Are all Airline Rewards Programs the Same?

Are all Airline Rewards Programs the Same?

All airline rewards programs sound enticing but how do you choose the best program for yourself? What should you consider before committing to one particular airline? Your UNIGLOBE experts provide some assistance with that tricky situation as we take a look at the three most popular programs in the U.S., United's MileagePlus, Delta's SkyMiles and American's AAdvantage.

What should I know about points accumulation?

Earn qualifying miles with each of the three programs by traveling with the main carrier or its partner airlines. United is partnered with other Star Alliance carriers, a total of 28 other airlines. Delta and its eight Group 1 Partner Airlines earn you full qualifying miles while you receive reduced miles for traveling with its 17 other partners. With American and US Airways merging, it's inevitable that their two programs will eventually merge, however there are currently no details available. Qualifying miles can be accumulated by traveling on American or any oneworld alliance partner, a total of 12 other carriers.

To qualify for United's MileagePlus Premier status, Delta's Medallion status or American's AAdvantage elite status you must earn 25,000 Qualifying Miles or 30 Qualifying Flight segments in a calendar year. Beginning  January 1, 2014, both United and Delta will also require a minimum of $2,500 Qualifying Dollars spent in a year. United and American have the added proviso that at least four of your qualifying segments must be flown on the carrier to whom the program belongs.

For all three airlines, miles can also be accumulated through select hotels and car-rental agencies. And of course, each program also has a partner credit card program for even more earning opportunity.

Am I eligible for complimentary upgrades?

Achieve elite status with any of these programs and you'll be eligible for complimentary upgrades to first-class. American has the most restrictive rules on attaining upgrades, only allowing them to Executive Platinum members unless booked in a full Y or B-class fare. United and Delta allow easier access to complimentary upgrades. With each airline's elite program, the higher the level you achieve, the further in advance the upgrade will be confirmed. Each program also offers complimentary or discounted access to premium economy seating.

What free or discounted items do I receive as a rewards member?

To receive additional perks you must reach elite status with each of the programs. Here's a quick comparison of some of the additional benefits you are entitled to, based on the entry premier level of each carrier.

Added Benefits United Mileage Plus Premier Silver Delta SkyMiles Medallion Silver American AAdvantage Gold
Priority Check-in Yes Yes Yes
Priority Boarding Yes Yes Yes
Mileage Bonuses Yes - 25% Yes - 25% Yes - 25%
Priority Security Screening Yes - where offered No Yes - where offered
Priority Baggage Handling Yes Yes No
Free checked baggage - varies by airline and destination Yes Yes Yes

Compare the benefits offered by each program and choose one based on the benefits that will most suit your travel needs. With all of the plans so similar, it may come down to choosing one based on its partner airlines and where they fly.

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