Report: Seat Availability for Airline Rewards Programs Improves

If you’ve ever gotten upset because you couldn’t use your miles or points to get the seat you wanted, some good news: according to a new study by airline consultant IdeaWorks and airline software service-provider Switchfly, it’s getting a little easier to book rewards seats.

Frequent Flyer/Miles Programs: How They Work

Low-Cost Carriers Better for Rewards Seats

The study, which included U.S. and international carriers, concluded that your best bet on getting the rewards seat you want is with so-called discount carriers. The methodology used involved 140 different seat/flight queries per airline, which were performed in March for flights from June into the fall. Southwest tied with German low-cost carrier Air Berlin with a 100 percent success rate.

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Overall Rewards Seat Availability: June – October, 2011

These were the airlines with the best rewards seat availability rates:

Airline % of Seat Availability
Air Berlin, Southwest








Virgin Australia









Delta finished last with just 27.1 percent availability, and did slightly worse when the booking window was shorter. According to the report, it appears Delta “has become stingier” when allocating seats for reward travel close to the date of departure.

Virgin America Rewards Now Good on Virgin Atlantic/Australia Flights

Popular Times to Travel Still Worse for Rewards Seats

As most flyers know, finding rewards seats during peak travel periods is still somewhat problematic. IdeaWorks president Jay Sorensen spoke with FareCompare by phone and noted that, “Of the five months we queried – June, July, August, September and October – July and August were the tightest for rewards seats with July being the worst.”

More Seats Available Year by Year

Overall, though, the picture is improving year by year – based on previous data. The following figures are the average for all airlines included in the studies:

  • 2010: 65.8%
  • 2011: 68.6%
  • 2012: 70.9%

For rewards seats seekers, slow but steady improvement.


Published: May 21, 2012