This frequent-fliers program is the best of the bunch.

By Perri Ormont Blumberg
January 22, 2018
Getty Images/Greg Bajor

Okay, let's be honest. 36-hour airline flash sales and snagging a pair of cheap tickets last-minute can be quite the rush. But does anything beat the joy of swapping miles for seatback entertainment on a free flight to Orlando? We didn't think so (p.s. oh, how we love using frequent-flier miles for first class upgrades on international flights, too).

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But all airline mileage programs are not created equally. To figure out which airline does it best, WalletHub crunched numbers to see how various companies stacked up. In first place, with a score 10+ points ahead of the runner-up, came Delta SkyMiles. In second was Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan, and in third was Hawaiian Airlines' HawaiianMiles, trailing a little under a point behind. The analysis was completed using three hypothetical airline budgets for light, average, and frequent travelers—$453, $4,088, and $7,722, respectively.

To determine the ratings for each airline frequent flyer programs, WalletHub looked at a variety of factors in these programs, such as travel upgrades, free flights, earning limits, if you can earn miles when booking through third party websites, retroactive flight credits for members, blackout dates, and if points expire or not. WalletHub also considered logistics like number of daily flights, number of countries served, and partner airlines earning and redemption. After tallying up all these metrics, Delta SkyMiles came in first place for best frequent flyer program—it's third time in a row cinching that title. Second place winner, Hawaiian Airlines offers the greatest rewards value ($19.95 worth of rewards for every $100 spent). And bronze winner, Alaska Airlines trails closely behind with $19.87 for every $100 a customer spends.

It's worth nothing that which program proves best for your personal travel habits, though, may not be the perfect fit for your best friend. To help travelers figure out which program is most in line with their lifestyle, WalletHub's handy frequent flier calculator tool (scroll down to the green bar here) can help you figure out the best program and runner-up for your needs. And yes, booking that spontaneous trip to Disney is always a good idea.