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Has Frequent-Flyer Award Seat Availability Improved?

IdeaWorks this week released results of the fifth edition of its annual Reward Seat Availability Survey. It’s one the few systematic attempts to quantify what is for most travelers the key aspect of airline loyalty programs: the availability of saver coach awards when it comes time to redeem miles.

As in their previous studies, the researchers attempted to make award bookings on the airlines’ own websites, for two travelers, on 280 different dates, at the restricted award levels. The results reflect 7,640 booking queries made by the IdeaWorks Company at the websites of 25 frequent flyer programs during March 2014. Travel dates spanned June through October 2014, with top routes for each carrier checked to assess reward seat availability. To qualify as a successful booking, at least two available award seats must be available on both the outbound and return flights.

Among U.S. carriers, plus Air Canada and British Airways, the percentages of successful award bookings (and any change from the previous year) were as follows:

  • Southwest – 100 percent (no change)
  • JetBlue – 92.9 percent (+4.3 points)
  • Air Canada – 80.7 percent (+14.3 points)
  • British Airways – 72.1 percent (+6.4 points)
  • United – 71.4 percent (-8.6 points)
  • Alaska – 58.6 percent (+2.2 points)
  • American – 55.0 percent(+6.4 points)
  • Delta – 55.0 percent (+18.6 points)
  • US Airways – 35.0 percent (-1.4 points)

The overall trend was positive. Among U.S. carriers, four showed improvement—including Delta’s eye-popping 18.6-point uptick—and only two worsened, including United’s 8.6-point falloff. And for all 25 airlines covered in the study, booking success improved by 1.3 points, to 72.4 percent.

Reader Reality Check

How do the results of IdeaWorks’ study compare with your personal experience in booking airline awards?

This article originally appeared on

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