Our Favorite Rewards Programs


As we wind down the year, we’re going to do something a little different, perhaps even start an annual tradition. In this blog we, as active travelers, want to call out and offer blogger-kudos to our favorite rewards programs, and in the next blog we want to publish our first annual “Best Of” list.

When it comes to travel reward programs, two that we participate in earn our “Gold Star”:

  • American Express Membership Rewards – we’ve participated in Amex Membership Rewards for more than a decade and have nothing but praise for the program and their customer service. We mostly use points for air travel (the most flexible when it comes to number of airlines and transfers), but have also used it for hotels and rental cars. And if you travel frequently you should give serious consideration to upgrading to the Amex Platinum card: at that level you get access to airline clubs (which for these travelers almost makes up for the hassles of modern air travel: a good club is an oasis in a busy airport). Put it this way: with 5 trips to Europe under our belt since 2001, we’ve paid for the airfare for all but one with Amex Membership Rewards points, including taking our kids for one of those trips.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Ultimate Rewards – perhaps a temporary runner-up to the Amex Membership Rewards Program, we joined the Chase Ultimate Rewards program this year because of tantalizing sign-up rewards (45,000 points if you charge $3,500 the first 3 months you have the card: this is more than enough points to get 2 domestic round trip tickets). Time will tell if they earn our long-term loyalty; at first glance the airfare benefits seem limiting, which is perhaps why they have to be so generous up front. One other very interesting benefit they offer is trip insurance: it would have come in handy this past summer when we were caught in San Francisco after the Asiana flight crash and we had to pick up a couple of hundred dollars in extra hotel nights.
The above programs we would put in a category of companies that have an interest in the travel industry (bank and credit card companies obviously), but what about companies that actively participate in the travel industry? Here are the programs we’d like to call out:
  • Delta’s SkyMiles program: clear program rewards and points that don’t expire, coupled with a website that is clear in showing where you are in the program and that makes it easy for you to use your rewards. What else could you ask for?
Well, and that’s really it. We participate in about 20 other programs, but with unclear points earnings, benefits that come and go, and web sites that don’t make it easy to use their rewards it usually feels like a bait-and-switch: that they don’t really want you earning and using points. So double kudos to Delta for doing the opposite.
And next upĀ (drum roll please): our first annual “Best Of” list…

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