Southwest is a great airline with the incredibly easy and gratifying RapidRewards program. The reason that Southwest is not a fit for me is that Southwest frequents airports that do NOT have airport lounges. The reason that Southwest uses airports without lounges is that Southwest has very limited International routes. In other words, no matter how many RapidRewards I accumulate, Southwest will not take me to the UK or Asia. It is also unlikely that I could take much advantage of Priority Pass lounges by flying Southwest.
Having eliminated Southwest as my long play airline, it leaves American, Delta, and United. All three airlines are available at the two local airports, MFE and HRL. Let me explain how I made my decision.
Initially, I was inclined towards Delta because it would be a simple matter to get a Delta credit card from AMEX. Plus, Delta has some synergy with Lyft, Starwood hotels, and other services. Ultimately, they were taken out of the running because the nearest Delta hub is MSP, which is all the way across the country. If I were to want to fly to SAT, it simply would not work out. Delta would require an overnight stay to connect back to Texas.
American Airlines would be the ideal airline. They consistently have some of the better prices for flights out of MFE. What disqualifies American Airlines is that the nearest hub is DFW, which is on the other side of Texas. It is not quite as bad as Delta. However, flying to SAT or AUS is inefficient via AA. Going anywhere would require a 2 hour flight to DFW before moving on to the final destination.
That leaves me with United. United is right next door at both MFE and HRL. Their hub is IAH, which is only a 1 hour flight away. More importantly, IAH is not HOU, which has no lounges. I discovered that with my Southwest flight. Ultimately, my decision to make United my airline is a combination of access to airport lounges, a 1 hour connecting flight to anywhere in the world, and the MileagePlus X app.
Once I figured out that United would be the least troublesome airline to fly out of MFE, other factors did not weigh too much. As a major airline, United offers international flights. United is part of the Star Alliance. United also has other ways for me to gather miles for award flights. The MileagePlus X app makes it super easy to get extra miles. Using shopping portals to earn extra miles is handy. However, shopping portals require you to do the shopping from the computer. What if you are out and about? This is where the MileagePlus X app sets United apart.
Eventually, I would like to apply for the MileagePlus Explorer card or better. What stops me from applying is the 5/24 rule by Chase bank. The workaround I foresee is transferring AMEX Membership Rewards points to a Star Alliance partner and flying United that way.
I would appreciate achieving status with United. Realistically, I do not expect to fly often enough to move up status levels. This is why the other experiences are so important, short connecting flights and lounge access. Accumulated miles are a long play for the big vacation.
There are other benefits not mentioned, such as a shorter drive to the airport and the option to Uber or Lyft to the airport.
Being new to the travel world, choosing an airline was an important lesson that will help me advise others who are thinking about choosing an airline to focus their points accumulation.