What are your odds of scoring the frequent flyer award seats you want, on the dates you want? The odds change over time, but the latest (i.e., 2016) annual study of availability by IdeaWorks Company and Switchfly suggests that Delta SkyMiles members are seeing significantly better odds this year, while availability declined on Alaska, United and especially American.
But among the U.S. carriers covered in the survey, Southwest’s award seat availability was head and shoulders above everyone else’s, with JetBlue running second.
The survey team made more than 7,000 queries during March for at least two roundtrip award seats on the websites of 25 airline loyalty programs worldwide. They requested travel on dates from June through October, looking for the lowest-priced (i.e. “saver style”) award seats.
Low-cost (or as the study team calls them, “value-oriented”) airlines dominated the results, as they have most years. Among U.S. carriers, the success rate for finding the desired seats was 100 percent on Southwest and 92.9 percent on JetBlue. For Southwest, that was the same as last year, while the JetBlue result showed a gain of 5.7 points. (In fact, Southwest was found to have at least three available flight choices for every query.)
As for other large U.S. carriers, the success rate on queries to Delta was 68.6 percent, an improvement of 10.7 points over the 2015 survey. The comparable rate on United was 72.1 percent, down 2.9 points. For Alaska it was 72.9 percent, down 7.1 points. And for American, the success rate was just 56.4 percent, a drop of 10.7 percent from 2015.
Virgin America was not included in the study.
The report noted that availability varies considerably based on the month of travel. For 2016, the best availability was in September (84.3 percent) and October (84.8 percent), while the worst was in July (53.1 percent). It also observed that long-haul rewards can be especially elusive in the summer months. “Some airlines radically reduce reward inventory for long-haul travel during June, July and August. This is often a major source of member frustration,” the report said.
Here’s a chart summarizing the results for long-haul flights:
Readers: Is it getting easier to use you miles and points….or not? Please leave your comments below.
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