There it was on the front page of the Personal Journal section of The Wall Street Journal, “Our test …” It was a test of award availability among six frequent flyer programs by Scott McCartney, one of my favorite travel writers.
Here’s what I really liked; rather than continue to grouse about the scarcity of award redemption on airlines, he did what we have done for years — he made a number of phone calls trying to redeem awards over a large segment of city pairs and airlines. A few years back, Consumer Reports also followed our lead and found astounding award availability and it looks like Scott has come to the same conclusions we have time and time again — all airlines are not created equal when it comes to award redemption.
And as for the belief that there are no free seats available? Well, if I read Scott’s research correctly, of the 144 phone calls he made, only three resulted in a lack of available award seats. If my calculator is still working correctly, that’s a 98 percent success rate.
When Consumer Reports conducted their own research, they were able to claim award sets 93 percent of the time. These are two highly respected organizations and that’s a pretty impressive statistic. The research seems to indicate that, if you have the miles, you can almost always get the award seat you desire.
Now, let’s take a closer look at Scott’s research. He rates American and United highest in his findings — the same results we published in our February 2007 issue, although Alaska Airlines, which he did not research, has consistently earned an even higher rating. He rates Delta and US Airways at the low end. That also closely matches our same research. But we think Scott might have wronged US Airways a little. His research notes indicate that the research was conducted via the airlines’ Web sites. As we have long warned InsideFlyer readers, if you search for award redemptions solely on the airlines’ Web sites, you are likely missing out on possible award seats because not all sites contain partner inventory. In the case of US Airways, they do not show or even attempt to let members know when booking online that they can use their miles on United. Given that in Scott’s research United was among the top programs, it stands to reason, as our research (Award Search) consistently shows, that seats are available to members, if they know how to redeem their Dividend Miles. I’m certain that if Scott had called the program service center, he would have found some seats, maybe not many, but some seats available with their partner United.
But let’s be clear here. Where Scott did find availability, he also found that he was only able to use a “Saver” award 32 percent of the time. Not unexpected, because his research seems to indicate he only wanted to redeem miles Saturday to Saturday and as we have reminded readers, moving your redemption from weekend to midweek can increase your chance by 30 percent or more. Interestingly, Scott had more luck redeeming international “saver” awards and we think that’s because he did try Wednesday to Wednesday redemption with the international awards.
Bottom line, we love when respected publications actually do their research and make phone calls. And, when they do, they almost invariably come to the very same conclusions and results we find each month when we do our research.
As you know, I’ve beat up on Delta in the past and it’s all part of the ongoing tough love we as frequent flyers have for these programs. This week I received a note from Jeff Robertson of SkyMiles outlining his plans for a soft launch for award redemption calendaring on the Delta Web site. While I understand this is only Phase 1 of their plan to make it easier for members to view award seat availability, it’s a start and should go a long way toward returning SkyMiles to its prominence — though I still remind Jeff that ending the Crown Room benefit for their Platinum members was a boneheaded mistake. While I have no current plans to personally redeem my SkyMiles, I hope our readers will let me know of their experiences.
And finally, it’s April. That means two things for me. The end of March Madness and giving my eyes a rest from watching too much basketball on TV and the annual Freddie Awards. See you all online at freddieawards.com or in person on April 26th in Washington D.C. when we announce the results of what nearly 450,000 frequent flyers have to say are the best of frequent flyer programs around the world.