He’s famous. He’s a big deal. And almost everything he says is wrong or at least misleading.
Every year, I tell you how the airlines are devaluing frequent-flier miles. And since they control the inventory, some airlines make it harder than others to redeem those miles for seats.
A new study from IdeaWorks ranks airlines around the world based on their availability of reward seats. And guess what? The low-cost airlines fared the best. We’re talking Southwest and JetBlue in the U.S.
Internationally, Air Berlin, Brazil’s GOL, and Virgin Australia ranked high.
Meanwhile, US Airways and Delta tied for last place, and American Airlines was in the bottom five.
The IdeaWorks study is highly flawed and misleading. Nobody who knows anything about frequent flyer miles should draw conclusions like Greenberg does based upon it.
In any case, the broad claim that ‘every year airlines are devaluing frequent flyer miles’ isn’t quite true. Inventory goes up and down generally with the economy and the extent to which airlines are filling seats with paying passengers. And airlines have done a lot to add value, too, largely through partnerships and alliances but also through more liberal routing rules.
A dozen years ago you couldn’t book seamless alliance awards.
Even five years ago there were very few one-way awards. Three years ago United ‘blocked’ redemption of seats being offered by those partners when the mileage program didn’t want to pay for those seats, and held redemptions strictly to the “maximum permitted mileage” published for a given city pair.
Award prices have largely gone up, but it’s also become easier to earn miles through more partners and bigger bonuses.
While I am the first one to decry devaluation, it hasn’t been unquestionable, every year, or across-the-board.
But more importantly relying on the IdeaWorks study to tell you where to find current value leads to you almost the exact wrong conclusions. Greenberg should recognize this himself since he advises in the piece that you should redeem for international award tickets, and yet highlights the Southwest program as being most valuable (!).
Most airlines will release award seats as far out as 330 days. That’s when you start looking.
The only airline that I know which loads seats at 330 days out is US Airways. Most load their schedules earlier than that, even if it’s just at 331 or 338 days.
See also The Myth of Booking Award Travel at Midnight 330 Days Out. When the schedule loads isn’t necessarily the only or even best time to find award space.
And the most important advice: Talk to a human being. It may cost you a few bucks to talk to a reservations agent, but they can think creatively, find alternate routing, and even override the system on occasion. Things that a computer…can’t do.
Almost. Don’t rely on an airline website, though as far as websites among U.S. airlines go for award redemption United’s is pretty good. Delta’s is terrible. US Airways’ offers no partners (which is a large reason it does so badly in the IdeaWorks study, because it only looks at online availability, roughly speaking they have the exactly same availability that United does and United was ranked higher by IdeaWorks).
You can’t just ring up an agent and assume you’re getting the best information. Especially true if that agent works for Delta (their agents often don’t even know who their partners are let alone the right booking classes to use when searching for space).
Instead, you need to hang up and call back, I suggest making three phone calls before you believe a “no.”
Why oh why can’t we have a better travel press corps?
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