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Despite a rocky integration with Starwood Preferred Guest, Marriott performed well in this year’s loyalty rankings. Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, continued its reliable drumbeat of dominance.

Marriott and Southwest Airlines on Thursday night once again took top honors at the annual Freddie Awards, recognizing the top travel industry loyalty programs. A few new players, including Hyatt and IHG, were able to sneak onto the podium, too.

The rankings are compiled from millions of votes across business travelers in the industry. The ceremony for the awards, named for eccentric airline mogul Freddie Laker, was held at the C.R. Smith Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

Southwest Airlines and its Rapid Rewards program once again dominated the industry in North America. For the fourth consecutive year, it won as program of the year while it also took top honors for best customer service and best redemption ability. American Airlines was awarded best elite program, largely because of the system-wide upgrades that top-tier frequent flyers at the carrier earn.

On the hotel side, Marriott’s Bonvoy loyalty program won program of the year in North America for the 12th year straight. It also won best redemption ability in North America due to the sheer number of properties available in its network as well as its wide spectrum of airline transfer partners — a legacy of the Starwood Preferred Guest Program.

A truncated list of awards in North America, Europe and Africa, and the Middle East and Asia, is below.

Winners list 2018

Awards for airlines in the Americas:

  • Program of the Year — Southwest Airlines – Rapid Rewards
  • Best Elite Program — American Airlines – AAdvantage
  • Best Customer Service — Southwest Airlines – Rapid Rewards
  • Best Redemption Ability — Southwest Airlines – Rapid Rewards

Awards for North American hotel operators were:

  • Program of the Year — Marriott Hotels – Marriott Bonvoy
  • Best Elite Program — Hyatt Hotels – World of Hyatt
  • Best Customer Service — Caesar’s Entertainment – Caesars Rewards
  • Best Redemption Ability — Marriott Hotels – Marriott Bonvoy

Airlines, Europe and Africa:

  • Program of the Year — Norwegian Air – Norwegian Reward
  • Best Elite Program — Aeroflot – Aeroflot Bonus
  • Best Customer Service — Aeroflot – Aeroflot Bonus
  • Best Redemption Ability — Air France/KLM – Flying Blue

Hotels, Europe and Africa:

  • Program of the Year — Accor Hotels – Le Club Accorhotels
  • Best Elite Program — Mariott Hotels – Marriott Bonvoy
  • Best Customer Service — Accor Hotels – Le Club Accorhotels
  • Best Redemption Ability — IHG – IHG Rewards Club

Airlines, Middle East & Asia/Oceania:

  • Program of the Year — Virgin Australia – Velocity
  • Best Elite Program — Virgin Australia – Velocity
  • Best Customer Service — Virgin Australia – Velocity
  • Best Redemption Ability — Virgin Australia – Velocity

Hotels, Europe and Africa:

  • Program of the Year — IHG –  IHG Rewards Club
  • Best Elite Program — Hyatt Hotels – World of Hyatt
  • Best Customer Service — Accor Hotels – Le Club Accorhotels
  • Best Redemption Ability — IHG – IHG Rewards Club

Full results are available at

Continued Dominance From Southwest and marriott

In winning several of this year’s airline loyalty awards, Southwest Airlines continued its  dominance over legacy carriers for the fourth year straight. Though Rapid Rewards uses a revenue-based model for awarding points to travelers, redeeming the currency for booking flights is extremely easy and affords plenty of flexibility for flight changes and cancellations. That simplicity alone makes Southwest Airlines a strong annual contender on the loyalty awards.

Marriott’s dominance was slightly more tenuous. Last year the operator practically swept its category in North America, but this year, the award for best elite program went to Hyatt while best customer service went to Caesars Rewards.

“Hyatt has traditionally performed well in the best elite category,” said Gary Leff, an influential travel loyalty program blogger at and the emcee of the annual Freddie Awards. “They’ve offered their top-tier elites suites confirmed at time of booking, not just if they’re available when a member checks in. They also made several recent improvements: counting award stays toward elite status and extending the validity of free nights members earn after 30 and 60 nights stayed each year, and making status easier to earn with their credit card. Members can now even access premium suites with their points.”

Still, it’s impressive to see Marriott perform so well in light of the recent changes at its loyalty program. “Marriott faced a daunting task merging their programs and had some stumbles along the way,” said Leff, “but legacy Marriott members are seeing more elite benefits than before, and Starwood members are seeing faster earn for their stays. Members recognized the value that Marriott is bringing to the table.”

As Marriott’s Bonvoy program continues to settle in with travelers, it’s possible that it may make a full recovery in next year’s Freddie Awards — after all, it does have the widest base of loyalty members available for voting. If competing operators continue to chip away at Marriott’s customer base, however, the 2020 awards could be far different.

Skift Contributor Grant Martin is the director of product marketing for TripActions. 


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Tags: bonvoy, freddie awards, marriott, marriott bonvoy, southwest airlines

Photo credit: Freddie Award trophies awarded annually to top loyalty programs Freddie Awards

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