The Best Frequent Flyer Programs for College Students

The College Points evaluated the frequent flyer programs of each major airline in North America to determine which programs were the best for college students. We compared the ability to earn and redeem miles and the average value of each program’s frequent flyer currency (points or miles) to reach an overall score. As college students and young professionals typically spend less than business travelers, elite status benefits offered through an airline’s frequent flyer program carried less weight than other categories.

With college students and young professionals typically spending less on airfare than other travelers, the ability to earn and redeem points or miles without spending a great deal was the single most important metric in our evaluation of each program. Here are the top 4 frequent flyer programs for college students.

Top Student Frequent Flyer Programs

Overall
5/5
Earn
4.5/5
Redeem
4.5/5
Value
5/5
Overall
4/5
Earn
3.5/5
Redeem
4/5
Value
4/5
Overall
4/5
Earn
3/5
Redeem
3.5/5
Value
4/5
Overall
3.5/5
Earn
3.5/5
Redeem
3/5
Value
3.5/5

What We Love:

  • Earn at least 1 mile per mile flown.
  • Earn additional miles when traveling in premium cabins or with elite status.
  • You’ll also earn miles on partner airlines with some flights counting toward elite status.
  • Simple mileage redemptions with Alaska Airlines allowing members to access award charts.
  • Consistent value and numerous partner airlines across the globe.
Overall
5/5
Earn
4.5/5
Redeem
4.5/5
Value
5/5
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan top student frequent flyer program
The College Points ranks Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan as the top frequent flyer program for college students. (Image by Philip Pilosian / Shutterstock.com)

What Could Be Improved:

  • Limited route network.
  • Unless redeeming miles for partner awards, Alaska Airlines’ route network is quite limited.
  • Partners are subject to change at any time.
  • Partner award space is often limited.
  • Miles Expire

What We Love:

  • Earn at least 6 points per dollar spent. Earn additional points when you book higher fare classes like Business Select or with elite status.
  • No blackout dates. Any Southwest flight can be booked using Rapid Rewards points.
  • While difficult to earn for frugal travelers, Companion Pass is extremely valuable. With Companion Pass, you can bring a designated companion on any Southwest flight while just having to pay the taxes and fees on their fare.
  • Points never expire.
Overall
4/5
Earn
3.5/5
Redeem
4.5/5
Value
4/5
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

What Could Be Improved:

  • Points can only be redeemed on Southwest as Southwest does not partner with other airlines.
  • Points can only be redeemed for main cabin fares as Southwest does not offer a premium product.
  • The number of points required for an award redemption directly corresponds to the cash fare. Fares are often quite pricey unless booked in advance.

What We Love:

  • Earn at least 3 points per dollar spent. Earn at least 3 additional points when you book at jetblue.com. Earn additional points when you purchase less-restrictive economy class fares or travel in JetBlue Mint. You’ll also earn additional points with elite status. You’ll also earn miles on partner airlines with some flights counting toward Mosaic elite status.
  • Consistently cheap award flights as JetBlue’s TrueBlue program uses a revenue-based system. When JetBlue’s cash fares are cheap, award flights are cheap.
  • TrueBlue points have a consistent value.
  • Points never expire.
Overall
4/5
Earn
3/5
Redeem
3.5/5
Value
4/5
JetBlue TrueBlue

What Could Be Improved:

  • Very few partners on which you can both earn and redeem points. TrueBlue members can earn but not redeem points on most partners.
  • Limited route network outside of the east and west coasts and the Caribbean.
  • Mosaic elite status is not worth much to travelers unless they consistently travel with JetBlue on a weekly basis.

What We Love:

  • Earn at least 5 miles per dollar spent. Earn additional miles when traveling in premium cabins or with elite status. You’ll also earn miles on partner airlines with flights counting toward elite status.
  • Entry-level elite status is easy to earn with numerous elite status challenges available year-round.
  • Numerous partner airlines including airlines like Air France, Virgin Atlantic, and Virgin Australia. Partner awards are easy to find on most partner airlines.
  • Miles never expire.
Overall
3.5/5
Earn
3.5/5
Redeem
3/5
Value
3.5/5
Delta Air Lines SkyMiles

What Could Be Improved:

  • Miles aren’t worth much. Delta is known to devalue SkyMiles without notice.
  • Awards are revenue-based, which often leads to insanely overpriced award flights.
  • The SkyMiles program is revenue-based, which means passengers who usually book the cheapest fare will find it hard to earn miles when flying Delta.