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UA and AA: the best for award availability

UA and AA: the best for award availability

Old Dec 2, 06, 1:28 pm
  #1  
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UA and AA: the best for award availability

Folks seem to like to debate whether there is a "difference" in award availability between airlines, and I've seen a few studies which suggest that there isn't much difference. But I don't think the conventional wisdom that "they're all the same" is right. Rather, I think there is a significant difference in availability (and hence value) among the airlines today. From my experience, AA and UA win hands down. And I say that without any particular bias toward anyone -- in fact, my loyalties probably rest with CO, where I'm a longtime platinum.

Thanks to the free flowing credit card promo offers, in the past year I've had miles "to burn" on almost all the major carriers. And because the miles are easier to obtain (what's another credit card application? ), I've been more willing to use them on trips I might otherwise have paid for. Like domestic trips to obscure U.S. airports. Ever want to fly to Jackson Hole? It can cost a fortune. But standard award tickets are generally plentiful on UA and AA (and not plentiful on, say, DL).

And mind you, "partner" airlines don't work. It's a bear, for example, to find free seats on UA using US miles. The "bucket" is completely different, and availability is far worse.

Mind you, my experience is mostly planning award travel in advance, like between 2 months and 6 months before departure. It's also mostly looking for coach awards. The "last minute" picture may be quite different, as might be FC travel. But if you can plan in advance, and will take coach, the difference is dramatic. For a trip to transcon trip to Fresno, for example, UA had about 8 possible connections available at standard reward levels. DL? Zero. On a trip to the Caribbean, AA had almost any flight I wanted. DL had zero availability for weeks.

As you probably can guess, I'd rank DL the worse for reward availability, and I'd put US and CO only slightly better (I don't have enough experience with NW's program -- they're availability through CO and DL tends to be pretty poor, however). But the main difference is between AA and UA and everyone else.

I'd love to see some "intelligent" research be done in this area. I'd be very surprised if a carefully done study differed from my anecdotal (but extensive) experience.

Accordingly, I tend to value my AA and UA miles more than those in the other programs. Indeed, I seek out AA and UA credit card offers to build my account balances there because I know those miles have actual VALUE. They're a "real currency," unlike DL's Skymiles, which I basically consider "funny money" (I had to plan 330 days in advance to burn my otherwise "unusable" DL miles to get an award ticket to Hawaii.

I would like to see AA and UA publicly acknowledged for their efforts to make reward seats available. Indeed, if it were practicable, it might be a good idea to require the airlines to report their ff availability, so they might be more inclined to compete in this area. Right now, in this era of high load factors, I think there is too much incentive to try to sell every last seat, and leave the frequent flyers high and dry for award availability.
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Old Dec 3, 06, 7:27 am
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It all depends on where you want to go with your miles. AA allows two stopovers (one at the domestic gateway and one at the foreign gateway) and an open jaw. Want to go to CDG, then to PRG, and stop in YUL on the way back? AA miles let you do that.

I do like the Star Alliance hubs in Europe more than Oneworld's. VIE, WAW, FRA, MUC, OSL, and LIS make it relatively easy to always find some availability. I use my miles for business or first class tickets that I couldn't afford to buy with cash. I would rather fly many foreign carriers in J or F before either AA or UA in J or F, and I usually have good luck finding space on LH.

However, I value US miles a little more than UA miles. If I go to Australia, I'll try to fly either NZ or QF, both of which I can get using US miles. Also, if you want to go to Asia but can't find *A availability over the Pacific, US will let you fly via Europe for a small premium (15K for business class). That gives one a lot more options.

All in all, I like having a bunch of miles in a bunch of programs. I just booked IAD-FRA-VIE,VIE-FRA-MLA,MLA-FRA-MUC(stop for 21 hours),MUC-IAD for New Year's using US miles. That worked out great because my GF needs to start in DFW and end in IAD, so she was able to get DFW-FRA-VIE,VIE-FRA-MLA,MLA-FRA-MUC,MUC-IAD,IAD-DFW and she'll just skip the IAD-DFW segment. Oneworld does not have any flights from Europe to WAS that can be had using AA miles, so the GF would not have been able to leave from DFW and return to IAD using AA miles.
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Old Dec 3, 06, 8:45 am
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Originally Posted by johnep1 View Post
It all depends on where you want to go with your miles.
Yeah, my analysis doesn't include breadth of destinations (all of them now are pretty broad) or availability on partners. The latter would be difficult to compare, because nobody really has the majority of their partners on line.

As I did mention, however, most of the "alliance" airlines seem to have separate buckets for their own customers vs. their partners' customers. So good luck using your US miles on UA. Indeed, it was so bad for me that I had to go out and get a UA credit card to top off my UA account because I couldn't find availability on UA with my ample US miles.
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Old Dec 3, 06, 10:25 am
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I can usually find availability on UA when I need it, except for the obvious times of the year when flights are full.
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Old Dec 3, 06, 11:04 am
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So do I. UA has no fee on award schedule change.
Originally Posted by UNITED959 View Post
I can usually find availability on UA when I need it, except for the obvious times of the year when flights are full.
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Old Dec 3, 06, 1:01 pm
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Originally Posted by UNITED959 View Post
I can usually find availability on UA when I need it, except for the obvious times of the year when flights are full.
Yup, my hunch is that UA is # 1 in availability (nudging out AA). It's close enough that I can't be 100% sure. I can be 100% sure that a flyer used to redeeming points on UA would be unhappy if he/she suddenly had to find availability on DL.

