Frequent flier seats not always available

If you’ve struggled to redeem miles for flights on Atlanta’s biggest airlines, you’re not imagining things.

Delta Air Lines again came in near the bottom of a ranking on the availability of certain mileage award seats, ahead of only US Airways, according to a new study. The top-ranked U.S. carrier: Southwest Airlines, which will enter the Atlanta market through a buyout of AirTran Airways, which didn’t fare so well either.

According to the study by consulting firm IdeaWorks, searches for seats at the lowest 25,000-mile level on Delta succeeded 27.1 percent of the time — which was still nearly twice the availability on Delta in the study last year. “We’re pleased with that progress and we’ll continue to listen to customer feedback,” Delta spokeswoman Chris Kelly Singley said.

Meanwhile, Southwest award seats were available 99.3 percent of the time using its “anytime” or “wanna get away” awards.

AirTran ranked 21st, two steps up from Delta, with 47.1 percent availability. Southwest expects to fold AirTran passengers into the Southwest frequent-flier program as it combines the two carriers’ operations in the next few years.

The study was based on queries made in March and April for seats on 20 popular routes on each airline for June through October. This year, IdeaWorks did a separate test with queries for award flights on short notice, which yielded many more award seats on Delta, at 42.5 percent availability.

That suggests travelers may find more seats available within three weeks of the flight. Singley said one of the ways Delta has increased award availability is offering seats close to the date of departure that the airline doesn’t expect to sell.

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