Southwest Best Airline For Frequent Fliers

What frequent flier programs offer the best chance at a seat.

May 26, 2011— -- Signed up for an airline rewards program and hoping to turn your hard-won miles into a free seat? If you're a U.S. traveler, you'll have the best chance if you're a member of Southwest Airlines reward program "Rapid Rewards."

The airline was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. and No. 2 in the world by the ezRez Reward Seat Availability Survey for finding a seat. Travelers in Southwest's program have a 99.3 percent chance of getting a reward seat when they want one, living up to the airline's promise of "unlimited rewards seats and no blackout dates."

"Consumers continue to feel the pinch of a difficult economy. More than ever, they expect a tangible reward for their loyalty to an airline, " says John Swanciger, chief commercial officer for ezRez Software, the sponsor of the survey.

"Rewards of all types, such as air travel, hotel accommodations, and retail merchandise, are the tools airlines use to fill that expectation. Social media has made the frequent flier world less of a mystery and savvy travelers have a better awareness of which airlines truly reward loyalty and frequency of travel, " Swanciger said in a statement.

In a survey based on 6,720 booking queries competitors, Delta Air Lines and U.S. Airways didn't fare as well. The two carriers were at the bottom for free seats using a frequent fliers rewards program – ranking 23 and 24, respectively.

Travelers signed up for Delta Airlines "SkyMiles" program had a 27.1 percent chance of finding a seat and US Airways "Dividend Miles" members had it even tougher, with a 25.7 percent chance of locating a free seat.

On the other hand, low-fare airlines fared well in the survey with GOL, a low-cost Brazilian airline, ranking number one. The carriers rounding out the top 5 included Air Berlin, Virgin Australia and Singapore Airlines.

There was some good news for U.S. travelers. Passengers that are a part of JetBlue's TrueBlue reward program have a 79.3 percent chance of finding a reward seat. Other airlines, like, United Airlines, Continental Airlines, Alaska Airlines and American Airlines were scattered around the list. United Airlines had a total availability rate of 71.4 percent and American Airlines had a 62.9 percent availability rate.

But, access to free seats isn't the only attribute for a good rewards program.

"Traditional airlines are seemingly more stingy with rewards but offer other benefits such as entry to airport lounges, upgrades to premium cabins and access to worldwide flight networks," according to Ideaworks.

RankU.S. rankAirlineProgram% Total Availability2011 vs. 2010
1GOL SMILES 100%New for 2011
21Southwest Rapid Rewards 99.3%No change
3Air Berlin topbonus 96.4%-2.2 pts
4Virgin Australia Velocity Rewards 91.4%+1.4 pts
5Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer 90.7%+13.6 pts
6Lufthansa/SWISS/Austrian Miles & More 85.0%-0.7 pts
7Air Canada Aeroplan 82.1%-11.5 pts
82JetBlue TrueBlue 79.3%New for 2011
9LAN LANPASS 75.7%New for 2011
10Qantas Airways Frequent Flyer 75.0%+2.1 pts
113United Airlines Mileage Plus 71.4%+2.8 pts
124Continental Airlines OnePass 71.4%No change
13Iberia Iberia Plus 70.7%-5.7 pts
14Cathay Pacific Asia Miles 66.4%-0.7 pts
15Air France/KLM Flying Blue 65.0%+8.6 pts
165Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan 64.3%-10.7 pts
176American Airlines AAdvantage 62.9%+5 pts
18British Airways Executive Club 61.4%-3.6 pts
19SAS Scandinavian EuroBonus 52.9%-11.4 pts
20Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles 49.3%+14 pts
217AirTran Airways A+ Rewards 47.1%-20.8 pts
22Emirates Skywards 35.7%-0.7 pts
238Delta Air Lines SkyMiles 27.1%+14.2 pts
249US Airways Dividend Miles 25.7%+15 pts