The most lucrative rewards program for every type of traveler

by Сашка

Flying with a plus-one? Prefer a short-term rental? There’s a reward for that.

Travel rewards programs have been around for decades. In 1981, American Airlines created one of the first travel industry loyalty programs. Soon after, travel rewards credit cards came on the scene. Now, these types of plans are everywhere. The largest programs are worth tens of billions of dollars, sometimes more valuable than the companies that own them.

If you travel frequently, enrolling in a rewards program is bound to happen. Sign up and access free onboard WiFi, says one airline (Delta Air Lines). Become a member and get free late checkout, declares a hospitality group (Leading Hotels of the World).

The best travel credit card for every type of traveler

While your inbox may be a labyrinth of airline, hotel and credit card offers, if you’re a regular traveler, it may be time to open up a few of those emails. Rewards enthusiasts know that, with the right program, travel can become a better (and less costly) experience.

“It can be overwhelming, so it’s important to prioritize how well a program fits into your lifestyle and not the other way around,” says Juan Ruiz, a travel loyalty expert and senior editor for Upgraded Points. “Don’t think about how popular a program is, but instead, consider where you’re going, how often you plan to travel and if you’d be able to use the benefits.”

Here are a few to consider to start raking in the rewards, based on how you travel.

For the traveler who wants a hotel to be everywhere

Rewards program: Marriott Bonvoy

Frequent travelers aren’t always going to the same places. Whether it’s for a client meeting in Fargo, N.D. (Delta Hotels by Marriott Fargo); a safari expedition in the Masai Mara (JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge); or a show in the West End (the London Edition), the places we visit are highly disparate.

Marriott is a behemoth of a global hotel chain with more than 30 brands and nearly 8,700 properties in 139 countries; in fact, it’s the largest hotel group in the world. Marriott Bonvoy rewards members can earn and redeem points at a variety of hotels, from budget to luxury.

Although the number of points to redeem at its hotels can fluctuate dramatically from date to date and hotel to hotel, Marriott is a powerhouse of a program for one simple fact: There’s a good chance there is a Marriott hotel where you want to go.

For the traveler who usually flies with a plus-one

Rewards program: Southwest Rapid Rewards

For those travelers who enjoy hopping around with a designated buddy, this one is for you.

Southwest Airlines has always been a bit of an eccentric yet much-loved carrier, and there are remnants of that to this day. The company’s coveted Companion Pass — part of its Rapid Rewards loyalty program — is an elite travel benefit that’s almost too good to be true. Unlike with similar passes in the travel world, there are no strings attached.

Southwest doesn’t do red-eye flights — but that may be changing

The Companion Pass allows another passenger to fly with you free (plus taxes) an unlimited number of times — for the life of the pass. Traditionally, the pass is valid for the rest of the year it’s earned, plus the entire following year. That even includes wildly expensive travel periods, such as the days before and after Thanksgiving.

To get the pass, you must earn 135,000 qualifying points or fly 100 qualifying flights with Southwest in a calendar year. However, credit card spending — and even the bonus you earn when signing up for a Southwest card — counts.

For the traveler who favors vacation rentals

Rewards program: One Key (Expedia, Hotels.com, Vrbo)

Read also:
How to train for a marathon on vacation

Whether you’re fully anti-hotel or simply prefer the comforts of home, there’s only one rewards program for renting that ski cabin, city apartment or waterfront lake house. Airbnb’s biggest competitor, Vrbo, has a program called One Key, which also includes Expedia and Hotels.com. It launched in mid-2023, meaning short-term vacation renters on Vrbo can now get something back for all of their spending.

A golden era of airline status is ending

Regardless of what they book — such as adult treehouses — members earn cash-equivalent “OneKeyCash” currency toward future trips. Although it isn’t a massive amount (we’re talking about 2 percent), vacation rentals are now part of a larger rewards program, and that’s a big deal.

Expedia Group, the parent company of Vrbo, created the One Key rewards program to work across all three of the travel booking platforms. You can earn rewards on Vrbo, Expedia or Hotels.com — then spend those rewards on any of the others.

For the traveler who wants to maximize spending

Rewards program: Transferrable rewards currencies

Rewards credit cards, when used responsibly, can be an extraordinary travel asset. With the right program, everyday spending can get you closer to your next trip.

Although there’s no such thing as a single “best” travel credit card, certain cards are more well-rounded than others. Transferrable rewards cards allow you to move one reward point to another. These include cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Rewards, Bilt Rewards and others.

Look at American Express’s program, for instance. These rewards can be earned by spending on select American Express credit cards — and can then be redeemed for travel. In other words, American Express points are not just American Express points; they have the potential to become Delta miles, Hilton points and more. That’s the power of a transferrable rewards currency: options.

By opening the door to a variety of other programs, you have the flexibility to redeem with the airline or hotel partner that makes the most sense for your travel arrangements.

For the traveler who prefers a boutique stay

Rewards program: Leaders Club (Leading Hotels of the World)

If you’re a frequent traveler who loves independent hotels, this one is for you. Leading Hotels of the World is a collection of luxury hotels, with more than 400 properties in over 80 countries.

Checking into a hotel? Prepare for hefty fees and deposits.

Members who are part of the Leaders Club receive perks from the get-go (meaning no status required), including a one-category upgrade upon arrival, daily continental breakfast and late checkout. They can also earn and redeem points at coveted properties worldwide, such as the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York or Nihi Sumba in Indonesia.

Chris Dong is a freelance travel writer and credit card points expert based in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Instagram: @thechrisflyer.

More travel tips

Vacation planning: Start with a strategy to maximize days off by taking PTO around holidays. Experts recommend taking multiple short trips for peak happiness. Want to take an ambitious trip? Here are 12 destinations to try this year — without crowds.

Cheap flights: Follow our best advice for scoring low airfare, including setting flight price alerts and subscribing to deal newsletters. If you’re set on an expensive getaway, here’s a plan to save up without straining your credit limit.

Airport chaos: We’ve got advice for every scenario, from canceled flights to lost luggage. Stuck at the rental car counter? These tips can speed up the process. And following these 52 rules of flying should make the experience better for everyone.

Expert advice: Our By The Way Concierge solves readers’ dilemmas, including whether it’s okay to ditch a partner at security, or what happens if you get caught flying with weed. Submit your question here. Or you could look to the gurus: Lonely Planet and Rick Steves.

Related Posts