Flight Awards in 2009

Flight Awards in 2009

The airlines have filed their 10-K reports for 2009 and overall, they report that fewer flight awards were redeemed by members in 2009 than in 2008.

American AAdvantage’s 64 million members had about 600 billion outstanding award miles as of Dec. 31, 2009. Of the 175 billion miles issued in 2009, approximately two-thirds were sold to program participants–which means that only one third (58 billion) were earned by members flying on American Airlines. AAdvantage reports it has over 1,000 program partners.

AAdvantage members redeemed around one million fewer awards in 2009 than in 2008. The approximate number of free travel awards used for travel on American and American Eagle was 5.2 million one-way travel awards in 2009 (2.6 million roundtrip awards) compared to the 6.2 million one-way travel awards redeemed in 2008 (3.1 million roundtrips). Approximately 8.9 percent of passengers, or one out of every 11, was flying on an award ticket last year.

Continental OnePass members redeemed 1.3 million roundtrip awards last year, which was approximately six percent of passengers. In 2008, members claimed around 1.6 million awards, which represented around 8.5 percent of revenue passenger miles. As of Dec. 31, 2009, members had enough outstanding miles to redeem roughly 2.6 million roundtrip travel awards.

Southwest Rapid Rewards members redeemed fewer awards last year than in the previous two years. In 2009, Rapid Rewards members redeemed approximately 2.4 million awards compared to the 2.8 million awards redeemed in 2008 and 2007. Approximately 7.7 percent of passengers were flying on awards in 2009, which is a slightly lower percentage than the 8.3 percent flying for free in 2008. The number of outstanding awards and partially earned awards on Dec. 31, 2009, was approximately 10.3 million, of which around 77 percent were partially earned awards.

In 2009, 2.1 million United Mileage Plus travel awards were redeemed on United, compared to 2.3 million in 2008. These awards represented 8.3 percent of United’s total revenue passenger miles, compared to 9.1 percent in 2008. More members redeemed miles for non-United travel awards in 2009 as compared to the previous year. Non-United travel awards include car and hotel awards, merchandise awards and Red Carpet Club memberships in addition to award flights on partner airlines. United Mileage Plus proposed that “the increase in the number of non-United travel awards redeemed was due to the expansion of the merchandise programs, and the launch of a new car and hotel award program in the fourth quarter of 2009.” At the end of 2009, United Mileage Plus members had approximately 457.6 billion miles outstanding, of which they expected 349.1 billion to be redeemed.

Approximately 0.8 million awards were redeemed for travel on US Airways in 2009, which represents around four percent of the airline’s mainline RPMs. In 2008, Dividend Miles members redeemed around 0.9 million awards, which represented approximately four percent of US Airways RPMs.

Bottom line: A combined total of 9.2 million flight awards were redeemed on American, Continental, Southwest, United and US Airways, which is a 14 percent decrease from the 10.7 million flight awards redeemed on these airlines in 2008. American Airlines had the greatest percentage of passengers flying on award tickets at 8.9 percent, followed closely by United Mileage Plus at 8.3 percent. Delta Air Lines did not report the number of flight awards issued in 2009.

We looked at the data compiled from our monthly Award Search charts for 2009 and found that the success rate for finding an award on domestic routes was highest with Southwest Rapid Rewards, followed by Alaska Mileage Plan and American AAdvantage. For international awards, United Mileage Plus came in first, followed by Delta SkyMiles and American AAdvantage. The worst overall for award redemption was US Airways Dividend Miles, which isn’t surprising considering US Airways had the lowest percentage of awards as total revenue passenger miles at only four percent.

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