Which American frequent flyer miles frustrate the most? Where do we want to go with our rewards? And which airlines are easiest to get the reward you want?
The 2014 MileCards.com Mile Satisfaction Survey, conducted via SSI®, asked 1,600 members of U.S. frequent flyer programs currently saving miles for an award trip these questions and more. MileCards.com is a website that lets users compare the value of travel credit cards based on where they want to fly.
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% of members likely to recommend
Easy to get a flight award
% of members saying it’s easy to get the flight award they want
Impossible to redeem for flights
% of members saying it’s nearly impossible to get the flight award they want
Credit card program satisfaction
% of members likely to recommend
Southwest RapidRewards is #1 in overall satisfaction.
62% of its members are very likely to recommend the program. No fees, better reward value for domestic flights than the global airlines, and easy online booking are factors that contribute. Southwest does not have to support costly international awards on partners like the global airlines, allowing it to provide better domestic flight value.
US Airways Dividend Miles members are the most frustrated.
Only 43% of members would recommend the program, with fees and hard to locate award availability among concerns. This is a nearly 20 percentage point gap with leader Southwest and 11 point gap with merger partner American. A lack of partner options on its website, few seats at the lowest advertised level, and more fees for booking are contributing factors.
United leads in satisfaction among global carriers.
55% of MileagePlus members are very likely to recommend the program. American followed at 52%, then Delta at 49%, and US Airways at 43%. But United members may change their tune this year thanks to higher award prices put into effect at the beginning of this month.
Southwest and American are the easiest to get a flight award
Separate from satisfaction, we asked members how easy it is to get a flight award in their program. Southwest (64%) and American (56%) fliers were most likely to say it is easy to do so. US Airways fliers were least likely at 45%.
Delta, US Airways miles are 2x more likely to be called impossible to use for flights
Versus United and Southwest, US Airways and Delta members were 2x as likely to say the miles they hold are impossible to redeem for flights, with 17% and 16% of members saying so.
United MileagePlus members are the most loyal when booking flights
We asked respondents how often they choose flights on the airline of their primary mileage program because of the miles they earn. 41% of members say they nearly always choose United flights because of the MileagePlus miles they earn, a higher proportion than any of the other top 5 programs, with Delta and Southwest at 33%.
Chase Ultimate Rewards cardholders are most satisfied
They are most likely to absolutely recommend their credit card, and are followed closely by American Express Membership Rewards. Overall, those collecting miles with a transferable points credit card are more satisfied than those with the airline’s own credit cards. Mile earning credit card holders as a whole are satisfied, with 56% of cardholders saying they are very likely to recommend their card.
Delta’s website deemed most difficult
Delta SkyMiles members were most likely to say a difficult to use award booking website is a source of frustration. This is consistent with the experience of mileage enthusiasts who find its website calendar inaccurate, particularly for partner flight options. US Airways was also noted, with its site not displaying partner award options.
About half earn most of their miles on the ground.
45% of respondents earn most of their miles on the ground. Credit card and other earning options make it easy for consumers to earn large mileage balances without much flying.
90% booked their last award online.
Consumers expect airlines to provide transparent and reliable tools for booking awards online, and this is a key component in satisfaction. Yet airlines don’t make all of their partner options available online, which increases frustration. United and American are most transparent with partner options. Delta and US Airways members were most likely to cite the award booking website as a source of frustration, which aligns with less functional or non-existent partner booking options on their websites.
They have enough miles for an entry level award
While self-reported mileage balances are not always reliable, 65% of respondents report having 20,000 or more miles in their primary airline miles account, and 35% say they have 50,000 or miles in that account – enough for most domestic awards. United MileagePlus members were most likely to report large account balances.
The mainland U.S. is the most popular destination to save for awards.
59% of frequent flier program members are saving miles to redeem for U.S. mainland / Canada travel. Europe is #2, Hawaii #3.
Which airlines had the most members looking for an award to each region?
Upfront warning about changes
Members know that award prices can change over time, but they want airlines to be direct and upfront about those changes. Most airlines choose to rely on members finding out about changes via the press, niche online forums, or small print on their websites, with little or no proactive communication to all members about coming rule changes. This leads to dissatisfaction and disengagement – more members said they trust their banks and cable companies to deliver on promises than their airline mile programs.
Transparent, easy to use websites
With 90% of awards booked online, transparent online award booking tools are mandatory for satisfaction. Delta and US Airways had the least friendly websites for award booking and were at the bottom of overall member satisfaction. US Airways’ site hides booking options via partner airlines altogether (American Airlines flights are an exception), while Delta’s online award calendar is notorious for not being able to accurately display partner availability.
The irony of the survey’s results is that US Airways Dividend Miles members who to use the phone to ask about awards on its partner airlines will find some of the best values available today in a mileage program, offering many awards at lower prices than other programs. But these are all hidden from its website, so members who don’t call miss out on them.
More partner options displayed means more options for consumers, and higher satisfaction, though possibly more cost for airlines to deliver awards.
Fairer fee structures
The lowest ranked program in the survey, US Airways Dividend Miles, has the most fees of the programs studied. For example, it will levy a $25 fee for domestic awards and $50 for Hawaii and International awards just for the privilege of booking the award, even when done online and well in advance of travel. No other program incurs such a fee, and there is an additional fee for booking on the phone. American Airlines’ partner British Airways levies large fuel surcharges that can be in the hundreds of dollars, but the exact amount for a given trip is not made clear until a member gets near the final stages of booking. Southwest, the leading program in the survey, levies no fees for award travel. Members can even change or cancel their award with no fee penalty.
Saver level availability
The programs with the lowest satisfaction – Delta and US Airways – each use a 3 tier pricing grid for awards – Low, Medium, and High, versus American and United which use a simpler 2 tier grid of Saver and Anytime style awards. This matters to the 50% of program members who only want to book awards at the lowest ‘Saver’ level, and having 3 tiers tends to result in fewer awards available at the Saver level.
Southwest bases award prices on the cash price of tickets, but has wide availability of its ‘Wanna Get Away’ tier, which offers nearly 50% more value per point than the average domestic award offered by the global carriers.
The 2014 MileCards.com Mile Satisfaction Survey is baed on a national sample of 1,600 members of U.S. frequent flier programs who report they are currently collecting miles for an award trip, and was conducted online by SSI® during December, 2013 with a margin of error of +/- 2%. Summary findings include program level data for the 5 largest U.S. frequent flier programs, which comprise about 90% of U.S. frequent flier program memberships.
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