There is an increasingly more complex landscape for travellers when it comes to booking reward seats but ‘better availability is greeting almost all consumers’ in 2019

Are reward programmes becoming more rewarding for regular travellers? The suggestion that airlines are taking a more balanced approach to their loyalty schemes from the findings of the 2019 IdeaWorksCompany Reward Seat Availability Survey demonstrates that this may just be the case and while it acknowledges there is an increasingly more complex landscape for travellers when it comes to booking reward seats, it says better availability is greeting almost all consumers in 2019.

Among the 20 frequent flyer programmes surveyed this year, IdeaWorks says 13 provided better overall reward availability for 2019, with only three programmes showing decreased availability. “That’s a meaningful improvement,” it says, with two carriers exhibiting big year-over-year availability improvements.  These were British Airways which jumped 17.9 points to an overall reward seat availability score of 80%, and Korean Air which increased 15.4 points to 84%.

Key findings from the report were that higher priced air rewards provide more seats, but also add complexity, discounted air rewards provide more value during periods of lower demand and that in general frequent flyer programmes are adding more partner reward flights to online booking engines.

“Frequent flyer programmes are indeed masters of their own ships,” explains Jay Sorensen, president of IdeaWorks. “The results from ten years of economy class reward seat research demonstrate airlines can boost access to basic rewards to improve member satisfaction.”

The survey also captures average reward prices for top markets within the US for six key airlines. Here too the trend for consumers is positive with the unweighted average air reward price (reflected as miles or points) dropping 17% since 2014. “Many consumers may be surprised by this, but these have fallen approximately 5 to 27 percent in the last five years. For consumers who seek economy class reward travel, the developments for 2019 are positive,” says Mr Sorensen.

This year’s report includes the addition of Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines and these generally perform positively when ranked by economy class reward availability for the June to October travel period this year. Etihad Airways’ Guest programme actually sits atop of the long-haul table alongside Turkish Airlines and its Miles&Smiles programme, which saw a nominal decline in performance, down 0.6 percentage points on 2018 but still with 98% availability.

That means that out of 200 long-haul queries (2,500+ miles) for each airline, only four flights did not provide reward seats at the low-priced everyday level. As the study highlights, that is a significant performance when it is obviously difficult for airlines to provide availability when flight frequency is almost always lower than on shorter-haul routes.

Air Canada and Singapore Airlines also provided more than 90% availability in the long-haul category, according to the findings, while Lufthansa Group and its Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines and Swiss brands, plus US majors American Airlines and United Airlines offered over 80% availability.

Qatar Airways has the lowest long-haul reward availability of the big Middle East hub carriers at just 40% (versus 98% at Etihad  Airways and 64% at Emirates Airline) and was only positioned ahead of SAS Scandinavian Airlines in the ranking; the latter had just a 20% availability, but still delivered a marked improvement on last year of 12.9 percentage points.

“The trend here is positive for consumers,” acknowledges the report. Back in 2014, average reward availability was 47.2% in the long-haul category. This year shows an average result of 69.6%, which represents a 22.4-point increase over five years.

The results from the tenth annual Reward Survey indicate better availability is greeting almost all consumers for 2019. “Airlines seem to be deploying a branded fare approach by offering an array of rewards priced at different mileage and point levels,” says IdeaWorks.

These new programme methods are creating more reward availability for members, but as the report highlights frequent flyer programmes “have evolved to become complex beasts”. When programs were launched nearly 40 years ago they offered “a single first class reward available on any flight without capacity controls,” according to IdeaWorks, but are now taking a more balanced approach which acknowledges that need to make reward programmes, more rewarding.

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