The Best Frequent Flyer Programs of 2017

The two airlines that topped the list scored a 59.05 and a 55.09 out of a possible 100 points, leaving substantial room for improvement.

The best domestic airline frequent flyer programs, after analyzing the 11 largest domestic airlines, are Delta Air Lines, with a score of 59.05 out of a possible 100, and Alaska Airlines, with a score of 55.09, according to WalletHub’s 2017 Airline Rewards Study.

Amazing. First of all, scoring a 55 or a 59 out of a possible 100 points is, as my mother might say, “nothing to brag about.” Secondly, although I rarely fly Alaska Airlines, I do know about Delta’s program. Over the years, I have accrued more than 176,000 miles on Delta. The reason that I still have 176,000 miles on Delta is that I can almost never swap my miles for a ticket. In the last three years when I have tried to purchase miles 11 months in advance, the Delta system requires me to spend the most miles possible.

I even called a customer service agent about this in case I was misreading the charts, but he assured me that for the privilege of obtaining a seat well in advance, I would need to cash in more miles than is typically required. That seemed outrageous. So I waited a few months and tried again. That’s when I discovered that most of the frequent flyer seats on reasonably direct flights were already booked. I could, however, get to my destination by flying south in the U.S. to pick up a partner airline over the Atlantic that would land hours and hours north of my goal. At that European airport, I would have to wait 8 hours for a connection to my intended destination. So that’s why I still have 176,000 miles. But I digress.

Among WalletHub’s findings:

Top 5 Frequent Flyer Programs

· Delta Air Lines, with a score of 59.05 out of a possible 100

· Alaska Airlines with a score of 55.09

· JetBlue Airways, 51.35 score

· American Airlines, 49.30

· United Airlines, 48.15

Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways are the only two major airlines whose miles do not expire because of inactivity.

About 7 percent of flights are paid for with points or miles.

Hawaiian Airlines offers the most rewards value per $1 spent ($0.21), with Alaska Airlines coming in a close second ($0.20).

Airline miles cost an average of 62 percent more than they’re worth when purchased rather than earned.

The Frontier Airlines Credit Card and the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card from American Express are 2017’s best airline credit cards.

Eight out of 11 airlines do not impose blackout dates on tickets purchased with miles. WalletHub does not provide the names.