U.S. News and World Report recently released its third-annual ranking of the Best Travel Rewards Programs. Here are programs that made the Top 10 list for hotels and airlines:

The Best Hotel Rewards Programs

  1. Wyndham Rewards
  2. Choice Privileges (tie)
  3. Marriott Rewards (tie)
  4. Best Western Rewards
  5. La Quinta Returns
  6. Club Carlson
  7. Hyatt Gold Passport
  8. Hilton HHonors
  9. IHG Rewards Club
  10. Leaders Club

The Best Airline Rewards Programs

  1. Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
  2. JetBlue TrueBlue
  3. Southwest Rapid Rewards
  4. Delta SkyMiles
  5. Virgin America Elevate
  6. United MileagePlus
  7. American Airlines AAdvantage
  8. HawaiianMiles
  9. Frontier EarlyReturns
  10. Free Spirit

What makes these programs the best? For hotel reward rankings, the following attributes were used in the evaluation:

  • Ease of earning free night (45 percent weight)
  • Additional benefits (25 percent), such as using points for other products or service, complimentary amenities, free upgrades, priority check-in and checkout, etc.
  • Geographic coverage (15 percent)
  • Number of hotels in network (10 percent)
  • Property diversity (5 percent)

For airline reward rankings, the following attributes were used:

  • Ease of earning free round-trip flight, as measured in ease of earning and ease of redemption (45 percent weight)
  • Additional benefits (25 percent), such as using points for other products or service, free checked bags, complimentary upgrades, etc.
  • Network coverage (10 percent)
  • Award flight availability (10 percent)
  • Number of daily flights (5 percent)
  • Airline quality rating (5 percent)

Referring to the above criteria, hotel chains that manage a wide range of brands at different price points and own a large number of properties can gain significant advantages over the smaller ones in this evaluation, especially in the categories of geographic coverage, number of hotels in the network and property diversity.

As Marriott (currently ranked No. 2 on the list) completes the acquisition of Starwood Hotels and Resorts (No. 11 on the list), the new hotel giant could possibly gain a few extra points and thus claim the No. 1 spot soon.

Likewise, bigger airlines will be rated with a higher score than smaller ones in regard to network coverage and number of daily flights — even though the big three airlines, including American, Delta, and United, have all switched to fare-based frequent flyer programs, making it much more difficult for most travelers to earn miles. The "big spenders" as well as the elite members (e.g., Platinum members or above) are probably the only group who could possibly earn more miles in the fare-based frequent flyer programs.

That being said, the special effort that Wyndham Hotels put into its reward program deserves some recognition. The company has revamped its reward program to make it easier for travelers to earn and redeem points, pushing Wyndham Rewards Program to the top of the list.

If you are not happy with the U.S. News and World Report's rating methods, there are other rankings that focus more on customer satisfaction, such as those of J.D. Power. J.D. Power has a long history of evaluating airline service and hotel reward programs, among other services.

Instead of relying on the evaluations performed by the website's editors, J.D. Power uses a survey method to assess travelers' satisfactions about a hotel's reward program, including the following factors: overall customer satisfaction, reward program terms, account maintenance/management, ease of redeeming points/miles, variety of benefits available, ease of earning points/miles, and customer service.

Based on J.D. Power's rankings, Hilton HHonors and Marriott Rewards took the crowns, which were ranked No. 8 and No. 2 respectively by U.S. News and World Report.

In your opinion, what factors/attributes should be put into consideration when we determine the best reward programs for hotels and airlines? Moreover, how useful are those factors/attributes in helping hotels and airlines attract new customers or helping them turn their existing customers into loyal ones?