An Alaska Airlines jet lands at Los Angeles International Airport on February 7, 2022. Alaska’s Alaska Miles topped NerdWallet’s airline program rankings for 2022.
George Rose | Getty Images
Have you ever wondered if you’ve been loyal to the right airline, hotel, or other travel provider all this time? Are those reward points you’ve been diligently accumulating the best deals available, or are competitors offering better deals?
It turns out that if you flew with Alaska Airlines to stay at Radisson hotels, you reaped the most rewards, according to NerdWallet. The consumer credit site has released its ranking of the most valuable airline and hotel rewards programs of 2022, and these two travel providers top the lists.
“The easiest way to think about the value of airline and hotel rewards programs is how much they reimburse you per dollar spent,” said Sam Kemmis, travel expert at NerdWallet. “For example, if you earn one point for every dollar spent and each point is worth 1 cent, you get 1% back.”
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The Alaska Mileage Plan, the most valuable airline program in NerdWallet’s analysis, offers 9.1% back, while Radisson Rewards offers 12%. Most airline and hotel programs offer between 5% and 10% back, Kemmis noted, adding that it’s basically free money.
“Travelers who don’t sign up for these loyalty programs can leave a lot of money on the table,” he said.
Programs from Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and Delta Air Lines round out the five most valuable airline programs in the NerdWallet ranking. Among hotel programs, World of Hyatt came in second and Wyndham Rewards third, followed by IHG Rewards and then, tied for fifth, Best Western Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy. (See chart for details.)
Not signing up at all is a mistake, but it’s also sitting on reward points forever, Kemmis warned.
“The biggest mistake you can make is sitting on a pile of points and waiting for the ‘perfect’ redemption,” he said, noting that if some points and miles expire, all are subject to a penalty. “devaluation”, which is similar to inflation. .
“Travel rewards are a kind of currency entirely controlled by the airlines, hotels and credit cards that issue them,” Kemmis added. “So if you wait too long to use your points, they could suddenly become much less valuable.”
As great as rewards return rates are, other factors of course play into which brands and programs travelers choose. The airline offering the most nonstop flights from your home airport, for example, may have a less generous schedule but still the most convenient and/or affordable flights. Kemmis said those reasons can run the gamut from benefits from elite status to leaf count.
In fact, NerdWallet’s overall ranking of airline and hotel rewards programs – as opposed to “most valuable” – changes things up a bit. For example, American Airlines’ AAdvantage program ranks second overall, although Alaska Miles still comes out on top.
But what about credit card points? Why bother with vendor programs when card points can usually be used just about anywhere?
“Airline/hotel credit card and rewards programs are not a zero-sum game; in fact, they often complement each other,” Kemmis said. “If you pay for a flight with a credit card that earns a lot of points on your travel spend, you’ll earn both credit card points and airline miles for the same trip.”
However, the value of credit card points drops if you pay high interest rates on card balances that never go down.
“You want to make sure you’re paying off your cards in full each month and maintaining a good credit rating before you sign up for new cards,” he noted.