Frequent flier miles are great, but they’re becoming increasingly more difficult to cash. The 2nd annual ezRez Reward Seat Availability Survey by IdeaWorks Company found low fare airlines fare best when it comes to redemption of frequent flier miles. However, U.S. airlines fall short compared with worldwide airlines.
In the U.S., Southwest Airlines took the top spot. It was behind GOL, a low fare carrier in Latin America. Still, Southwest did well earning a score of 99.3%. That means Southwest had two reward seats available on the outbound and inbound flight 99.3% of the time for the queries searched.
Interestingly, Southwest is merging with Air Tran and Air Tran was one of four airlines that saw a drop of 10 points compared with 2010. Hopefully, the Southwest culture will live on in the merger.
The next American carrier was Jet Blue at eighth place. The difference between the two carriers is the difference between an A and a C. Jet Blue earned a 79.3% for availability. The large, legacy carriers United and Continental ranked 11th and 12th respectively.
“Consumers continue to feel the pinch of a difficult economy. More than ever, they expect a tangible reward for their loyalty to an airline,” John Swanciger, Chief Commercial Officer for ezRez Software said. “Rewards of all types, such as air travel, hotel accommodations, and retail merchandise, are the tools airlines use to fill that expectation. Social media has made the frequent flier world less of a mystery and savvy travelers have a better awareness of which airlines truly reward loyalty and frequency of travel.”
Delta Air Lines and US Airways are the two companies that might give you the most problems booking a reward ticket. Two reward seats were available on both legs of the trip only 27.1% of the time on Delta and 25.7% on US Airways.
One takeaway from this survey is that the U.S. based airlines are not doing as good a job as worldwide airlines. Overseas carriers took eight of the top ten spots.
The survey was based upon 6,720 booking queries made by IdeaWorks at the websites of 24 frequent flier programs from March to early April of 2011. The researchers looked at 20 top routes to see if reward seats were available from June to October.
Last minute reward trips not out of the question
The survey also looked at the number of last-minute reward flights that are available for booking. It’s thought that the industry releases seats at the last-minute. To test that theory, the survey looked at reward seats for travel just 5 to 15 days in advance. Eight queries were made this way on American, Delta, United Airlines, and US Airways.
There weren’t as many seats available as there were when the search was done months in advance, but the numbers weren’t always that different. United had 65% total availability just a few days in advance, compared with 71% months in advance. Delta actually fared better with last-minute reward booking compared with booking in advance. So, don’t get disgusted if you can’t book that reward trip months in advance. You may get it last-minute, but that could be risky because if you can’t find the flight you might pay top dollar to book that ticket at the last-minute. The bottom line – keep trying to book.