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Best and Worst Airlines for Redeeming Frequent Flyer Miles

Written by Nickel - 4 Comments

The most recent issue of Money Magazine highlighted an interesting study on the availability of reward flights on five major airlines. The study looked at 6160 web booking inquiries for 20 routes between a sample pair of cities.

In other words, it wasn’t exhaustive an exhaustive study, but it should still give a pretty accurate picture of the ease of redeeming frequent flyer miles on the different airlines.

Here’s a rundown of the results, ranked by domestic availability.

Airline Domestic International
Continental 97% 46%
United 81% 56%
American 66% 50%
Delta 19% 7%
USAir 10% 11%

As someone who lives near a Delta hub, I find these results a bit depressing. At the same time, I’ve had pretty good luck redeeming miles in the past, though I’ve had to be a bit flexible in terms of departure times.

What I’d really like to see is a similar study broken down by departure city, as I really only care about how hard it is to get a ticket out of the airport that I use. I suspect that the results would vary dramatically by location.

Anyway, as I’ve previously noted, this is one of the big reasons that I dislike travel rewards. They’re just so much harder to redeem than cash-based rewards, which can be spent anywhere on anything.

See also: Houston Chronicle

Published on June 22nd, 2010 - 4 Comments
Filed under: Credit Cards, Travel

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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4 Responses to “Best and Worst Airlines for Redeeming Frequent Flyer Miles”

  1. 1
    Pop Says:

    Yeah, as you point out, airline reward systems end up being “good” or “bad” depending not on surveys like this but on how the airline responds when it’s time for you to redeem a reward. It’s not like we’re going to book more than 6,000 rewards and be happy if Continental satisfies 97% of them. Fall into the remaining 3% and you can be sure you’ll say Continental’s program sucks.

  2. 2
    Craig Ford Says:

    I recently saw a similar list that included Southwest Airlines. The redemption rate was something like 99%.

  3. 3
    Bucksome Boomer Says:

    Southwest is very good for award booking.

    I have enough miles for the “lower” mileage awards on Delta and US Airways and have been having trouble using them when I need tickets. The result I end up buying tickets. It’s very frustrating. However, I’m earning these miles on business trips so at least I didn’t buy the original ticket.

    For personal travel, I will select Southwest if it’s competitive pricing (and available).

  4. 4
    Doug M Says:

    I have years of experience with frequent flier programs and piles of miles. Some of the piles are great (American, Continental, United, Alaska) and one in particular (DELTA) is a pile of Shi_! This week I booked a flight on American to Peru, with only 15000 miles compared to DELTA which required 70,000!!


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