The Wall Street Journal summarizes a report from IdeaWorks (a loyalty consulting firm) that found US Airways and Delta to offer the fewest opportunities to redeem frequent flyer miles. According to the report, US Airways seats were only available 11% of the time, while Delta seats were only available 13% of the time.
While this may be technically true, this isn’t close to telling the whole story. Most people who follow the frequent flyer world have long lamented Delta’s paltry award availability, a fact certainly borne out from my own experiences. In the article, Delta says they’re aware that they’re pathetic and that they’ll do something about it. I don’t know what that means.
The report, however, is unfair to US Airways for two reasons. First, the carrier makes more seats available as flights get closer – a useful piece of information for a traveler looking for a late booking. More importantly, they only looked at availability on that airline. That is nonsense. US Airways Dividend Miles earners can redeem domestically on US Airways, United and Continental – essentially 3 times as many opportunities to find an available seat. Delta flyers can redeem on Delta and Alaska, though Alaska has a tiny footprint compared with the Star Alliance members in the US. Even if United & Continental had the paltry availability of US Airways, Dividend Miles earners would have three times as good a chance at getting a seat as someone with Skymiles.
The alliances have changed frequent flyer booking by making it much, much easier to redeem awards if you can be a bit flexible. Too bad this article doesn’t bother to mention that.