Skift Take

Alaska Airlines continued to scoop up awards for its distance-based loyalty program while Marriott took advantage of its recent merger in this year's U.S. News and World Report's loyalty program rankings.

Unseating Wyndham Rewards, Marriott Rewards took top honors in the 2017 hotel loyalty program in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings.

The study cited the broad volume of properties now available to Marriott Reward members for bookings as one of the main criterion for winning this year. Other considerations were the program’s flexible ability to use points for non-hotel related awards such as concerts or sporting events — though most other hotel rewards have that capability too.

The annual rankings for top loyalty programs in the travel industry came out this morning.

What likely pushed Marriott Rewards to the top this year was its merger with Starwood, which was wrapped up in September 2016. Together, Marriott and Starwood jointly operate over 5,700 properties, giving travelers somewhere to stay in almost any business or leisure destination around the world. Wyndham hotels, which took second place in this year’s rankings, operates over 8,000 hotels, but doesn’t have a partnership and earnings program as powerful and varied as Marriott.

Rounding out the top five hotel loyalty programs selected by U.S. News were:

  1. Marriott Rewards
  2. Wyndham Rewards
  3. Choice Privileges
  4. World of Hyatt
  5. Best Western Rewards

Alaska Dominates the Airline Loyalty Programs

Like last year, Alaska Airlines continued to dominate its peers in the airline loyalty program category. Its strong position was largely driven by its use of a distance-based loyalty program, effectively letting passengers who fly on deeply-discounted fares to continue to earn elite status.

American, Delta and United, by contrast, have all adopted revenue-based loyalty programs in recent years, requiring passengers to fly a requisite volume of miles and spend a corresponding amount of cash each year to earn elite status. While that move has served to save the airlines money and better manage loyalty programs, it also hasn’t been popular with customers. In May, Alaska overtook American in the annual Flyertalk awards as the community’s favorite loyalty program.

This year, Delta Air Lines also got decent rankings thanks to “competitive redemption rates,” according to U.S. News methodology, and because of the diversity of redemption options that the program has beyond simple airline tickets.

Rounding out the top five airline loyalty programs were:

  1. Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
  2. Delta SkyMiles
  3. JetBlue TrueBlue
  4. Southwest Rapid Rewards
  5. United MileagePlus


U.S. News and World Report calculated its airline rankings based on several weighted factors including: the ease of earning a free round-trip flight (45 percent); additional benefits such as partnerships (25 percent ); network coverage (10 percent); award flight availability (10 percent); the number of daily flights (5 percent); and Air Quality Rating, a numerical score tabulated each year measuring overall airline quality.

The ease of earning a free-round trip flight likely pushed Alaska to the top of its rankings, as users earn miles in that program solely based on distance, not on spend.

Hotel rankings were calculated similarly, factoring in: the ease of earning a free night (45 percent); additional benefits (25 percent); geographic coverage (15 percent) the number of hotels in the network (10 percent) and property diversity, or the variety of properties that subscribe to the program (5 percent).

Full methodology for the study as well as a breakdown of the full report are available on U.S. News & World Report’s landing page.

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Tags: airlines, alaska, loyalty, marriott, wyndham

Photo credit: This image was from Marriott Rewards' Six Days, Seven Nights Snapchat series. Marriott International / Marriott

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