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New Survey Picks Best, Worst Mileage Programs

New Survey Picks Best, Worst Mileage Programs

A new survey released today by for the most part confirms what most frequent travelers already know about loyalty programs. But several of the findings might call for a reevaluation of popular opinion.

The results reflect the views of 1,600 respondents who actively participate in travel-loyalty programs.

The survey questions included only the five largest U.S. programs, those of American, Delta, Southwest, United, and US Airways.

Overall Satisfaction

Southwest led the pack in overall satisfaction, measured in this survey as the “percentage of members likely to recommend the program to a friend.”

  • Southwest – 62%
  • United – 55%
  • American – 52%
  • Delta – 49%
  • US Airways – 43%

The results suggest that a majority of the survey respondents were leisure travelers. Business travelers tend to favor more robust mileage-based programs over revenue-based programs like Southwest’s.

Award Availability

On the key metric of award availability, Southwest again outdistanced the four legacy airlines. Not surprising, given that there are no capacity controls on award seats in Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program.

The percentage of respondents reporting that it’s easy to book an award flight:

  • Southwest – 64%
  • American – 56%
  • United – 53%
  • Delta – 48%
  • US Airways – 45%

At the other end of the spectrum, the percentage of respondents who reported that it’s impossible to book an award flight:

  • US Airways – 17%
  • Delta – 16%
  • American – 10%
  • United – 8%
  • Southwest – 8%

Value of Miles

The percentage of respondents deeming their miles to be “worth nothing” is as follows:

  • American – 5%
  • Delta – 5%
  • United – 5%
  • Southwest – 6%
  • US Airways – 11%

The disconnect between these results and the award-availability findings are confounding. While Southwest points may be worth less than miles in the other programs, they have a fixed value and can be redeemed for flights with no capacity controls. They’re hardly worthless. And, at least anecdotally, Delta’s are the miles I most often hear described as worthless.

The Loyalty Effect

As the name implies, loyalty programs are designed to foster loyalty. On that score, United fared best, with 41 percent of the respondents saying they “nearly always choose a flight because it earns the miles they want to build”:

  • Delta – 33%
  • Southwest – 33%
  • US Airways – 35%
  • American – 37%
  • United – 41%

Other Key Findings

  • Loyalty programs are less likely to live up to their promises than cable companies, banks, and phone companies.
  • Most popular program feature: non-expiring points.
  • Biggest frustration: need more miles than expected.
  • 90% booked their award flights online.
  • Most popular credit cards: American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Reader Reality Check

How do this study’s results compare with your own perceptions?

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  • Ryan

    This survey holds NO WATER!! It does not survey the real frequent flyer.

  • Jeff

    Not sure i’d say it picks best and worst so much as points out which ones are too hard to use for the average person and fail to deliver as a result. Which is a valid assessment that is important for the viability of a program.

    The frequent flier centric surveys tend to score hard to use programs like US higher because of the jackpot ‘sweet spots’ that an average person has a hard time finding.

    If you have a small Southwest balance and earning 1,000 points a month on your credit card can see how someone might think that’s worthless. They dont’ know any better.

  • Nick Knight

    BS, I have US Air to get great deals to Rio and Europe.

  • rufus whynot

    I am a Platinum flyer with Delta. This is the second article in your Frequent Flier posting that takes gratuitous swipes at Delta. Is not a big deal for me; since your comments may dissuade others and enable better service/upgrades for those of us who do fly Delta; however, I subscribed to because I did want current news concerning flying, hotels, etc. I’d prefer reading the news and not your negative bias . This reminds me of CNN and FOX, trying to make into the news vs reporting the actual news.

  • sfomsp

    The issue is – based on this data – most US Air members don’t know to *call in* to get the best deals since they hide so many partners online. So yeah, US is a great program if you know what’s lying underneath.

  • Jeff in Minnesota

    I’d have to agree with the remark about Delta. As a business flyer with way too many points on Delta, they really are worthless from a flying perspective. I have been trying for months to use points to get a flight for my wife and I to DC for our anniversary this year and it’s impossible to get one the end of March or the first part of April. I’ve had this problem in the past not just with flights, but also with upgrades. Delta seems to have only one seat available per flight for points. It as though Delta would rather I get a TV or camera than fly.