New Study Shows that Major Airlines May Pick on Frequent Fliers

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Businesses earn millions of miles each year on credit card purchases; AlphaFlightGuru.com helps companies put the points to use.

Estimates are that less than 10 percent of the $50 billion worth of miles issued by airlines and hotels each year are redeemed.

Though several new rule changes have taken effect to protect air travelers, officials at AlphaFlightGuru.com said one group continues to get picked on by some airlines: frequent fliers. According to results from the new ezRez Reward Seat Availability Survey, major players like U.S. Airways and Delta Air Lines were the two stingiest carriers when it came to redeeming points.

Two of the least expensive airlines -- Southwest Airlines Co. and GOL -- topped the rankings as the easiest companies to work with.

Credit card purchases are the most common way consumers and corporations earn frequent flier miles. However, with blackout dates, limited seating and restrictions, redeeming the points can be difficult.

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 ranked 24 airlines and 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. Many companies earn millions of points each year from purchases on procurement credit cards including American Express, Chase Sapphire, Citi and AAdvantage.

AlphaFlightGuru.com helps businesses use the miles for cheap business class and first class flights.

“Estimates are that less than 10 percent of the $50 billion 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 had 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.”

  •     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 reservation 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