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U.S. News & World Report announced the 2015-16 Best Travel Rewards Programs on Tuesday, highlighting the best of the best in the airline and hotel industries.
For the first time ever, Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan was named the No. 1 airline rewards program in the United States by the national publisher. Meanwhile, Marriott Rewards grabbed the No. 1 spot for hotel loyalty programs for the third year in a row.
American Airlines' AAdvantage, Southwest's Rapid Rewards, JetBlue's TrueBlue and Hawaiian Airlines' HawaiianMiles rounded out the top five for airlines.
Wyndham Rewards, Best Western Rewards, Carlson Rezidor's Club Carlson and IHG Rewards Club nipped at Marriott's heels.
The annual list ranked 28 airline and hotel loyalty programs.
Airline programs were ranked based on the ease of earning a free round-trip flight, the number of ways members can earn and use points (other than for booking flights), whether or not points expire, flight coverage across regions around the world, the number and variety of award flights that can be purchased at a low cost using points or miles, the number of domestic flights the carrier operates and airline quality rating (based on the annual Airline Quality Rating report published by Dean Headley, of Wichita State University, and Brent Bowen, of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University).
Alaska Airlines was ranked strongly particularly because of its "generous elite membership benefits, ease of earning free round-trip flights and high network coverage," according to the rankings.
Hotel programs were ranked based on: the ease of earning a free night's stay, the number of ways members can earn and use points (other than for hotel stays), whether or not points expire, geographic coverage, the number of hotels in the rewards network and variety of hotel choices (programs that offered rewards across multiple hotel categories scored higher).
Marriott Rewards received top honors this year primarily because it offers "a variety of lodging types and price ranges, as well as relatively easy ways to earn free hotel nights and other benefits."
"Many travel loyalty programs come with a string of caveats, making it challenging to maximize your rewards," said Liz Weiss, travel editor for U.S. News, via a release. "Our rankings highlight the programs that make it easy to earn free flights or hotel stays and offer plenty of reward options and perks that travelers value, such as upgrades, free checked bags and priority boarding access."
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