Delta ranks low for frequent flier reward seat availability in new survey

It's getting harder to find frequent flier reward seats on Delta Air Lines, according to a new survey.

The annual survey by consulting firm IdeaWorksCompany showed that the availability of economy class reward seats on Atlanta-based Delta declined by 10.1 points in 2019 compared with 2018. That was the largest decline among carriers in the survey, with most other airlines showing increased availability.

The survey found economy class reward seats on Delta 62 percent of the time. Delta ranked near the bottom of 20 carriers worldwide in the survey.

Delta has been looking for ways to generate more revenue by selling extras, rather than giving them away. Knowing that some frequent fliers save their miles instead of redeeming them for flights, the airline has been looking for alternate ways for frequent fliers to use miles, such as buying a bottle of champagne in a Sky Club.

Southwest Airlines, the second-largest carrier at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, again ranked first for reward seat availability in the survey, with reward seats found 100 percent of the time. Southwest has a different system for frequent flier mile redemption, where travelers can pay for a flight with points based on the fare.

Other airlines have also changed the way frequent fliers use miles for free flights, moving away from the previous standard of 25,000 miles for a free flight and toward variable rates.

Delta in 2015 removed mileage award charts from its website, and United Airlines plans to do the same later this year.

The good news for travelers is that the average number of points to get a free flight has actually declined, according to the IdeaWorksCompany survey.

The number of Delta SkyMiles required for a free flight declined from 26,179 miles in 2014 to 19,680 miles in 2019, the survey found.

The number of Southwest Rapid Reward points for a free flight also declined, from 7,887 points in 2014 to 7,367 points in 2019.

Reducing the number of points needed for less popular flights helps airlines to fill those planes.

“Frequent flyer programs have evolved to become complex beasts,” IdeaWorksCompany said in the report on the survey results.

The survey is based on 3,975 booking and fare queries made at websites of 20 frequent flier programs