Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Southwest Airlines gets some really good news on reward seat availability front

Southwest Airlines' on-time arrival numbers may have lagged major competitors in April. But when it comes to award seat availability — one metric important to many frequent travelers — Southwest really soars.

In Switchfly's annual Reward Seat Availability Survey of 25 airlines around the world revealed today, Southwest and Air Berlin tied for the No. 1 spot in the survey, with both carriers showing 100 percent availability. Both Southwest, which has its largest hub at Chicago's Midway Airport, and Air Berlin managed to hold on to their top rankings year over year.

It was a different story, however, for two other major carriers in the Chicago market, United Airlines and American Airlines. Chicago-based United, which has its largest hub at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, saw its percentage of available reward seats fall 2.9 percentage points to 72.1 percent, putting it in 15th place in the rankings. United is a unit of United Continental Holdings. The results for American Airlines, which has its third-largest hub at O'Hare, were even worse. AA fell 10.7 percentage points in the 2016 survey to 56.4 percent, putting American in 21st place in the rankings.

The Switchfly Reward Seat survey is based on 7,140 booking and fare queries made by IdeaWorksCompany, an airline and travel brand consultancy, at the websites of the 25 airline frequent flier programs ranked in the 2016 survey. Travel dates for requested reward seats spanned June through October of 2016, with top routes for each carrier checked to assess "saver-style" reward seat availability.

The 2016 Switchfly survey did yield one especially surprising result — overall reward seat availability is up for the third year in a row. This comes despite many frequent fliers talking about how much tougher it has become to get reward seats at many airlines.

Of the 2016 queries made for the new Switchfly survey, 76.6 percent yielded reward seats, up from last year's 74 percent and the 2014 result of 72.4 percent. Long-haul availability has improved significantly as well, with eight airlines having availability scores above 70 percent for 2016, compared to just three in 2010.

The 2016 Switchfly survey also showed that July is the worst month of the year for reward seat availability, with only 53.1 percent of reward seat queries for that month resulting in outbound and return award seats. The availability percentages climbed significantly in the fall, however, with 84.3 percent of September queries and 84.8 percent of October queries resulting in outbound and return reward seats.

Commenting on the seventh annual Switchfly Reward Seat Survey, the company's CEO Daniel Farrar said: "This survey reflects the fact that airlines can't afford to take their customers for granted. 21st century consumers are savvy and plugged-in. They know when their loyalty programs are offering them a real value and when they are not delivering. They don't have time for loyalty programs that aren't delivering, especially in such a competitive space."

(Lewis Lazere - Chicago Business Journal)

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