How to Choose the Best Travel Rewards Program

Beach side rewards

We’re always looking for new ways to spend less on flights and hotel stays. But what about actually being rewarded for the money that we do spend on travel?

See, there are a ton of great programs out there that allow you to earn rewards just for traveling, particularly if you’re loyal to one company or brand. Virtually all airlines, hotel groups, and online booking platforms offer the opportunity to earn rewards for frequently choosing them.

Of course, not all of these programs are created equal. While some of them are must-haves for frequent travelers, other programs make it near impossible to ever earn a free stay or flight. To help you choose which type of program is right for you, we’ve teamed up with our friends at Wise Bread, one of the leading financial websites, to list some of the most popular ways to earn travel rewards.

Airline rewards programs

Personally, we’re fans of whatever airline is offering the best flight deals at the moment. But if you’ve got an airline that you fly frequently or that you just really enjoy, it might be worth it to see if they offer a rewards program for frequent flyers.

Airline rewards programs offer a variety of perks and bonuses. Every program is a bit different but they generally work the same. When you sign up, usually just with your email, you’ll earn points for purchasing things like flights, in-flight refreshments, or merchandise. Rewards for these purchases include things like free flights, priority boarding, and reimbursements for onboard purchases.

Choosing the best airline rewards program comes down to a few things: How easy is it to earn a free flight? Does the airline offer services that fit your travel needs? Are points awarded based on miles flown or dollars spent?

Every traveler’s needs are different, but according to U.S. World and News Report’s rankings, the best airline rewards programs are the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, Delta SkyMiles, and JetBlue TrueBlue. 

Reward booking with Credit card

Credit card reward programs

If you travel frequently, credit cards are an excellent way to earn rewards on travel. Of course, some cards are better than others.

The finance experts at Wise Bread highly recommend the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card, which is currently offering a $200 online sign-up bonus. The card offers the opportunity to earn cash back in a variety of different ways. Most impressive, you can earn 3% cash back on the category of your choosing, such as travel, which feels a lot like getting paid to go on vacation.

Beyond that, Bank of America Cash Rewards card users receive 1% cash back on all purchases and 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs.

If cashback cards aren’t your style, other great options include branded options through your favorite hotel or airline, as well as cards that offer travel-specific rewards.

Some of our other favorite travel rewards credit cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Capital One Venture, Delta SkyMiles, and Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select cards.

Hotel rewards programs

Similar to airline rewards programs, hotel rewards programs reward you for loyalty to one hotel group. Fortunately, many hotel groups own and operate several different brands, giving you more options when you travel.

Perks for hotel rewards programs can range anywhere from free wifi access and food and drink credits to room upgrades and free stays. Some programs even allow members to earn rewards in the form of free car rentals and flights. 

When it comes to hotel loyalty programs, we really like the Marriott Bonvoy program. With the ability to stay and earn at thousands of hotels in over 130 countries, they make it incredibly easy to earn quality rewards points. 

Online travel agent rewards programs

When making travel arrangements, your best bet is typically to book directly. But sometimes, whether for ease of search or getting a good deal, it’s best to use an OTA or online travel agency. Some of the major OTAs include sites like Booking, Kayak, Orbitz, and Expedia.

While often not as robust as hotel or airline programs, most of these OTAs allow travelers to earn rewards for every hotel stay, flight, car rental, or excursion booked through their site. Rewards can range from members-only room rates and room upgrades to free breakfast or another amenity. However, travelers should be conscious of the potential downsides of booking through third-party sites. The biggest problems arise when it comes to cancellations and delays, which often result in a back and forth between your OTA and the hotel or airline, making it difficult to get your refund.

Hotel room

Start earning travel rewards

We still think the best travel reward is finding a great flight deal in the first place. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be trying to maximize your travel rewards. Choose a credit card, hotel, and airline rewards program that fits your needs and start earning today!

  • Zach Anderson

    Zach was a digital marketer, copywriter, and flight deal expert at Dollar Flight Club where he helped 1 million people travel more. As a digital nomad, he is deeply passionate about location independence, Thai food, and helping others see the world affordably.

No more travel fomo!