IdeaWorks is out with its annual award availability study. It used to be easy sport poking holes in the product, but it’s been much-improved over the years, and where there are limitations they’re clearly acknowledged up front.
This is a useful tool for those looking to redeem miles for economy travel on an airline’s top routes.
There are limitations to the study, which the author acknowledges. Since each airline flies different routes, they aren’t looking at the same routes for each carrier. Instead they’re looking at each airline’s top routes.
Since they’re searching in March for June through October travel seasonality will affect different airlines differently (although this is a broader travel window than they used to search), and each airline’s timing of release of award seats will affect the results as well. Not all airlines (Southwest, JetBlue) use a mix of short- and long-haul, either.
The study acknowledges “The results most accurately compare similar programs such as American, Delta, and United. Comparing a mileage-based program, such as Turkish Airlines, to a point-based program such as JetBlue, does not represent the best application of the survey results.”
Unfortunately the caveats won’t really get picked up in reporting about the study, only the top line results will get cited and people will come away with some wrongheaded conclusions about which programs are best as a result.
One easy misconception stems from the lead to the press release about the study, “British Airways Greatly Boosts Reward Seat Availability” for intra-Europe routes I’ll accept this but the results shouldn’t be extrapolated to long haul travel because carrier-imposed surcharges aren’t factored into the cost of a redemption, only mileage costs. British Airways Avios are next to useless for long haul economy travel since you pay almost as much cash still as if you were buying a ticket.
The takeaway from the IdeaWorks study is that overall airlines have been making more economy award seats available at lower prices, although not all airlines do a good job at this. There are myriad routes where the cheapest Delta awards are 36,000 miles or more roundtrip for domestic economy.
If your reward goals involve premium cabin travel this study doesn’t speak to that.