Airlines Picking on Frequent Flyers

Though several rule changes aimed at protecting the rights of air travelers have been approved, one group continues to get picked on by the airlines: frequent fliers.

Results from the second annual ezRez Reward Seat Availability Survey did not bode well for major players like U.S. Airways and Delta, which were the two stingiest airlines when it came to redeeming points. The five most selfish carriers were:

  1. U.S. Airways
  2. Delta
  3. Emirates
  4. AirTran Airways
  5. Turkish Airlines

Survey results were based on 6,720 booking requests submitted last March and April by The IdeaWorks Company. Requests were for travel dates between June and October.

AlphaFlightGuru.com CEO Tim Gibson said the numbers show how difficult buying an airline ticket with frequent flier miles has become.

U.S. Airways had availability 26 percent of the time. From the popular Delta Air Lines SkyMiles program, tickets were only available about 27 percent of the time.

“It’s become a joke in the industry, the blackout dates and how few seats are available,” Gibson said.

According to Gibson, frequent flier accounts contain more than 9.5 trillion unredeemed miles.

Enough miles for somebody to circumnavigate the globe 449 million times, The Wall Street Journal reported.

You could fly to the moon and back 19 million times. When valued at 1.5 cents each, the miles are worth more than $145 billion.

While locating a ticket in coach is difficult, try redeeming frequent flier miles for business or first class flights overseas.

It’s nearly impossible on some airlines, Gibson explained.

“We’ve had several clients looking for cheap business class tickets. One of our clients with several million American Express Membership Rewards points had spent 20 hours trying to find business class to Europe,” he said.

Credit card purchases earn some businesses millions of frequent flier miles each year, miles that may never be redeemed for travel. Gibson helps customers use those miles when flights may seem unavailable.

“Our clients are coming to us more and more to help them use the millions of points they have and have been unable to redeem for first class and business tickets,” Gibson said. “This report has been really meaningful because it reinforces the issue that we’ve seen. Companies are having a very difficult time redeeming the millions of frequent flier miles that they earn on procurement credit cards.”

Booking just one international ticket with points might take more than 10 hours, he explained.

“You have to check repeatedly to try and get a successful booking,” Gibson said.

With large airlines like Delta compounding the problem by flooding the market with frequent flier points, AlphaFlightGuru.com’s industry insiders help businesses redeem those points for travel.

“You can see why there is a growing need for our services to help companies to actually get flights with their miles,” Gibson said in a telephone interview.

But customers are catching on, making it difficult for the world’s stingiest airlines to keep them in the dark.

“Consumers continue to feel the pinch of a difficult economy. More than ever, they expect a tangible reward for their loyalty to an airline,” ezRez Software spokesman John Swanciger said. “Rewards of all types, such as air travel, hotel accommodations and retail merchandise, are the tools airlines use to fill that expectation. Social media has made the frequent flier world less of a mystery, and savvy travelers have a better awareness of which airlines truly reward loyalty and frequency of travel.”

Gibson added, “It’s critical that airlines see the error of their ways when dealing with their frequent fliers, business class and otherwise.”

Thrifty travelers were pleased that some of the least expensive airlines had the most generous points programs. Carriers like Southwest, GOL, Air Berlin and Virgin Australia fared best in the survey.

The five most generous airlines for redeeming miles included:

  1. GOL
  2. Southwest
  3. Air Berlin
  4. Virgin Australia
  5. Singapore Airlines

GOL, which claims to be the largest low-fare carrier in Latin America, topped the rankings with 100 percent of survey queries yielding two or more reward seats. Southwest Airlines grabbed the No. 2 spot with 99.3-percent reward seat availabili4ty.

Check out all of the rankings. I’d love to hear your frequent flier horror stories. Are you surprised that U.S. Airways and Delta had availability less than a third of the time?

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