Best and worst airlines and cards for miles, points and redemption


Your rewards credit card, of course, is in your wallet. But where are the rewards? Do you know how many points you have, how you can use them and when they might expire?

Probably not.

“The good news is most people collect miles,” says Brian Kelly, proprietor of, a site dedicated to maximizing consumers’ travel points. “The bad news is they don’t know how to use them and many let them expire.”


Almost three-quarters of Americans who collect frequent-flyer miles or credit-card rewards points don’t know how many they have, according to a recent study by Princeton Survey Research Associates International commissioned by The study also found that only 41 percent of Americans even understand how frequent-flyer programs work.

Sounds as if it’s time for a rewards card/miles/points intervention, with help from The Points Guy, who once collected $3,000 in rewards points for signing up for two credit cards. (His secret to how you can make a score is below.)

How To Keep TrackOf Points, Miles

Kelly recommends two free online services, and [TripIt Pro], to track account balances on miles, hotel points and rewards points. These two sites also email you when your miles are about to expire and track your flights.

“Airlines are notoriously terrible when there’s actually a flight change,” says Kelly. “But Tripit and AwardWallet actually let me know about cancellations and delays before the airlines have.”

Best Airlines For Points

JetBlue, Southwest Airlines and Virgin America are just like money,” says Kelly. “You can pretty much redeem them for any flights. The hard part is that most of the traditional airlines — American and United — you kind of have to jump through hoops to get the tickets. But you can also redeem for much higher value international first class.”

Requests for a frequent-flyer award ticket on Southwest were available in 100 percent of requests in a recently released Switchfly Reward Seat Availability Survey for round-trip travel between June and October. Seats were available on JetBlue for almost 89 percent of requests. United, at 80 percent, scored much higher than American (49 percent), Delta (36 percent) and US Airways (36 percent).

Most Valuable Miles

United Airlines. Kelly says despite the trouble of redeeming miles for flights, United’s affiliation with Star Alliance — and benefits like priority airport check-in and boarding, extra baggage allowance — makes a difference.

“Star Alliance is the biggest alliance,” says Kelly. “People need to think beyond just the airlines that they fly. It’s all about the partners these days. Southwest is a great program, but if you want to go internationally it’s horrible, it’s the worst in the world. So it could be the best for someone and the worst for another.”

Cash Back Or Points Card?

How often do you travel and where to you want to go?

“What people need to understand,” says Kelly, “is that you can get cash-back cards that are easily 1 percent to 2 percent back on everything you spend. So you’re going with a mileage card, you’re going to have to get more than that in value.”

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