Whose frequent flyer miles are most useful?

Like airlines, hotels, rollaboards and car services, not all frequent flyer programs are created equal. Plenty goes into measuring the quality of a particular rewards program. How difficult is it to redeem the miles? Can one redeem said miles on a partner airline or for other travel tidbits like hotel stays or car rentals? How many miles are required to make a booking?

It’s difficult to compare all of those data against what a particular traveler may need on a given day, so Ideaworks (link opens a PDF) ran a simple study: how easy is it to purchase an economy ticket with an airline’s miles?

Using a narrow sampling of available routes and itineraries, the study’s findings are pretty dramatic. Among US carriers, Southwest Airlines had the easiest to redeem miles, with 99% of queried itineraries available. Behind them, Alaska Airlines and Continental Airlines scored success rates of 75% and 71% respectively.

At the bottom of the heap? US Airways only returned availability on 10.7% of queried routes, while Delta Airlines wasn’t far ahead with 12.9%. Perhaps that’s why so many frequent flyers are unhappy with their respective mileage programs.

Indicative as these data are, it’s worth nothing that the small sampling taken by Ideaworks doesn’t fully represent the usefulness of each carrier’s miles. Route availability, network, seasonality and elite status all play a role in what routes are available to each traveler

[Via Smartertravel]