Bargains on international travel have become far more elusive
miles can be used, with Delta accepting them to upgrade a fare even after purchase-an option being used by about 1,000 passengers a day, the airline said in January.
The carrier has increased the number of SkyMiles “Flash Sales” and has introduced one-way tickets starting at 5,000 award miles.
Carriers no longer care “whether they sell a seat with dollars or miles,” said Jay Sorensen, IdeaWorks president. “Historically it was negative from a revenue standpoint if they sold a seat with miles in general. Now airlines are recognizing that these loyalty programs are tremendously valuable.”
Customers traveling on redeemed miles will often purchase other products and services with cash, Sorensen said.
United’s overall redemptions have increased and the average price of awards both domestically and across its route system has decreased, mostly over the past 16 months, said Maggie Schmerin, a company spokeswoman.
In 2018, more than 250,000 of United’s MileagePlus members chose awards for 15,000 points that previously would have cost 25,000, she said.
Program members also booked 10 percent more of the airline’s most affordable rewards option last year than in 2017.
American Airlines cut prices in some award categories starting in 2016, and the following year increased available awards in its AAdvantage program, including those that could be used on connecting flights.
Last 13 awards were redeemed, the company said, up 18 percent from 2017.
The IdeaWorks/CarTrawler study used booking queries for a party of two at frequent-flyer program websites during March, looking at 280 specific travel dates from June through October. The average mile or point statistics refer to the lowest rate found.
The study did not include international travel, an area where mileage redemption bargains have become far more elusive, said Adam Morvitz, the founder and chief executive of Juicy Miles Travel Services, a New York-based service that books airline award trips.
Most foreign travel on U.S. carriers’ international partners remains subject to fixed mileage charts, and those itineraries have gotten more expensive, he said.