Which Is The Best Frequent-Flyer Program For Elite Flyers?

Alaska Airlines and United Airlines provide the best perks for elite members of frequent flyer programs, a new study released Tuesday reveals.

The study by ThePointsGuy.com, a travel advice website, analyzed the programs of the six largest U.S. airlines — Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United — and the programs’ benefits for travelers who fly 25,000 miles and spend $3,000 per year, 50,000 miles and $6,000, 75,000 miles and $9,000, and 125,000 miles and $15,000.

Alaska’s elite policies were rated No. 1 overall largely because the airline “still rewards its flyers with miles based on distance flown rather than dollars spent,” says Nick Ewen, an analyst for ThePointsGuy.com. “For an elite member, this can result in hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of extra miles that can then be redeemed on various partners like Air France, Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines.”

Alaska Airlines rates No. 1 among airlines’ elite-level frequent-flyer programs. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Ewen also applauds Alaska Airlines for its issuance of seat upgrade certificates. Frequent flyers who reach 50,000 miles and spend $6,000 per year qualify for MVP Gold status which provides four Gold Guest Upgrade certificates that can be used by the elite member or transferred to a friend or family member.

“No other carrier offers this type of flexible perk to mid-tier elites (those who fly 50,000 miles and spend $6,000 per year),” Ewen says. “Finally, Alaska waives all change and cancellation fees for members of MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K (those who fly 75,000 miles and spend $9,000), providing these elite flyers with incredible flexibility on their tickets.”

Alaska Airlines’ No. 1 overall ranking was achieved after ThePointsGuy.com evaluated all six airlines’ elite-status policies for in-flight perks (25% of the airline’s final score), fee waivers (20%), bonuses (20%), airport perks (10%), flexible perks (10%), non-flying perks (5%), partner perks (5%) and reservation perks (5%).

Though Alaska Airlines’ elite polices ranked No. 1 overall, the carrier dropped to No. 4, and United Airlines No. 1, for elite flyers who fly 125,000 miles and spend $15,000 annually, according to ThePointsGuy.com study.

The main reason for United’s top billing involves upgrade certificates, Ewen says. United’s Premier 1K program — which flyers qualify for by flying at least 100,000 miles and spending $12,000 in a year — awards six Regional Upgrade certificates (valid domestically and on short-haul international flights) and six Global Upgrade certificates (valid on all United flights). In addition, these travelers earn additional upgrade certificates for every additional 25,000 miles flown.