WSJ: US Airways Worst for Award Redemption. Uh…Not Exactly

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.


  1. Maybe your experience has been different. A couple of months ago my gf was trying to fly from SAN to BOS for this coming weekend. USAir didn’t have any seat available, but I noticed that United did, they showed up on both United and Continentals website. When she called USAir she was told yes United had seats available but it would cost more miles. She ended up booking United one way and American the other way since she had enough miles in her accounts for one way. That is when I lost faith in USAir’s program and I was so glad when their merger with United fell through.

  2. But you got the flights, no? Seriously – check out Delta’s reward availability. I’m not saying US Airways is great; I’m just saying that Delta is beyond horrible.

  3. As noted, US Airways is a Star Alliance airline. Star Alliance award availability is generally quite good. Heck, my USAirways miles got me, at standard award levels, to the Beijing Olympics (on Air Canada). This summer, there’s no Olympics, but I’m headed back to China. Since Delta bought Northwest, you’d think there would be plenty of possible routings. There sure are a gazillion flights, but none of them were available at standard reward levels — after spending an hour on the phone with a platinum medallion rep and being VERY flexible. I then called a Star Alliance member (this time Continental) and in 5 minutes I had the exact flights I wanted at a standard reward.

    Needless to say, I don’t recommend folks accumulate Delta miles. Other than their high award ticketing fees, you’ll generally be fine with US Airways miles, if you’re willing to research and fly their partners.