This is your last chance to vote in the annual Freddie Awards, voting ends tomorrow February 29th.
This is the one that matters, there are an almost limitless number of travel awards out there and it’s always shocking the results that some of them offer (and one suspects that in some cases they’re bought and paid for). Travel providers seem to really care how they do in this set of awards, the programs almost all promote it to their members to get out the vote of those likely to support them. But even so, all the politicking in the world is unlikely to skew the vote — over 400,000 travelers will cast their ballots in the Freddies. So even when I disagree with an outcome I have to respect it.
On the whole (and in spite of the not insubstantial quibbles that I have with these programs!) I find that United Mileage Plus and American AAdvantage offer the best value for top tier elites and for all members’ mileage redemption but they don’t often rise to the top in this poll.
I fear that Alaska Airlines will again do well in spite of changes to their program that really affect the way that I use it – especially their decision to hold back inventory for upgrades, making those more difficult to redeem for on transcontinental flights in particular, combined with a requirement to buy higher fares in order to redeem for an upgrade. Domestic first class awards are much less available on these flights in my experience as well.
For hotel programs, Starwood still offers the best redemption but their award prices have become so much higher. Hilton is on the way towards catching up in ease of redemption. They don’t have the large number of properties that I want to stay at. that Starwood does.
Intercontinental Royal Ambassador is probably the most consistently rewarding elite level, but with too few properties to make a huge impact. In some sense it’s a subset of the Priority Club program and Royal Ambassadors also receive Priority Club Platinum status — the most inconsistent of all program elite levels when applied at the hotel properties where it matters (Holiday Inns, Crowne Plazas, etc).
Meanwhile, Marriott and Hilton aren’t great for deliver suite upgrades so they’re immediately off my list for best elite level — a category in which I ultimately pick Starwood. And since the other programs have gone through their own devaluations (to varying extents, my general sense is that Starwood’s was the most severe followed by Priority Club, Hyatt, Hilton, and then Marriott as the least affected) I haven’t given up on Starwood across the board either.
The Starwood American Express is still my choice for credit cards. Diners Club is no longer meaningfully on the scene. The Hilton American Express is improving as a value proposition with redemption improvements at Hilton (I just wish there were options to redeem for room upgrades like ocean views and suites). But in spite of the devaluation of points over the past year, Starwood’s credit card earning appeals because of the ease with which points are redeemed for hotel nights and still transfer out to mileage programs in a rewarding way.