Our Freddie Award Picks
Below are our Freddie Awards ballots for general edification and mostly the amusement of our readers. Disclaimer: We don’t know about programs we haven’t tried. We mostly voted for the programs that made us feel special, not necessarily the ones who provided the most widespread value. YRMV.
Best Promotion for Redemption
Keri: Virgin America. I wasn’t crazy about any of the options the airlines nominated. I’m too Star Alliance focused to be very aware of other airlines’ promotions. Did not think any *A promotions were worth a prize though, so I finally chose Virgin America since it appeared to offer a range of dates on top of their already low mileage requirements for some awards.
Jeanne: I only chose Frontier Airlines. The had the least amount of restrictions and 15,000 miles is a good deal for a companion to fly to any location. The other options seemed to force contrived vacations more so than working with people’s original plans.
Best Promotion for Redemption (Hotel) – Americas
- Club Carlson Redeem Points. Earn Points. – Although I’ve never redeemed with Club Carlson, a free night per paid night definitely appeals.
- Hilton Points Back Offer– I’ve stayed at quite a few Hiltons this year thanks to some mistake rates and my Diamond status achieved through my AMEX Surpass.
- Priority Club Point Breaks– I may have missed out on redeeming for the intercontinental Mendoza and, several years ago, the Intercontinental Fiji, but having a chance to visit properties I like for only 5,000 points a night is VERY attractive.
Many of the other promotions just disappointed me. I have no interest in “unique experiences” through a hotel.
- I chose Club Carlson first. I liked the idea of receiving enough bonus points with each redemption for a future redemption. The geek in me loved the recursive possibilities.
- Hilton–I liked how their special of receiving 30% of redeemed points back included BOTH a Points & Money Rewards stay or a Premium Room Rewards stay.
- Choice Privileges–I guess I was sticking with the simplicity theme of my Frontier choice before. 50% off the redemption rate is a hefty savings, and it was widely available.
Best Promotion for Earning (Airline) – Americas
- American Airlines Double Elite Qualifying Miles– I hate flying AA, but wow, what an offer. I just wish United would have matched! (I would have gone to Singapore twice in January).
- US Airways Grand Slam—I’m not very good at playing the Grand Slam, but I usually get a decent amount of miles. More importantly, friends needing hits will usually send some flowers my way.
- United Elite Second Chance– I’m a little bitter since I flew to Hawaii, Alaska, Singapore, and other destinations just to make 1K legitimately, but if I can’t swing that this year, I’m hoping they’ll offer it again.
- US Airways–Okay, the Grand Slam is just plain fun. By doing different partner activity, “players” received different “hits”. I had a lot of fun figuring out what creative hits I could come up with, and enjoyed reading other people’s hits. (Such as Mommy Points). I also discovered Biscoff Butter. Mmm… Biscoff Butter.
- American Airlines–Double elite qualifying miles? Great for people who needed to do mileage runs at the end of the year to qualify for status. Even better for those people who used it for a trial status run in January and had it double count towards elite for the next year.
- Frontier–Those who were short of an elite status were allowed to use two round trips between January 1-Feb 15th to qualify for that coming year. This gave those who couldn’t pull off status a second chance that would also count towards their elite status for the next year. I know this promotion isn’t good for the frequent flier who plans out their year, but I was trying to think of earning for seasoned and unseasoned fliers.
Best Promotion for Earning (Hotel) – Americas
- Marriott Mega Bonus – Not as good as Club Carlson, but easier to earn a free night after two stays and easier to redeem with so many properties.
- Club Carlson Big Night Giveaway– A free night for one stay is awesome and they have some nice properties outside the US (but you have to be planning a trip outside the US).
- Best Western 65 Years, 65 Days, 650,000 points – a free night every 3 stays and lots of opportunities for bonus points. I don’t know much about the program, but they have an amazing array of redemption options and international properties.
- Ritz Carlton–I liked how the Ritz Carlton gave nice bonus for not that much effort. 30,000 points with a four night stay. That’s not shabby at all.
- Priority Club—I see this one along the same lines as the Grand Slam promo. It is fun to encourage people to stay at all the different brands (and it probably helps Priority Club out by getting people to try all the options).
- Marriott–Two stays = one free night in a category 1-4. Depending on how expensive your stays are, you could leverage this into two cheap stays earning you a free much nicer free night.
Best Redemption Ability (Airline) – Americas
- United – I’m a 1K and throughout the year I’ve opportunistically booked, repeatedly adjusted, and cancelled a TON of flights with no fee. Not to mention the last minute, fee-less flight availability.
- United–I might be biased because United is much better than US Airways, so I may be elevating it higher than it should be. But United has an easier booking interface than a few other legacy fliers, has the Star Alliance available for booking, allows a sort of cash & points option for reward travel, and has great flexibility for elites.
