How NerdWallet Rates Airline Rewards Programs
NerdWallet’s overall ratings for airline reward programs are weighted averages of ratings in the following categories:
Effective rewards rate (20%).
Basic economy fares (20%).
Elite rewards rate (20%).
Onboard entertainment and Wi-Fi (10%).
Pet friendliness (10%).
For an airline to be eligible, it has 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. Eight airline programs fit these criteria: Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United.
How we picked the programs to evaluate
NerdWallet independently checks data collected on rewards bookings to ensure accuracy. Reward flights and cash flights are compared across hundreds of data points to help determine a baseline value for each airline. Information about loyalty programs, airline offerings and fees are verified on the airlines’ websites.
Data collection and review process
Airline loyalty program reviews are reassessed annually, and writers and editors also make updates throughout the year as necessary. We maintain contact with airlines to keep information current.
The review team is made up of expert writers and editors who cover airlines, travel rewards, credit cards and airline alliances, as well as related travel topics such as hotels, budget travel, cruises, rental cars and destination-specific travel. Each writer and editor follows NerdWallet’s strict guidelines for editorial integrity.
The review team
In addition to appearing on NerdWallet, the work of our team members has been published by The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Nasdaq, MSN, MarketWatch, Yahoo Finance and other national and regional media outlets. The travel team’s writers and editors combined have more than 40 years of experience in travel, travel rewards and credit cards.
Methodology, broken down by category
Effective rewards rateWe collect the dollar value of each program’s rewards miles and the earnings rate of those miles (the number of points you earn per dollar spent) to arrive at an effective rewards rate.
To determine this rate, we multiply the value of each mile (based on real-world flights) by the earnings rate, then multiply that total by 100. As a formula, that’s: (Value x Earnings Rate) x 100 = Effective Rewards Rate.
For example, if an airline’s rewards miles are worth $0.01 apiece and 10 miles are earned per dollar spent, its program would have a 10% effective rewards rate. Here’s that math: ($0.01 x 10) x 100 = 10%