Travel rewards programs are used by airlines and hotels to incentivize customer loyalty and repeat business by rewarding unused airline seats and hotel rooms to the most valuable customers. These programs have become much more accessible and allow everyday people to earn points towards luxury experiences that might otherwise be out of reach. Each year, thanks to travel loyalty programs, I redeem more than a million points and miles for experiences like a stay at the Renaissance St. Pancras London Hotel, air travel in first and business class and access to exclusive events.
In 1988, Randy Petersen, the “Godfather of Miles and Points” and founder of travel websites InsideFlyer and BoardingArea, launched the Freddie Awards to recognize the top travel loyalty programs. Millions of travelers vote for and rank their favorite programs, and the top brands are honored at an anneal ceremony. Last week, I had the honor of attending the Freddie Awards ceremony for the fifth year in a row, meeting and interacting with travel industry executives, writers and bloggers.
This year’s event was held at the American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum in Dallas, Texas and was a truly enjoyable evening.
More than 7 million votes were cast by travelers voting in one of three regions: North America, Europe & Africa, and Middle East & Asia/Oceania. The 2019 winners for the North American region were:
Program of the Year — Southwest Airlines – Rapid Rewards
Best Elite Program — American Airlines – AAdvantage
Best Promotion — Avianca – LifeMiles
Best Customer Service — Southwest Airlines – Rapid Rewards
Best Redemption Ability — Southwest Airlines – Rapid Rewards
210 AWARD — Air Canada – Aeroplan
Program of the Year — Marriott Hotels – Marriott Bonvoy
Best Elite Program — Hyatt – World of Hyatt
Best Promotion — Marriott Hotels – Marriott Bonvoy
Best Customer Service — Caesars Entertainment – Caesars Rewards
Best Redemption Ability — Marriott Hotels – Marriott Bonvoy
210 AWARD — Caesars Entertainment – Caesars Rewards
Southwest Airlines cleaned up once again, earning three of the six airline awards, including Program of the Year. American Airlines was the only other U.S. carrier to be recognized, winning the Best Elite Program category for the 8th year in a row.
On the hotel side, Marriott Bonvoy took home three awards, most notably Program of the Year. I was disappointed to see Hyatt honored for Best Elite Program, since their top elite member perk of guaranteed suite upgrades is not available to many people with disabilities who require accessible guest rooms – myself included.
Although the Freddie Awards don’t rate programs for accessibility, they are a useful resource in determining the value of loyalty programs and where to focus your spending for the best rewards. Even if you travel infrequently, don’t pass up the opportunity to collect points and miles — over time, they add up to incredible rewards!
Featured image courtesy The Freddie Awards.