- Jet Blue–Jet Blue won’t get you to exotic locations, but their booking process for redemption is second to none. Basically, redemption prices follow regular prices, and you can switch the “currency” you are paying in to points. The site is very helpful with finding the cheapest days, and the fees are usually only a few dollars. Jet Blue’s redemption is excellent for people not used to redeeming miles.
Best Redemption Ability (Hotel) – Americas
- Starwood – So many properties, so few points required! Heavy spend on my Starwood AMEX credit card has really enabled me to take advantage of their cheap redemption options. Most of the hotels in Asia are only 7,000 or 10,000 points.
- Best Western – I’m not really a Best Western hotel person, but if I stayed there with any frequency, it looks like their points could be pretty valuable since they transfer to gift cards, airlines, theme parks, etc.
- Priority Club – Now that they offer cash & points with more frequency, I’ve found it easier to make use of my points.
Jeanne: I’m not much of a hotel point collector, to be honest, but I do have favorites.
- Starwood–Starwood is easy and rewards are “cheap” sometimes. Negative points for high category all-suite properties counting as double points, but I think it still comes out on top.
- Hilton–There aren’t really any black-out dates, cash-and-points (like Starwood), and I’m biased by the nice properties you can stay at.
Best Customer Service (Airline) – Americas
Keri: Since I’m voting under the Americas I don’t really have any selections. I lucked out and didn’t have many problems this year, but neither did I have any amazing experiences. For Asia Pacific I vote Thai Airways hands down.
- US Airways–While I’m not a fan of how close the connections are on US Airways and the amount of delays that have made me miss flights, I’ve never failed to have an immediate resolution to any problem. When I was about to miss a flight to the Bahamas, they had a ticket ready for me, but also called my gate when I asked if I could run for my original ticket.
- Jet Blue–Jet Blue has been really good at rebooking things for me. I’ve even cancelled flights before and even with their rebook fee, paid LESS for the second flight I took. One time, it was supposed to start storming around when my flight was supposed to take off. I called JetBlue, worried about delay, and they rebooked me earlier in the day at no cost to me.
Best Customer Service (Hotel) – Americas
- Hyatt—It has been awhile since I’ve been a Hyatt Diamond, but while I was they really set the standard for good service and extras. Even as a Platinum this year I felt special so they are still my top pick.
- Starwood – What I like most is that the customer service tends to be unusually consistent across properties. Staff are friendly, usually try to go the extra mile to accommodate early check in/late check out, etc and the customer service is very responsive to problems. And no one can touch the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit in Bangkok for great service (which I know shouldn’t count under the Americas).
Jeanne: I will do a caveat to this and say that Hilton has gone above and beyond in huge ways for me in the past, but they’ve also dropped the ball in huge ways too. I decided that cancels out.
- Starwood–I’ve done a lot of events at Starwood properties (mostly Westins and Sheratons) and they are always on top of everything. From working with other hotels, I know there’s a lot that can go wrong and success all comes down to how quickly the problem will be solved.
- Kimpton–Kimpton’s hotels are boutique style, and you really feel that from the customer service. From check-in processes that make regular reservations feel like VIPs to seamlessly handling things that go wrong, to the little touches they add to each hotel to make it “unique”, I always know I will have a great experience at Kimptons.
Best Elite Program (Airline) – Americas
- Continental One Pass – I’ve always felt Continental customers got a lot of value for their money. I love the 75K level, good upgrades for even silvers, and decent redemption opportunities.
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan – haha, this is my cheating vote. I have no experience with Alaska Airlines, but my friends who fly them are quite enthusiastic about their experiences.
- United Mileage Plus – I had a great year with United. Loved my 1K treatment, cleared most of my upgrades. I’m just really, really worried about what 2012 and 2013 is going to bring and how much my benefits will be downgraded.
Jeanne: When I look at my votes, I wonder if I am all about the upgrades.
- Continental: I haven’t been in love with United’s program, but Continental had great benefits. Silvers got upgraded, but the downside was silver companions didn’t. But it edged out US Airways with great redemption availability and discounts on fees.
- US Airways: I am practically a US Airways cheerleader. Upgrades at Silver including companions?! I’m sold. The first time I flew as a US Airways silver, I was upgraded. The second round trip was vacation to Jamaica, where my companion was upgraded. This may be controversial, but I also like US Airways’ both-or-none approach to companion upgrades because it does not create any tough situations. I also like knowing whether my upgrades cleared days in advance. I pack my carry-on appropriately and can enjoy my time in the US Airways Club rather than hovering to see if I cleared.
Best Elite Program (Hotel) – Americas
- Hyatt Gold Passport – They know how to treat their customers! Best evidenced by the level of expectations parodied in this video.
- Hilton HHonors – I’ve never been a big Hilton fan, but with the Diamond Status I earned from spend off my AMEX Hilton Optima, I’ve come around. It’s not just the welcome amenities, upgrades, and access to the club lounge, the extra inventory availability has also been handy.
