Choosing the Best Loyalty Programs for You in 2024

Here are the best ways to get rewarded by airlines, hotels—even credit card companies—this year.

Airplane landing in silhouette from a direct front angle on a blue sky

Airline and hotel loyalty programs are free to join, so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by signing up.

Photo by Gary Lopater on Unsplash

AFAR partners with and may receive a commission from card issuers. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. Compensation may impact how an offer is presented. Our coverage is independent and objective, and has not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are entirely those of the AFAR editorial team.

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit to learn more.

All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and the Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® has been collected independently by AFAR.

A new year means new opportunities to rack up points and acquire elite status in the myriad loyalty programs of the travel industry. Whether you’re new to the game in 2024 or simply looking to switch your brand allegiance, there’s plenty of good news. Despite a trend of more stringent elite qualifications and the overall inflation of points and miles, select programs still reward travelers with plenty of perks, points, and VIP benefits. Here are the top travel loyalty programs to consider joining in 2024—and some tips on how to get started.

Important basics of loyalty programs

The first thing to know about airline and hotel loyalty programs is that they are free to join, meaning you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by signing up. Points and miles expire in some programs but not all—so in many cases they can lie dormant in an account for extended periods. It’s a myth that you can’t belong to multiple loyalty programs. You can—and you should!—belong to numerous ones, including international programs. For example, I am a huge fan of the Air France/KLM Flying Blue program and Air Canada’s Aeroplan program. If you plan to join multiple programs, it’s a good idea to track points and miles in a single spreadsheet or use an app such as AwardWallet, which tracks the balances of your loyalty programs in a single place.

For those looking to attain elite status, note that qualification years for elite programs vary among hotel and airline programs. For hotel programs, the elite status qualification year follows the calendar year (i.e., January 1 to December 31). This is also true for the airline loyalty programs of Southwest Airlines and United Airlines. But the elite qualification year for Delta runs from February 1 to January 31, and for American Airlines from March 1 to February 28. Additionally, if you earn elite status in one qualifying year for any of these programs, it will extend for the rest of that year and through the entire next qualifying year.

In many cases getting a cobranded credit card boosts your points balance for a specific airline or hotel group and offers options for achieving elite status faster. Getting a general travel credit card can also lead to significant points accrual plus the freedom to transfer points to multiple hotel and airline programs.

Finally, all points and miles aren’t created equal. Points and miles of every program should be viewed as different currencies. Just as the U.S. dollar, the Mexican peso, and the Euro carry different values, so do the points and miles of, say, American Airlines, United, and Delta.

Choosing a hotel loyalty program

Of the four big hotel loyalty programs—Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, IHG One Rewards, and World of Hyatt—Marriott Bonvoy is the biggest, but not necessarily the best. It’s great if you can achieve Platinum Elite status or higher, but that requires staying at Marriott Bonvoy hotels a minimum of 50 nights per year. Marriott Bonvoy points are generally valued at about one cent each (i.e., 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points typically covers a hotel valued at $500). Also, Marriott Bonvoy charges taxes and resort fees on award bookings. Loyalty program newcomers or those who have been at the points game only a few years should instead consider World of Hyatt or Hilton Honors.

World of Hyatt is the most highly regarded hotel loyalty program in the world of points and miles because its points are the most valuable of any hotel or airline loyalty program. Thanks to World of Hyatt’s fixed, published award chart—versus the dynamic pricing of competitors—it’s not uncommon to score an award booking for which points are valued more than two to three cents apiece. For example, I successfully booked the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme for 40,000 points per night for an April 2024 stay (versus €1,450 per night), yielding a points value of more three cents per point. World of Hyatt also rewards travelers as they climb the elite ladder with Milestone Rewards, and its top status, Globalist, requires only 60 nights per year. (To give you some perspective, Marriott’s top status, Ambassador Elite, requires more than 100 nights per year and more than $23,000 of qualifying spend per year.) World of Hyatt waives taxes and resort fees on award bookings, which can amount to significant savings, especially at posh beachfront properties.

