There is phrase I like to use and I find it especially fitting for the travel industry. It goes like this, "The only constant in the universe is that everything will change." When it comes to loyalty programs, change is almost constant in the battle for loyal customers and the attempt to strike a balance with not giving away too much in achieving that loyalty. With some many changes having come from American Airlines this year, it's time to look at not just who my top picks are for airline loyalty are, but other travel sectors as well.
Airline - Delta
After some recent changes to American Airlines AAdvantage program, it looks like that very fine edge that gave American the best program, was quickly erased by the carrier. Dropping themselves down to last place among US domestic carriers American made a mistake. In my mind, Delta wins the war here, not because of their amazing program, but because American Airlines decided they didn't like first place anymore and rather enjoyed taking up the rear.
Not to say Delta doesn't deserve credit for what is a solid loyalty program. From the world wide upgrades, to a good domestic upgrade system, to what seems to be a fairly consistent customer service on board, Delta wins this hands down now. While their program leaves much to be desired when it comes to miles redemption, the perks that come from elite status are the top notch of US carriers.
Hotel - Starwood
Starwood was number one in my book right off the bat and they have done nothing but impress me from the start. Starwood's loyalty program is unmatched in the industry, providing crossover rewards for Delta, Emirates and Uber customers, allowing you more ways to earn rewards and even perks that normally come from hard earned status.
Starwood also has many bonus programs throughout the year that give almost as many miles to my points bank as my standard stays... maybe more in many cases.
Beyond this, all of the Starwood loyalty points are transferable to over 30 different airline partners... and every 20,000 points you transfer gets you an additional bonus of 5,000 miles... that is hard to beat anywhere in the industry. Add in the room upgrades I've received, welcome gifts, food discounts, and this becomes self evident. No other loyalty program comes close to how good Starwood is.
Car - Avis
This one is hard to choose, since for a long time I was a part of Hertz Gold program. However, using the MasterCard world elite perks, I was able to secure elite status with Avis. This allows me to sometimes upgrade... though I still haven't had that happen since joining the program.
Price is the big differentiation here as Hertz tends to be more expensive. I don't feel as strongly about car rental services as I do other loyalty sectors. Car rental companies seem complacent in having sub par loyalty programs with few perks, almost non-existent elite status, and generally underwhelming service.
As I move to Delta though, high level elite status there promises elite status with Hertz... so that may justify a move back to Hertz who in general has been just as good as Avis. Elite status through MasterCard ever so slightly favors Avis at this moment, but this is one that changes for me quickly and often.
Likely many of the program I brought up aren't a surprise, but it is important to re-evaluate where you stand with companies every so often. If another program offers better benefits, changing loyalty may be the best option in those cases. Loyalty is great, but I don't work for any company, I am only loyal for my own benefits. If those benefits go away, my assessment will reflect that and likely I'll change my allegiances to the company that best fits my needs.