Want elite status on an airline? These carriers are likely your best bet.

Does Alaska Airlines have the best frequent flier program for Los Angeles-based travelers? Photo: Alaska Airlines.

Does Alaska Airlines have the best frequent flier program for Los Angeles-based travelers? Photo: Alaska Airlines.

Over the weekend, for the Los Angeles Times travel section, I ranked the top frequent flier programs for Los Angeles-based fliers.

Rather than focusing on how easy each program made it for travelers to earn free flights, I focused only on elite status. I had three criteria:

  1. How easy did the airline make it to reach the lowest level of status?
  2. What perks, such as upgrades, did each airline offer?
  3. How useful was each airline to Los Angeles passengers? Does it and its partners have a lot of flights from LAX, Burbank, Ontario and Long Beach Airports?

The story was more difficult than I expected. Each program is surprisingly complicated, making it challenging to summarize all of them in only 700 total words. How, for example, could I explain that Delta does not award the same number of miles for travel on all of its partners? I was forced to oversimplify each airline's elite program guidelines, but I think readers got the idea. 

I ranked Alaska Airlines as No. 1, mainly because of its partnerships with American and Delta. Yes, the Delta partnership is not as strong as it was, but Alaska's program still gives travelers bang for their buck. Before I wrote the story, I had a nice chat with Alaska's top executive for its MileagePlan program, who told me that keeping a strong program is important to the carrier.

If you don't live in Alaska, Seattle, Los Angeles or Portland, you probably won't be trying for elite status on Alaska, which is relatively weak outside of its core areas. But you may find the rest of my rankings useful. Here is the full list:

  1. Alaska Airlines
  2. American Airlines
  3. Delta Air Lines
  4. United Airlines
  5. Virgin America
  6. JetBlue/Southwest

What do you think? Did I make any mistakes?