Frequent Flier Programs in Visual Form

As most of the frequent flier programs get more transparent on the web and more savvy travelers get clued in to the wonders of travel hacking, all kinds of comparisons keep popping up for which programs are the best and worst. It’s hard to do this without the exercise making a DSLR camera manual look fun to read in comparison. The airlines’ programs all have different points quirks, different elite level perks, and different credit card alliances.

So this information is ripe for an infographic—a way to see the whole array visually so it all makes more sense than a string of numbers and costs. Here are two worth checking out.

This first FindtheBest airline infographic is pretty bare-bones visually, but it collects a lot of info in one place once you figure out that you can click through many boxes to see more detail. Right away I saw things that make me scratch my head, however, like valuing Delta “Sky Pesos” at 4 cents per mile for domestic flights, even though every mileage guru will tell you Delta’s are the hardest miles to actually redeem for anything worthwhile. They’ve got a poor record on redemptions and make it harder to find the info you need for cashing in with partners.

Still, I immediately bookmarked this site because it provides a lot of info in one place that usually requires pecking around on each airline website to find. You can see in one place who the partners are for earning miles, how many miles it takes to get to Europe or Asia, expiration window, and how the airline stacks up to a competitor one-on-one. Tabs take you to elite level perks and more mileage charts.

I would have liked to see more on fees, like how much they charge you to call them, what the fuel surcharges are (some airlines charge them on “free” flights, others don’t), and how much they ream you on baggage. But hey, for a free service, this is quite comprehensive.

Next, this cool frequent flier rundown from really puts the “graphic” in infographic. That section I cut out and stuck in at the top of this post is a sampling of how a bit of information can really pop if you frame it the right way in a picture. Let’s see, I can earn a flight in one year on Southwest and in eight years on Continental. Hmmm, which one has a better payback you think? (Factor in free bag checking and the spending-to-reward gap is even wider.)

The graphic kicks off with a great illustration of annual fees on the lowest level of airline credit cards: $45 on JetBlue, $95 on Delta, for example. With banks paying close to zero on interest yet collecting more than 14% in interest, they’re all loan sharks in that department.

Keep scrolling down though and the differences are more stark, especially in how many points/miles you can actually earn in the first year with any of these cards and how far that will take you. This is mostly about earning miles from credit cards, but since that’s how you can often earn enough for a flight in one shot, that’s the quickest way to travel hacking payoffs. It’s also the way to keep earning miles on the ground paying for things you had to buy and bills you needed to cover anyway. See the full comparison here.


  1. Linda

    I think they’re onto something with that “time it takes to get a free ticket” comparison. With a few occasional flights and a Southwest credit card, it seems like I get a free flight every year or year and a half with them. With some other airlines, I have to sweat blood to get 25,000 miles and then it’s even harder to actually use them to go where I want to go.

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