If you don’t feel like working (or booking overnights) for elite status in 2024, fast-track to Gold or top-tier Diamond status with Hilton Honors by getting one of its cobranded credit cards. While most hotel cards give you an elite bump, Hilton goes all out, granting top Diamond elite status to those who have the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card or Gold status with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card. These cards often carry welcome offers of more than 150,000 bonus points, which is enough to experience several free nights to test out elite status. Another fast track to hotel elite status is through The Platinum Card® from American Express. Just by being a card member, you’ll be granted Gold status in Hilton Honors and Gold status in Marriott Bonvoy (enrollment required).

Choosing an airline loyalty program

In the past few years, much has changed within the loyalty programs of the “big four” domestic airlines in the United States: American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Delta, and United Airlines. (They collectively account for 74 percent of U.S. airline seats sold per year.)

A lot of attention has been given to the unpopular modifications Delta recently made to its SkyMiles program. However, United made comparable changes in previous years—it just happened to be better timed and thus flew under the radar. Even considering Delta’s elite status qualification changes, Delta’s Silver, Gold, and Platinum statuses are still easier to achieve than similar tiers on United in 2024. Since both Delta and United’s elite statuses remain tied to spending requirements with each airline, they’re sure to remain popular among business travelers whose companies are paying for their tickets.

But if you are trying to get status on your own dime, status with American Airlines is easier to achieve. Why? Elite status on American Airlines is based on Loyalty Points, which can be accrued in so many ways beyond flying. With American’s shopping, dining, hotel, and event platforms, it’s easy to rack up Loyalty Points. Plus, all purchases using the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard count as Loyalty Points (at a rate of one point per dollar spent), and 10,000-point bonuses are awarded after hitting 40,000 Loyalty Points and 90,000 Loyalty Points levels in a membership year. Personally, I was able to earn 77,404 Loyalty Points in the last quarter of 2023 alone, and I’m now looking at top-rung Executive Platinum status for 2024, even though I flew only three times on American in 2023.

Then there’s Southwest, which made elite status easier to earn in 2024 compared to 2023. However, elite status on Southwest is separate from Companion Pass status; and since Southwest already gives free bags and does not have class differences, it makes elite status changes a bit of a non-event. For those who do seek elite status, here’s what you’ll get: A-List perks include same-day flight change and same-day standby benefits, priority lanes, and a dedicated phone line. A-List Preferred benefits are the same as A-List’s, plus two drinks per flight, free internet, and 100 percent bonus points on flights.

In general, if you live near a hub for a specific airline, it might make sense for you to attempt to earn elite status with that airline (like Delta in Atlanta or United in Denver). The catch, however, is that with so many people using that strategy, you’ll probably never get upgraded in a hub city if you have a lower-tier elite status (as you’ll be competing with so many fliers with higher status).

Going beyond airline and hotel loyalty programs

Points programs through credit card companies can also be considered loyalty programs—and they’re the most straightforward. You are part of the loyalty program just by having the card—no elite ladder to climb. The best examples are the travel credit cards from American Express, Chase, and Capital One, all of which have their own respective rewards programs. You earn based on your spending and often score bonus points in specific categories. These credit card rewards programs partner with hotel and airline loyalty programs so that you can transfer your credit card points to select hotels and airlines. Moreover, these credit cards function as loyalty programs do: Cardholders have access to VIP events and elite-like offerings given through proprietary booking engines. To get these perks—plus welcome offers and other benefits such as generous statement credits—consider applying for the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve®, or The Platinum Card® from American Express.

While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time and may have changed or may no longer be available.

Paul Rubio is an award-winning travel journalist and photographer. His byline appears in Afar, Condé Nast Traveler, Fodor’s, LUXURY, MSN, NerdWallet, Palm Beach Illustrated, Yahoo Lifestyle, and more. He has visited 133 countries (and counting) over the past 20 years and won 27 national awards for his writing and photography. When he’s not plotting out his next trip, Paul loves to spend time at home watching reruns of Portlandia and Parks and Recreation with his husband and rescue dog, Camo.
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More from AFAR