20 years of the Freddies: Travelers name top loyalty programs

Who offers the best frequent flier program in the Americas? More than 600,000 road warriors recently rated Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan top of the heap. If business takes you to international ports of call, you might consider enrolling in Etihad Airways Etihad Guest or Jet Airways Jet Privilege, as frequent fliers voted these programs the best in the Europe/Middle East/Africa region and the Asia/Pacific region respectively.

These honors were announced at the annual Freddies Awards ceremony in Phoenix last week. Like the Oscars for motion pictures, the Freddies are the most-coveted award for frequent traveler programs. Now celebrating its 20th year, the Freddies are the brain child of frequent flier guru, Randy Petersen, publisher of Inside Flyer and arguably the world's most knowledgeable frequent traveler.

Named for the late Sir Freddie Laker, who pioneered discount travel across the Atlantic, Petersen launched the awards to answer the question asked of him most often: "Hey Randy, who's got the best frequent flier program?" Unfortunately, there is no patent answer to that question, according to Petersen. It's different if you have 30,000 miles or 300,000 miles and if you live in Madison, Wis., or Dallas, he says. It also depends on what you intend to do with those miles. "Do you want to upgrade or go to Europe?" he asks.

Twenty years later it's still the most popular question, but Petersen can now respond: "These are the programs that really score the highest among travelers."

During the Freddies' initial launch in 1988, just 864 frequent travelers voted for nine total awards. This year 57 prizes were awarded across 11 categories and three world regions. In addition to the best overall program, travelers voted for the program with the best elite level, the best website, the best bonus promotion and more. This year, 25 awards changed owners and the El Al Israel Airlines Matmid Club and Korean Air SKYPASS won their first Freddie awards ever. A complete listing of this year's winners is available at Freddie Awards.com.

More highlights from this year's winners include:

Tops in the Americas. Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards took six of eight airline awards. Marriott Rewards took Program of the Year honors and dominated the hotel category with the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program, each earning 10 of the 25 hotel award. The Intercontinental Hotel Group Priority Club Rewards program also won four Freddies.

For the second consecutive year the SPG American Express co-branded affinity credit card ranked first in the Americas. Three of the top rated affinity credit cards are co-sponsored by hotels. "This is the only category where hotels and airlines compete directly against each other," says Petersen. David Flueck, Vice President, SPG Program and Operations, believes his card is popular among frequent travelers because they may redeem points for air travel in addition to rooms at the chain's 900 properties in 95 countries. The SPG card also gives users 25,000 airline miles for every $20,000 spent and two points for every dollar spent at an SPG property.

India's finest. In the Asia/Pacific region Jet Airways won seven Freddies including Program of the Year. Though only 15 years old, the Indian airline has expanded rapidly and now flies to 59 worldwide destinations including New York and Toronto.

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