A new study by consulting organization IdeaWorks debunks the perception that there are too few award seats available. Research conducted by IdeaWorks suggests a “reasonable supply of seats” is available to frequent flyer members. The report is based on more than 5,000 online booking attempts made via airline Web sites during the months of April and May 2008. According to the study, a family of four traveling during the peak summer season has the best chance of landing award seats with Continental and Southwest. Overall, American AAdvantage had the most available seats of all mileage-based programs, followed closely by United Mileage Plus. Continental OnePass came in third followed by Alaska Mileage Plan, Northwest WorldPerks, Delta SkyMiles and US Airways Dividend Miles. Southwest Airlines had the most overall availability of awards, but it was placed in a separate category because it is a credit-based program.
We compared the IdeaWorks rankings with our own Award Search data to see how our research compared with theirs. We looked at the award availability of the Big Six from June 2007 to June 2008, both when booking online and over the phone. For online bookings, our findings were nearly identical to the IdeaWorks report, with the exception of Delta SkyMiles, which had slightly more available seats than Northwest WorldPerks. When we looked at call center bookings, however, American and United came in again in first and second place, respectively, followed by Delta, Continental, US Airways and Northwest. Overall, we were able to find award seats within one day of our desired departure date 54 percent of the time online and 70 percent of the time when calling reservations. We were most successful at finding award seats when booking over the phone 10 months in advance, with a success rate of 97 percent.