AlphaFlightGuru.com Helps Businesses Use Frequent Flier Points when Seats Seem Unavailable

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New study shows that some major airlines like U.S. Airways and Delta had frequent flier availability less than a third of the time

The numbers show just how difficult redeeming points on some airlines can be.

Credit card purchases are the No. 1 way consumers and corporations earn frequent flier miles. However, with blackout dates, limited seating and restrictions, officials at AlphaFlightGuru.com said that redeeming the points can be a nightmare. Results from the recent ezRez Reward Seat Availability Survey ranked 24 airlines based on how easy it was to book a ticket using frequent flier miles.

GOL, Southwest Airlines Co. and other inexpensive carriers topped the rankings.

The two stingiest airlines were U.S. Airways and Delta Air Lines, according to the survey. U.S. Airways had availability 26 percent of the time while flights from the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles program were only available about 27 percent of the time. The results were based on 6,720 booking requests submitted last March and April for travel dates between June and October.

“The numbers show just how difficult redeeming points on some airlines can be,” AlphaFlightGuru.com CEO Tim Gibson said.

InsideFlyer.com estimates that there are about 9.7 trillion unredeemed frequent flier miles sitting in accounts around the world, enough miles to travel to the moon and back 19.4 million times. Many companies earn millions of points each year from purchases on procurement credit cards including American Express, Chase Sapphire, Citi and AAdvantage. When they go to redeem the points and find that flights are not available, AlphaFlightGuru.com steps in to help these businesses use the miles for cheap business class and first class flights.

“Estimates are that less than 10 percent of the $50 billion dollars worth of miles issued by airlines and hotels each year are redeemed,” Gibson said.

Redeeming points for business class tickets overseas is especially difficult.

“International business class to London, Hong Kong and other popular destinations are the hardest to find with miles and points,” Gibson said. “Booking one international flight using frequent flier miles can take more than 12 hours we estimate, if it’s available at all.”

He offered a few tips for companies trying to keep the cost of business travel down.

  •     Be flexible with your dates, and consider an extra stop or non-traditional routing.

“We helped one client fly less than an hour from Salt Lake City to Denver to catch a non-stop flight to Frankfurt on Lufthansa, just one day before his ideal date,” Gibson explained. “A $70 Delta connecting flight saved him thousands. He got the BMW of flights on Lufthansa with his Continental miles, by mixing alliances. His bags were transferred without issue, and the trip went smoothly.”

  •     Look for flights from major hubs, where hundreds of seats are available every day.

“Adding on a cheap and short connecting flight can get you a seat when you’d otherwise get a ‘No’ from the airline,” Gibson said.

  •     Businesses hoping to redeem points should wait to book business flights until a few days before their travel date. Many airlines won’t fly with empty business and first class seats, but they won’t release seats for an award reservations until three to seven days before the flight.

“Just like we have been trained to do when booking hotels with Priceline, you can get a four or five star airline for two star mileage redemption, if you can be flexible with brands and book last minute,” Gibson said.

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Pat Parkinson
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