- Priority Club Rewards – this used to be my favorite. Royal Ambassador with Intercontinental was the best status around. Great upgrades, free mini bar (who doesn’t want an $8 orange juice first thing in the morning, free movie, what wasn’t to love! Until they’ve consistently scaled back benefits: “Oh, this doesn’t apply because you used a BOGO cert.” “Benefits do not apply to Friends & Family rates.” So if you can be assured that your benefits will actually apply to any given stay, it’s a great program.
Jeanne: You may be shocked to not see Starwoods on here after my post about being sad over losing my status. But I liked Starwood status because I stay there often–not because the status in itself is great.
- Hyatt–First of all, their base level is pretty generous (5 Hyatt points for every dollar spent) and Platinum is pretty easy to get with just five stays required. Every three stays as a Platinum (up until you hit Diamond) gets you something special. So you can feel as if you are earning mini milestones on the journey to Diamond. Then Diamond–Four suite upgrades a year, best rooms on check in, plus they will look after your giraffe. (If you are confused by this, see Keri’s link under her Hyatt commentary above.)
- Hilton–Great amenities, lounge access, and generous upgrades. Ahhhh.
Best Loyalty Credit Card – Americas
- Starwood Preferred Guest American Express—My all time favorite. Low annual fee, redemptions start at 2,000 points (=$20 cashback) for properties you’d actually want to stay at, and you can transfer the points to an array of airlines for 1:1 or better.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card – A very close second! I most love the double points for dining and travel, including taxis and parking garages, AND the no-foreign-currency-transaction fee. With the variety of travel partners including both hotels and airlines, it gives the Starwood card a run for its money.
- American Express Membership Rewards — I don’t get as excited about this card, it has a higher annual fee and doesn’t have some of the redemption options as the other two, but it’s solid. 3x points on airfare is a plus and they often run point transfer bonuses that make a big difference if it happens in your timeline.
Jeanne: I have to admit, the Chase Sapphire is slowly overcoming the Starwood card in my mind. I’m falling in love.
- Starwood–This card has generous earnings, generous redemption options in the Starwood program and transfers out generously. The points earned here feel very valuable to me. Another signal is I know people loyal to other cards who always use their Starwood cards when staying at a Starwood because the earning potential is too much to give up.
- Chase Sapphire–First of all, love the 50,000 sign up bonus (though it may be on its way out). Then you get a 7% bonus each year, including the sign up bonus. Double points on travel and restaurants. No foreign transaction fees. Multiple programs its points can transfer to. And it is a sexy looking credit card.
- US Airways–US Airways card comes with two companion tickets for $99 each. The tickets are treated like normal tickets and normal upgrade policies apply. (So, if as an elite, you booked a full-fare ticket for one of them, both are eligible to be upgraded immediately). After $25,000 in annual spend, 10,000 of your points are translated into EQMs! (Meanwhile, buying up to preferred costs $789 for 10k EQMs). I am currently about halfway through a spending run to hit the $25k spend. (These shoes I just bought are essential for my status…)
Program of the Year (Airline) – Americas
Keri: I’m in a tough spot with this one. Since I was a slave to status, I didn’t wind up flying any of the airlines that best rewarded their members. So my default is Continental, because they were repeatedly more pleasant and helpful than United.
Jeanne: I am just going to cheat and vote for US Airways. Part of the reason is because I was loyal to American Airlines before this, and I had a so much better experience. I do prefer US Airways over United, and I am a little too cheerleader for it at times.
Program of the Year (Hotel) – Americas
- Hyatt Gold Passport—while not perfect, they’re strong across the board in redemption options, treatment of elites, and great customer service.
- Starwood Preferred Guest – While their treatment of elites has never particularly impressed me, the redemption options are insane and I like the consistency across most properties.
- Hilton HHonors – My experience as a diamond has totally changed my perception. I like their treatment of elites, but less impressed by their redemption options.
Jeanne: The problem for me is I stayed at a lot of boutique hotels this year. I’m going by my own demonstrated preference with the caveat that my sample size is probably less than many other people’s. I also love Kimpton, but would not call them the program of the year by any measure.
- Hilton–I’ve done less redeeming than Keri, so I cannot speak to that as much. I have found they treat elites extremely well and go out of their way for issues. I ran into massive issues with Hilton twice, but they were resolved in ways that were more than I would ever even think to ask for.
- Hyatt–Hyatt is sort of a dark horse in programs. You don’t hear about its benefits the way you hear about, let’s say, Intercontinental’s Royal Ambassador. But you also don’t hear about issues with limitations the way you do with that program. Hyatt has nice benefits, but more importantly, I think they are more consistent and clear.
- Starwood–While Starwood does not have as many direct benefits as other programs, I’ve found Starwood staff to always go out of their way for me when they really didn’t need to. I always feel “elite” when checking in. I think their redemption is cheap and Cash and Points is awesome.
Who are you voting for?