You’ve got plenty of time to win a $50 dollar American Express gift card from Marshall Jackson on Travel.  All you have to do to earn an opportunity to win is comment in the official contest entry post about the travel related topic you would most like to read more about here on the blog by noon eastern time on April 9th.  Shortly thereafter, I’ll randomly choose the winner of the gift card.

There have been a lot of great comments to the contest entry post so far.  Reader Lisa would like more information on which loyalty program is best.  That’s a question with almost as many answers as there are individuals interested in loyalty programs.  Lisa, feel free to comment to this post with your specifics, and I’ll surely offer an opinion more tailored to your needs, and perhaps some other readers will weigh in with alternative advice as well.

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to focus on airline mileage programs.  In determining which program is best, I would first ask myself which airline I tend to fly most often?  Do you live in a city with a large airline hub?  If so, the mileage program of your hub carrier is probably your best bet.  There are exceptions to that rule.  Perhaps your employer has a contract with a different airline.  If so, you’ll want to concentrate your mileage earning efforts with that program.

Not a heavy duty business traveler?  Live in a city that isn’t an airline hub, but is served by several carriers?  Then you have some choices to make.  Take a few minutes and think about your travel habits.  Is there an airline that you seem to fly most often.  Does that airline fly to the places you want to go over the course of a year?  If so, focus your mileage earning with that airline and try your best to fly with them exclusively.  You might want to obtain the mileage-earning credit card the airline offers to help top off your mileage account.  Most mileage programs offer such a card and they typically include some fairly generous sign-up bonuses after your first purchase with the card.

Regular readers know that the American AAdvantage program is my favorite mileage program.  There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence out there that suggests AAdvantage members enjoy some of the best award availability of the major US airlines.  My personal experiences support that conclusion, and I wholeheartedly recommend the AAdvantage program to anyone who flies American and is interested in earning miles they can spend.

That said, there’s another program out there that is overlooked by many, no doubt due in part to its very geographically specific sounding name.  The Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is a great program, and many readers may be surprised to learn that it can work very well for them even if they don’t fly Alaska Airlines very often.  Let’s take a hypothetical case of a 4 times a year flier who lives in Richmond, Virginia, but they could really live anywhere.  They may take 2 flights a year on Delta, 2 on American.  The average flier might credit their 2 Delta flights to SkyMiles and their 2 American flights to AAdvantage and have a tiny pile of miles they can’t use in either program.  But what if that flier could credit all 4 flights to 1 program?  Thanks to Alaska Mileage Plan, they can!  Alaska has an impressive list of partners that just happens to include American and Delta.  Mileage Plan can be a great alternative program for many fliers even if they don’t live in a part of the country widely served by Alaska Airlines.

There are lots of alternatives out there, and the choices are almost endless.  In future posts I”ll talk about hotel loyalty programs as well as alternative programs like American Express Membership Rewards.  Have some other ideas?  Comment to this post and lets talk about them.