Hard data: The Best Frequent Flier Programs

It’s all well and good to amass frequent flier miles — but how does the carrier stand up when you go to actually redeem awards? Are you spending your effort collecting miles you’ll never be able to book a seat with?

The good news is someone’s actually got hard data on the availability of award seats, and they’ve recently released their ratings for 2012. IdeaWorks Company’s 3rd annual Switchfly Reward Seat Availability Survey (pdf) tested 23 airlines by trying to book award travel (for two) on nearly 300 different dates via the airlines’ websites.

The results? Carriers are getting general better, and a few really stand out.

Southwest and Air Berlin both took the #1 title in a tie, with the survey’s test travelers being able to book an astounding 100% of their attempted dates using award miles. Coming in behind them were GOL (97.1%), Lufthansa (92.1%), Singapore Airlines (90.7%), and Virgin Australia (90.0%). AirTrain Airways and United Airlines tied for 7th place (87.1%), and JetBlue (86.4%) and British Airways (79.3%) rounded out the top 10.

The broad trend, according to IdeaWorks, is improved reward availability; 2012 results were about 5 percentage points better overall than in 2010. And it’s the “value oriented” airlines that serve the frequent flier best; among the six in the survey, the average availability for reward seats was 93.5%. Considering the other 17 carriers averaged about 63%, it’s pretty clear the “value oriented” airlines know which side their bread is buttered on.

“Frequent flier programs have been slowly but surely improving member rewards,” said Daniel Farrar, CEO of Switchfly. “Nine airlines scored above 80% for 2012, which is much improved from five airlines above 80% in  2010, the first year of the survey.”

It’s probably worth managing your frequent flier accounts with these results in mind — focusing on airline companies that give reward travelers the greatest priority. Feel free to contact us to help you manage airline miles — and for managing all your loyalty programs!

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