

Alaska and Radisson each lead the way in airline and hotel loyalty programs.

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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 2022.

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.

Airlines

Winner: Alaska Airlines

After winning in 2021 and 2020, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan takes top honors for the third year in a row — and the competition wasn’t even close.

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.

American and Hawaiian also performed well this year, though for very different reasons. American’s relatively generous basic economy stood out, while Hawaiian received high scores for its Pualani elite status and low add-on fees.

Low-cost airlines Frontier and Spirit ranked predictably low, as these budget airlines offer 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.

Hotels

Winner: Radisson Rewards Americas

Another result with a clear winner. Radisson Rewards Americas notches its first win in 2022, and with authority.

You might not know much about this program, and you might be confused about its recent split from many international Radisson hotels. Yet this under-the-radar program proved that it shouldn’t be, garnering high scores across most categories. We did not evaluate Radisson’s international “Radisson Rewards” program.

Here’s how it shook out.

Most hotel brands got dinged for at least one category. Hyatt did well overall but 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) and pet policies dropped its score. Wyndham did well but suffered with a low score on elite status perks.

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

The big shocker to many is likely Marriott Bonvoy, which was tied for last. Despite being one of the largest and most well-known programs among frequent travelers, its rewards program failed to shine in any category.

Methodology

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 (20%). 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.

  • 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.

Seven hotel brands met these requirements: Best Western, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, Radisson 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

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