BUDGET TRAVEL ADVICE

The Breakdown on 8 Membership Programs

Can't decide if it's worth joining a hotel or airline loyalty program? We took eight of the most popular rewards programs and found out exactly how they work—from how long it really takes to get rewards to all the additional perks you get by being brand loyal.

Are there any blackout dates associated with travel? No, although seats available for 25,000 miles are limited, especially on peak travel days. Check early and often.

What partnerships does this reward program offer? More than 140 are offered; you get miles when you fly on other airlines like Air France and Korean Air, and for signing up for everything from financial services from Fidelity to earning 1,500 miles when you join Netflix.

Are there special promotions available only to members? No.

What are some other perks? Sign up for a Delta SkyMiles AmEx card and check your first bag free. Other perks don't kick in until you reach elite status or when you book a premium ticket.

JETBLUE TRUEBLUE
What kind of rewards do you get? Points, which can be redeemed only for flights. Thanks to a new partnership with Hawaiian Airlines, you can use points for flights to the islands, or redeem them for magazine subscriptions.

How long does it take to get rewards? You can score a one-way flight starting at 5,000 points, while round-trip flights start at 10,000 points. Double your points by booking through jetblue.com (you'll earn six points per dollar spent instead of the usual three), and be on the lookout for promotions throughout the year that offer extra bonus miles.

What is the range of redemption options? You can book awards to any of JetBlue's 71 destinations throughout the U.S., Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America. The number of seats available for awards isn't restricted, but you'll need a lot more points for peak times or routes with high fares.

How easy is it to use? The program is straightforward, but because the number of points needed for an award is determined on a flight-by-flight basis, it can be hard to predict how many you'll need for a specific trip. However, points can be used for any flight at any time.

What are the fees? There are no membership fees and nothing is charged when you book an Award Flight—taxes are $2.50 for Award Flights and may vary depending on the destination.

Are there any blackout dates associated with travel? No. As long as there is a seat available and you have the points, you're free to fly.

What partnerships does this reward program offer? Members can earn points by flying with partner airlines—Hawaiian Airlines, Emirates, and select international routes via American Airlines—renting a car with Hertz, Budget, or Avis, or by staying at any participating Marriott or Hilton hotels. Points can also be earned by joining Netflix or by shopping online with companies like Gilt and Proper Cloth.

Are there special promotions available only to members? Check JetBlue.com for promotions that maximize point earning potential on certain routes.

What are some other perks? Members can transfer and share points with other each other, and earn extra points by purchasing any JetBlue Getaways vacation package.

AMERICAN AIRLINES AADVANTAGE
What kind of rewards do you get? AAdvantage members can redeem miles for travel on American Airlines, American Eagle, the American Connection carrier and more than 20 Oneworld Alliance and other participating airlines. Miles can also be used for airline upgrades, American Airlines Vacation Packages, Admirals Club membership, car rentals, hotel stays, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, gift cards, and more. Miles can also be donated to the Miles for Kids in Need program.

How long does it take to get rewards? As long as it takes to fly 25,000 miles round trip or 12,500 miles one way (or rack up an equivalent number of miles through partnership purchases).

What is the range of redemption options? American Airlines and its Oneworld alliance partners fly almost everywhere. MileSAAver awards (which start at 25,000 round-trip miles) are subject to capacity controls and have different mileage requirements for peak and off-peak flights. You'll have better luck scoring the flight you want with AAnytime awards, which require more miles (starting at 50,000 round trip) but are unrestricted. Good deals can be had flying to Hawaii, Europe, and Japan when you fly off-peak using MileSAAver awards. American introduced Dynamic Air Awards in 2011, allowing elite status members to book any economy class seat for even less.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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