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The Trouble With Redeeming Air Miles

So many miles, so few seats. That’s become a common lament of frequent fliers who try to redeem for an awards ticket, only to find that the first seat available is on a Tuesday midnight flight – eight months from now. A story in today’s Wall Street Journal offers a breakdown of the most and least generous airlines when it comes to redeeming frequent flier miles.

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Southwest had award seats available for 99.3% of queries made by frequent fliers, while jetBlue was the next best U.S. airline on the list with award seats available 79.3% of the time, according to a survey of 24 airlines by consulting firm IdeaWorks Co. And the worst? Delta offered seats for 27.1% of frequent flier queries and US Airways fulfilled just 25.7% of requests. Frequent-flier program executives say summer bookings with awards are already above average this year, which means lower availability.

Tim Winship, founder of FrequentFlier.com, says this is a problem for consumers. “The whole frequent flier edifice is built on the assumption that airlines will only give away unsold seats,” he tells Pay Dirt. “That’s the ideal from the airline’s standpoint. But the airlines simply have fewer unsold seats to give away. This creates a real crunch for people trying to redeem their frequent flier miles.”

Have you had trouble getting award seats?

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  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.