Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Best and Worst Airlines for Spending Frequent Flier Points Observations

Southwest and Air Berlin have the best award seat availability and US Airways and Avianca the worst according to a study published in the Wall Street Journal.  This study is meaningless for point and mile collectors because the survey methodology is flawed.  The study “looked for two seats on each airline's 10 busiest long routes and 10 busiest short routes on 14 different round-trip dates between June and October.”  For example, Southwest’s busiest short route is Dallas to Houston, but they run 46 flights a day between the two cities, so an open seat is likely to be found, though not always at a preferred time.  The study assumes simple point to point awards, so connections are disregarded even though they are more difficult to book and more useful to passengers because it increases redemption options.  The study also does not factor in awards with partners, a valuable and often used feature of frequent flyer programs.
US Airways Does Better Than It Looks
The study also doesn’t factor in point value.  Southwest does great in this study because it will sell you any available seat for points.  The value received could be atrocious though because Southwest charges a fixed multiple of the cash fare.  Most other carriers charge a flat rate for domestic flights, regardless of distance, connections, or cash fare prices.  The flat rate model could be of great value to customers because it can multiply the value of their miles.  Airlines also have to limit flat rate award seat availability to maximize revenue, lowering their ranking in this study even if it increases value received by customers.
Partner Awards Add Flexibility And Value
The final flaw is assuming two coach seats on the same flight in the peak summer travel season.  Miles are most valuable (cash price of award / miles price of award) for international premium cabin awards.  This study also overlooks the intangible benefits of miles, like bringing the unattainable into reach.  Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal experience would only be available to most people with Star Alliance airline frequent flyer miles, so there is no value equation if the numerator is priceless.
Go Anywhere With Miles

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