During February and March IdeaWorks made 6,160 award booking queries on the Web sites of 22 frequent flyer programs and have released their findings regarding award seat availability. The travel dates for the award bookings spanned from June through October 2010 and included 10 long-haul routes and 10 city pairs under 2,500 miles.
The study, available via a PDF at http://www.insideflyer.com/link/?2497, prefaces the information found by saying, “perhaps just behind a la carte fees, reward seat shortages have become the number one complaint among savvy travelers worldwide.”
The study ranks the 22 airlines by the percentage of award bookings available. At the top is Southwest Rapid Rewards with a 99.3 percent award availability. Air Berlin topbonus was also impressive at number two with 98.6 percent while Aeroplan was at number three with 93.6 percent, followed by Virgin Blue Velocity (90 percent) and Lufthansa Miles & More (85.7 percent). Alaska Airlines was the second best U.S. airline at 75 percent followed by Continental (71.4 percent), United (68.6 percent), AirTran Airways (67.9 percent) and American (57.9 percent). The bottom two airline programs of the 22 studied were Delta SkyMiles with a dismal 12.9 percent and US Airways with an even more dismal 10.7 percent. All award queries used dates that included a Saturday night stay and award travel had to be available on the outbound and return dates queried for two travelers.
The study concludes that the best programs for award availability are those that are “helped by controlling liability through aggressive expiration policies” and that the top-ranked programs make a conscious decision to provide more award seats, “even at the potential short term cost of foregoing revenue from the sale for the very same seat to a fare-paying customer.”
Bottom line: It should be pointed out that this study only looked at the flights that members can book online–not the award flights available when you call the service center. Our research has consistently shown much better success when calling the airlines to book your award seat. So another way to view this study is as an illustration of the programs with the best online booking systems because some airlines do not offer the ability to book awards on partner airlines online and when this option was available, it was used.