Best Airlines For Actually Booking And Using Reward Points

The Wall Street Journal has taken it upon themselves to find out which airlines are the best at actually giving your your rewards.

Most Available Seats (so you can actually USE the points):

American Airlines and United Airlines, followed by Continental and Northwest.

Fewest Available Seats (avoid these airlines):
US Airways offered its lowest priced seats on 2 of 24 iteraries, Delta on zero.

Least Valuable Points:
Delta and US Airways were not only hard to book rewards seats with, they also required more miles than other airlines.

The WSJ suggests, no matter which airline you use: “Always check for discounted business-class and first-class tickets, which sometimes can be better values and even lower-priced than unrestricted coach tickets.” You may also want to book a coach fare, then use your miles for an upgrade.—MEGHANN MARCO

What Frequent-Flier Miles Really Get You [wsj]


Edit Your Comment

  1. kimdog says:

    Great. Delta and US Airways are the only two airlines that fly into the po-dunk airport nearest to my parents home. I usually fly US Air, and I’m pretty certain that I got a free ticket at 25,000 miles in 2005. I wonder if they’ve gone up.

    At least I’m flying on Continental later this month.

  2. Yankees368 says:

    Don’t forget jetBlue. I love the airline, but its nearly impossible to every earn a free flight with their “true blue” system. All points expire after 1 year and you must have 100 points total. It’s really a terrible system.

  3. MrFalcon says:

    Do remember that many of the seats you book through the web that are the cheapest available (either through airline websites or search services like Travelocity) are cheap in part because they are FULL of restrictions. If you want to book *and* upgrade, it is best to call the airline directly and see what seats are available that will give you that option. Otherwise, you will likely be in for a surprise.

  4. @kimdog: I agree…the main airline I fly (delta) and the airline I will probably start to fly (US Air) are on the bottom of this list…awesome!

  5. Tallanvor says:

    @MrFalcon: However, those fares will also cost more, and booking over the phone usually carries an additional fee as well.

  6. chortik says:

    yea, delta’s been sucking lately. they changed their skymiles redemption program a while ago to introduce tiers. so now a ticket to europe from jfk is 75k miles rather than 50. that’s crap, i’m cancelling my delta/amex as soon as i use up all the miles.

  7. cabinaero says:

    @MrFalcon: That’s generally good advice, but most (all?) airline web sites have a plainly labelled feature that search for upgradable fares.

    Other than that, tough luck on getting an upgrade unless you have some status with an airline. Some routes on United are notoriously difficult to upgrade even if you’re a 1K.

  8. Franklin Comes Alive! says:

    Or… fly Southwest, who has a simple system for earning free tickets that are really easy to use.

  9. ChiSoxFan says:

    Agree on Southwest. I get a free round trip ticket for anywhere for every 4 round trips I make. Plus I get credit for car and hotel rentals. And if you get 100 points in a year you get to choose a companion and they get to fly free with you for the next 12 months. Nothing can beat it for travel in the US in my opinion.

  10. SmoovyG says:

    If you use American Express points towards airline tickets, the JetBlue deal is by far the best. My wife and I were able to get two round trip, cross country tickets for the same amount of points it would have taken for a single round trip ticket with Delta or the others.

  11. bchains says:

    The nice thing about Southwest rapid rewards flight vouchers is that they are transferable and you can sell em on ebay (though they are cracking down) or craigslist. Cash em in for $325 each and fly a civilized carrier like JetBlue.

  12. oddballout says:

    @MrFalcon…Ding. You are most correct. So full of restrictions, it’s a wonder you’re even allowed ONTO the plane at all.

    @Tallanvor…Caveat Emptor. I’m all for getting somewhere for the cheapest price. Really, I am….However, remember that non-refundable means non-refundable. And a hefty amount of those tickets sold on those discount travel sites are just that.

    Scenario: say airport XYZ goes tits up with adverse weather destroying my chosen carrier’s ontime performance for the rest of the day. I purchased a non-refundable ticket from I’m shafted. Le screwed. Unless they can find another flight leaving later either from my origination or my connection point that I can get onto the standby list for…there’s nothing else they can do but MAYBE graciously allow me to postpone my trip to another day with little to no penalties.

    Weather accounts for a vast majority of delays and hiccoughs in the transportation system (read: 2/14/07, for instance) and I don’t know about you, but I can’t point my finger to the sky and shout “hey, stop that!” any more than an airline can and they’ve got more cash than I do.

    If I had chosen to purchase my ticket via the carrier with less restriction or shelled out the dough for a fully refundable ticket, my world of options just exploded off the map. I could get my refund and purchase on another carrier to get a confirmed seat. I could just as easily rent a car or take a bus. Or blow it all on a wild night of booze. The choice would be ALL mine. Therein lies the difference. So you do get what you pay for, especially in this industry.

    Just my fat two cents.