The Wall Street Journal covers a new Idea Works study of award availability. Scott McCartney writes about Jay Sorenson’s effort to look at which airlines offer the best premium cabin long haul award space, and which airlines are the worst.
This isn’t about the best frequent flyer program for award redemption.
- United Airlines offers very little long haul business class saver award space on its own flights
- But MileagePlus still delivers long haul business class awards well – by letting members book awards on Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines. (In fact, United still largely prices partner awards based on an award chart!)
- United fares poorly in this report – it’s about how much premium cabin award space is available on the airline itself.
Who Comes Out Well And Who’s Super Stingy?
United, Delta, and Scandinavian are the worst airlines at offering premium cabin award space on their own flights, according to Jay Sorenson’s new study. Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, Singapore, Emirates and Etihad are the best.
British Airways does much better than this in my experience. Even though American is towards the bottom of the list, my own experience suggests they’re far worse. McCartney notes that “85% of [American’s] redemptions are in the main cabin and 15% in premium cabins.”
United excuses itself by saying members can redeem for seats most of the time, with the cost of an award (exorbitantly) tracking that of a paid fare – and that availability may be better for Platinum elite members and higher. United acknowledges that finding a good award deal will be “tougher and tougher to find.”
Delta, for their part, suggested only that members are redeeming more miles than ever – not surprising when they have to spend more to claim a seat! – and that there are more and more opportunities to spend miles at a very low value for things other than award seats.
What About The Methodology, Do The Results Make Sense?
IdeaWorks made 3600 award searches for premium cabin awards across 18 airlines. They always searched for 2 seats at a time for travel between June and October. For each airline they looked at the 10 routes over 2500 miles with the most seats on offer.
There are some problems with the methodology that skew results, but overall I find the effort instructive. For instance,
- Seasonality. They’re looking at summer/early fall travel, and an airline’s busiest routes (such as to Europe) might have the least availability when demand is highest. So it’s sensitive to what the airline’s biggest routes are and whether summer/early fall is peak or off-peak for the destination.
- Award release strategy. British Airways award availability seems low to me. So does Air France. BA always releases business class awards when their schedule opens. Closer to departure those seats may be gone with additional inventory not yet opened (that’s frequently done closer-in than IdeaWorks was searching). Other airlines offer space in ‘waves’, where space is broadly available across the board and then not at all. That’s what I often find for Qatar Airways for instance. So results are highly sensitive to when you happen to search.
- Choice of airlines for the study. Alaska Airlines doesn’t operate long haul flights and really shouldn’t be on this list.
The study doesn’t yet appear to be on Jay’s website so I’m basing my comments on how the study is represented by McCartney’s column in the Journal.