I'm surprised this issue hasn't gotten more attention. Being able to actually find seats when you need them makes the awards significantly more valuable. I've had situations with the "lesser carriers" where they've offered $99 (or less!) transcons and not had seats on the same flights available for standard reward travel. That's idiotic.
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Old Dec 3, 06, 1:11 pm
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Althoug I am 1K on United I have founded it easier to redeem 1W awards on AA actually. On United you have to call several times and hang up before getting a competent agent that can book complex award itineraries.

It never hurts to have miles and points on many programs. None of them is superior.
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Old Dec 3, 06, 1:38 pm
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UA's been pretty good whenever I've looked. As opposed to the opposite with DL even on uncommon routes pretty far in advance.

personally i like NH and CX, mainly for their partners, and also CX's one-way awards.
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Old Dec 5, 06, 4:04 am
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Agreed. AA Trumps All - Holiday Season

I've been looking all over for "rule buster" seats on all the majors (I have miles on all). AA, across the board, has the most availability. NW the least. United just behind AA. AA seems to let you "rule bust" just about any flight at any time. NW has very limited availability - even when Delta shows something avail, NW says they don't have access to those seats.
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Old Dec 5, 06, 8:40 am
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Surprisingly, some group of travellers voted DL's Skymiles the best ff program.

http://biz.yahoo.com/pz/061205/109893.html

If you could hoodwink anyone into believing this (did these folks TRY to redeem a ff award on DL lately?), there seems little incentive to actually offer reasonable award availability.
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Old Dec 5, 06, 8:56 am
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Originally Posted by mjharad View Post
I've been looking all over for "rule buster" seats on all the majors (I have miles on all). AA, across the board, has the most availability. NW the least. United just behind AA. AA seems to let you "rule bust" just about any flight at any time. NW has very limited availability - even when Delta shows something avail, NW says they don't have access to those seats.
Any flight that has a seat for sale (even Y1) can be used for double miles on AA - so essentially if you are willing to spend more miles, you can get any flight you want.

This is not the same on UA?
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Old Dec 5, 06, 9:30 am
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I concur on AA. No experience on UA. As for Delta and Continental (and by extension the rest of SkyTeam) their lack of availability is easy to understand. They are the two largest members of AMEX's Membership Rewards. Given that AMEX is easily the largest Corporate Card, I would wager that this means there are far more people with far more potential mile to use on these airlines than on either AA or UA.
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Old Dec 5, 06, 9:59 am
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I think both UA and AA have the same "rule buster" type awards (usually for 2x the regular award level). I know I've booked them on flights that were nearly sold out. I believe that's the intent: if there's any seat available, you get it by paying double for it.

I fly both UA and AA. I think both are quite fair with award availability and the rules on awards. In my anecdotal experience, I have found UA easier to book to Europe and AA easier to book to Hawaii, Central/South America, and Canada. I find UA easier to book on regular domestics (e.g., MCI-DEN-West Coast), but AA easier if I need 4 award seats on the same flight.

AA has the a bit of an advantage in that one elite can book four travelers together on one itinerary and get assigned seats for all with no problems. As a UA 1P, I had to use my 3P assignment for my wife, and now when four of us travel we have to book it under two itins. Not a huge deal, but people who don't know this and goof it up by booking 4 together get no sympathy from UA whatsoever. It isn't well-explained...it's just something you learn by reading these boards and learning from others.

It's nice to have healthy balances in both. Both have their strengths/weaknesses.

I always had great experiences with US back in the '90's when I was a GP, but now I have about 60k left on them and haven't found any availability to use the miles when I've wanted to in recent years.

DL seems to be an odd bird in that I can always get international availability on them (including, last year, three 35k seats to Belize in max-peak season), but I have the most difficult time getting the simple MCI-ATL segments to clear, even on wide-open flights. Waitlist, waitlist, waitlist....hope they cleaer, usually they eventually do...but there's always this lingering fear that I'm going to be buying a last-minute AirTran ticket home.

CO is a wreck. I guess it's a good program if you want free train rides on Amtrak.

I use NW for one reason: MCI-DTW runs (we have family there). Fares on this route are absurd, but 25k awards are usually not too hard to find. One of those rare domestic routes where all flights can be $450 R/T & up, but all of the cheap fare buckets (and awards) are wide open. I know little about the rest of the NW program.
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Old Dec 5, 06, 10:24 am
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Coincidentally, the WSJ has a story today that analyzes recent gov't data and concludes that you can't tell which ff program is best for redemption! They do say that each airline allocates about the same percentage of seats for ff awards (about 8%), but there's no way of knowing whether customers are paying standard reward levels, whether they're flying partner airlines, etc.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1165...N=wsjie/6month

If anyone who is not a WSJ subscriber is dying to read the (inconclusive!) story, drop me a line with an email address, as I'm allowed to send email copies out.
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Old Dec 5, 06, 10:28 am
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Originally Posted by iahphx View Post
If you could hoodwink anyone into believing this (did these folks TRY to redeem a ff award on DL lately?)
Considering that DL & AA gave away the most seats last year, I think lots of folks have tried and succeeded in redemption on DL.
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