More worthless research….

Travel Commons has an interesting post about the best airlines for transatlantic award travel according to IdeaWorks, a travel consulting company. Look at their findings, which are overly simplistic. Here’s how they did their research:

The Transatlantic Reward Availability Report answers the question, “Which airlines offer the most online availability for transatlantic reward travel?” IdeaWorks made 6,400 booking queries at the websites of five US-based airlines and five Europe-based airlines during the latter half of January 2009. The same sets of travel dates, which spanned April through November 2009, were used for all queries. The queries were made for the largest passenger-carrying routes of each airline.

Fine, fair enough. That information is worthless as far as I’m concerned, but then they go on to say this:

Others, such as US Airways and Scandinavian Airlines, make it very difficult for consumers to receive the benefit of free transatlantic reward travel.

Eh, no, they don’t. They make it very difficult to book awards on their own metal across the pond online. That’s definitely not the same thing as making it “very difficult for consumers to receive the benefit of free transatlantic award travel.” USAir, actually, is probably the best carrier for Star Alliance awards across the pond. Not only do they offer all Starnet availability they can, but they also have a favorable award chart, liberal routing rules, and no fuel surcharges or BS taxes.

The biggest irony here, is that they use the term “free transatlantic award travel.” Iberia, the best carrier according to them, charges substantial “fuel surcharges” and “taxes” which make your award ticket look more like a revenue ticket. Not so free anymore….

Again they are correct with this:

 However, the result produced by American’s AAdvantage program may suggest the issue of reward availability is more linked to revenue management than the question of “partners or no partners.” American Airlines offered the best online transatlantic reward availability of any US based airline without the benefit of partner inclusion.

American does have excellent award availability on their own flights, which is something they deserve credit for. Nonetheless, their transatlantic partner options are limited, given that you can’t use your American miles for British Airways flights from the US to Europe, which I’d argue is the European backbone of the OneWorld alliance.

The Transatlantic Reward Availability Report may be ordered directly from IdeaWorks at an early bird price of US$2,250 per copy for orders received by April 15, 2009. The regular price (for orders starting on April 16) is US$2,550. The report is now available for delivery. 

I think I’ll pass. 😉

So while this research is technically correct, it’s just not very helpful to travelers, in my opinion. I hope they didn’t waste too much time on this “research.”

Filed Under: Advice, Awards
  1. I don’t know how they actually did their research, since you can’t (easily or at all) automate this (especially for partner awards).

    But worthless? If only one person buys this report (for what purpose?), it would be worth quite a bit to Ideaworks.

  2. Dear One Mile at a Time,

    I’m the writer of the transatlantic reward report and I found your comments helpful. You make an excellent point regarding the addition of surcharges – and this will be reflected in research planned for 2010 and 2011.

    In terms of US Airways, they do indeed provide rewards through the Star Alliance and Starnet. However, each carrier is free to influence how the reward availability of partner carriers is displayed. Examples of this “reward blocking” activity have been documented by others. In effect, carrier A blocks the reward display of carrier B.

    Why you ask? Well, carrier A must pay carrier B for those seats. It would stand to reason a carrier would prefer to not purchase seats on another airline and would prefer to provide seats on its own metal (at no cash cost to the FFP). Cost conscious carriers do this often . . . loyalty conscious carriers don’t.

    US Airways (courtesy of the America West relationship) is one of the most stingy airlines in terms of reward activity. This has been disclosed in financial filings for years – – no other legacy carrier has such a small percentage of seats filled with reward travelers. I also did a domestic reward study in 2008 and the results were consistent.

    I’m proud of this research piece. It’s the first time anyone has gone to the trouble of documenting the issue reward availability. The report has been purchased by numerous US airlines. At $2,500 it’s not intended to be an item for consumers. The results have compelled some carriers to boost reward availability or to add new redemption options such as hotels and car rentals.

    I agree fully with your comment about fuel surcharge fees, these are a hidden cost that only degrade the value of reward travel. IdeaWorks just issued a report that describes the fees used by British Airways for reward travel – – it’s available online at

    Best regards,

    Jay Sorensen

  3. Thanks for posting here, Jay, it’s much appreciated! It’s nice to get some more background which clears some things up, but there is one thing I still have to disagree with you on. US Airways has full access to Star Alliance award inventory and doesn’t implement any sort of blocking. United engages in blocking of parnter award inventory, but US Airways doesn’t in any way, shape, or form. If it’s available in Starnet it’ll be available when redeeming through Dividend Miles. If you’ve come to a different conclusion I’d be very curious to hear about it. While their percentage of award seats on their own flights are very low, the possibilities using US Airways miles are endless.

  4. I am not privy to the facts on whether US Airways uses reward blocking. I’m not against the practice, as it represents a revenue management decision. I’ve measured US Airways using three points of quantifiable data: online reward availability within the US, online reward availability for transatlantic markets, and the published percent of seats filled by reward travelers. In all 3 categories, US Airways is at the bottom among its US airline peers.

    Good revenue management practice suggests a carrier should make its own inventory available first and then rely upon partner rewards – – which must be purchased with cash. All of this suggests US Airways takes a very stingy approach to reward availability.

    We also did test calls to confirm partner availability – – the process used by agents a year ago was very cumbersome as it seemed they had to build itineraries on their own. This created crazy routings involving multiple stops to include plane changes at YYZ and partial itineraries on Air Canada.

    I also did research on domestic and Hawaii reward traffic (2008) for a client and was amazed at the almost complete lack of reward seats on US Airways. At first, I believed my data was in error and ordered up the complete file of Hawaii city pairs. This study also counted reward travelers as a percent of total domestic traffic. The legacy carriers were in the range of 6 to 10%. US Airways was a 4.3% . . . Southwest carried more travelers at 7.1%, even Frontier had 4.8%. This provides a 4th measurement which indicates the same result – – a real lack of reward availability.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *