The steady improvement in airline reward seat availability since 2010 ended with the results from this year’s CarTrawler Reward Seat Availability Survey.
Last year 76.6% of reward queries provided access to a saver-style reward seat; this dropped to 72.4% for 2017. The story for US-based consumers is generally positive, while frequent flyer members elsewhere in the world are seeing moderate to significant declines in reward seat availability.
Some things haven’t changed; airberlin, JetBlue, and Southwest have placed in the top six since 2014. For 2017, three airlines showed significant improvements to their rankings. Alaska Airlines had the 7th best reward seat availability for 2017, which is much improved from its 14th place ranking in 2016. Air Asia Group made a 10-position leap from 19th in 2016 to 9th for 2017. Delta also made a significant jump from 16th in 2016 to 10th place in 2017.
Southwest now holds the first place position by itself with an outstanding 100% score; every flight queried provided reward seats below the domestic saver-style level of 12,500 points/miles.
The survey answers the question, “How easy is redemption for the basic and most popular reward type offered by the world’s top airlines?” The 25 carriers in the survey remained almost the same as 2016; Hainan and Qatar replaced Alitalia and Virgin Australia. The following overall conclusions were identified by the 2017 survey:
• Nine airlines dropped reward seat availability by more than 5 points for 2017; it’s no coincidence six of these airlines also face financial challenges for the current year. This includes airberlin, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, and Turkish Airlines.
• Long-haul availability also dropped (after years of steady improvement) with only four airlines having availability scores above 70% for 2017, compared to eight last year.
• Reward payback was introduced in 2016 as a new metric for North American programs, with an average return of 5.5% per dollar spent on base fare; this showed a noticeable increase to 6.5% for 2017. Concurrently, average reward prices for US domestic travel (except on United) dropped by nearly 11% for 2017.
“Airlines that run enhanced reward programs for their loyal customers have a great opportunity to differentiate themselves in the increasingly competitive travel marketplace. This report shows that an increased focus on value-based rewards will give airlines a keen competitive edge in the battle for the customer. Airlines that personalise their loyalty offerings to the needs of their customers can enjoy increased revenues across flight and ancillary products. More importantly customer satisfaction and lifetime value will increase,” said Aileen O’Mahony, Chief Commercial Officer at CarTrawler.