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Thinking of redeeming your airline miles for a dream vacation? It is not always that easy. That is because some airlines make redeeming miles much easier than others.
Many people apply for frequent flier credit cards with visions of trips around the world, European tours, and never having to pay a dime for an airline ticket again. If you applied for one or more frequent flier credit cards with the idea of being the next Steve Kamb, who, quite literally, traveled the world for under $500, you may be given a harsh dose of reality when you begin cashing in those miles.
That’s not to say it can’t be done. After all, Kamb did it, and so have hundreds of other people. But it does require careful planning and a knowledge of “the system.” Idea Works Company recently released the results of a study that should help frequent fliers get the rewards they want.
Idea Works made 6,720 booking queries through the websites of 24 frequent flier programs this spring. Travel dates spanned from June through October, prime travel season. Twenty top routes were checked. It was discovered that the budget airlines have the greatest reward seat availability, with Southwest Airlines ranking number one in the U.S. and second overall. (A Latin American budget airline called GOL, with a program called SMILES ranked number one overall for seat availability).
So which are the best and the worst airlines for redeeming miles? Let’s find out.
The Best Airlines for Rewards Seat Availability
According to the Idea Works study, the second annual ezRez Reward Seat Availability Survey, here are the top domestic carriers for rewards airline seats:
- Southwest Airlines – Rapid Rewards
- JetBlue – TrueBlue
- United Airlines – Mileage Plus
- Continental Airlines – OnePass
- American Airlines – AAdvantage
Each of these airlines had an availability greater than 50 %. Even more good news? All except Continental’s and Southwest’s seat availability, which remained the same, rose since last year’s survey.
The Worst Airlines for Rewards Seat Availability
If you are looking to fly on either of these airlines, you have less than a 30% chance of getting a seat on the date you choose. But that’s better than last year. Delta’s scant 27.1% is up 14.2 points from last year, and US Airways is up 15% to 25.7%.
What Are Your Priorities When You Travel?
If traveling on specific dates based on your calendar is the most important thing to you when you travel, consider a budget airline like Southwest or JetBlue to cash in your frequent flier miles.
But keep in mind that airlines like Continental and American offer other perks, including access to first class lounges or business class travel, as well as worldwide networks so you can cash in your miles on a variety of carriers to take that trip around the world, just like Kamb.
If you’re choosing a new frequent flier card or travel rewards credit card, seat availability is important, but if you have a bit of flexibility as far as when you fly, you might consider other factors such as:
- Value of points and what they buy
- How you can earn points
- Interest rates (if it’s a credit card)
- Capability to transfer or consolidate points
- Other perks and benefits that come with the card
Check out our list of the best airline and travel rewards credit cards.
Think Outside the Flight
If your choice of seating is not available through your frequent flier program remember, most programs also permit you to cash in your points for hotels, rental cars and other travel purchases. The money you save on the hotel room could easily pay for your flight. Don’t forget to use your frequent flier card so you can begin accruing more points right away.