How airlines rank in seat availability, plus low-cost airlines and long-haul flights

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the September 2013 issue.
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Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 451st issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine, the one about which subscriber Judy Gallagher of Freeport, Illinois, wrote, “It is the best travel magazine I have ever seen.”

In Dubai are not one but two skycrapers inspired by New York City’s Chrysler building. Photo: 123RF.com

What makes ITN special is we print articles and letters submitted by our subscribers, who write not for profit but for the benefit of other international travelers. (ITN covers all destinations except those in the US.) If you’re a subscriber and have something interesting or helpful to share from a recent trip, write it up and send it in.

If you have an idea for a Feature Article (photos required) and would like to see our Writers’ Guidelines, we’ll send you a copy on request, or you can just visit our website and click on “Write In.”

 

Subscriber Doug Buhler of San Gabriel, California, regarding an item in my June 2013 column, wrote, “You listed Dubai International Airport (DXB) as second highest for international passenger traffic in 2012. How can this be? We are so curious! My guess is that it is a stopping place for flights from Europe to Asia and vice versa. Just an amazing stat!”

Statistics on the passenger and freight traffic through 1,500 airports in 2012 were assembled by the Airports Council International. When looking at the numbers of passengers passing through on international flights, Dubai came in second to London Heathrow (LHR). Dubai’s ranking is skewed high, though, because almost all airport traffic there is international. When both international and domestic flights were considered, Dubai dropped to No. 9 and Atlanta (ATL) topped the list. 

Still, the ACI report did not speculate on why Dubai ranked so highly, but the following factors are certainly at play.

• Dubai International is strategically located, with excellent flight access not only to Europe and Asia but to the Middle East and Africa. Over two-thirds of the world’s population lives within an 8-hour flight of Dubai. One-third lives within four hours’ flying time. And, yes, for now, most of the flights into Dubai are transiting to other countries.

• Dubai International is one of the few modernized airports in the Arabic world that can handle such a high level of traffic as well as the newer, larger planes. 

• DXB is the hub of the fleet of super-jumbo jets of the airline Emirates (more passengers per flight).

• DXB actively seeks contracts with large airlines.

• Dubai’s policy makers are focused on becoming a global hub of finance and commerce, and that has stimulated an increase in international-business air traffic. 

A heads up — Dubai International Airport will be renovating and resurfacing runways next year. The southern runway will be closed May 1-31, 2014, and the northern runway will be out of service May 31-July 20, affecting airline traffic considerably. Some travelers may end up being routed through the United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) instead.

 

Those of you who redeem frequent-flyer miles for airline tickets may find this of interest. IdeaWorksCompany (Shorewood, WI), which researches loyalty-points programs, released in May the results of its latest annual Switchfly Reward Seat Availability Survey.

The study involved 25 airlines, chosen because they were among the airlines having the most passenger traffic in 2011 and because their websites allowed queries in March 2013 about flights to take place from June through October 2013.

IdeaWorksCompany’s researchers requested what many award-program travelers most commonly request: using “saver style” award points or the equivalent, the availability of seats for two people on round-trip flights three to seven months out on the top routes of each carrier.

7,560 queries each resulted in seats being available for a round-trip. The airlines were then ranked by the percentage of times that requests were successful, that one or more sets of seats were available for at least one round-trip flight on the dates requested. 

For example, of the 280 times that such seats were sought on Virgin Australia flights, reservations could have been made successfully 276 times, for a result of 98.6%.

I’ll give you all the rankings in a moment. First, from the results of these annual surveys, IdeaWorksCompany has made some observations and conclusions.

In regard to seat availability, low-cost carriers generally rank higher than the larger, “network” carriers. In 2013, the seven “value-oriented” airlines surveyed averaged 96% in seat availability, while the average for the larger airlines was 61.5%.

What’s the reason for that? Surveyors surmised that because low-cost carriers have more daily flights covering shorter distances, each seat award costs the carrier less, so on each flight it can offer a higher percentage of seats for award-redeeming passengers. 

In contrast, the larger airlines have fewer daily flights covering more long-haul routes and, with seats more expensive, a lower percentage of seats may be made available for award-redeeming passengers. The demand for award tickets on long-haul flights is higher, as well.

Also, the larger airlines have had loyalty-points programs tied to credit card companies for a longer time and, as a result, their members have accumulated a greater supply of points. This supply of points can overwhelm a carrier’s ability to provide awards.

Here, now, is the list of the 25 airlines investigated and the percentage of times for each that seats were found to be available for someone using award points.

Air Berlin, 100%; GOL (Brazilian), 100%; Southwest, 100%; Virgin Australia, 98.6%; AirTran Airways, 95%; Air Asia, 90%; JetBlue, 88.6%; Singapore Airlines, 88.6%; Qantas Group, 86.4%; Lufthansa/SWISS/Austrian, 82.1%; United Airlines, 80%; Air China, 79.3%; Air France/KLM, 77.9%; Air Canada, 66.4%; British Airways, 65.7%; Alaska Airlines, 56.4%; Cathay Pacific, 56.4%; LAN, 55%; Avianca/Taca, 54.3%; SAS Scandinavian, 51.4%; American Airlines, 48.6%; Emirates, 45%; Turkish Airlines, 40%; Delta Air Lines, 36.4%, and US Airways, 36.4%. 

(To read the full report, visit www.ideaworkscompany.com/may-9-2013-press-release. A PDF can be downloaded.)

Here are more observations. 

IdeaWorksCompany pointed out that airlines vary in their strategies of offering rewards travel. The high levels of availability on flights of Air Berlin, GOL, Southwest and Virgin Australia indicate that those airlines allocate awards generously. (The availability of award seats on Southwest Airlines flights increased from 53% in 2011 to 100% in 2013.)

Of the eight US-based carriers surveyed, Delta, American and US Airways offered the most seats for bookings made only five to 15 days before the flight. (While Delta’s award-ticket availability rate was only 36.4% for bookings made three to seven months in advance, its rate was 60% for bookings only five to 15 days out.)

I apologize for saving it for last, but here’s an observation more relevant to international travelers. Researchers found that for flights of 250 to 2,500 miles, award seats were available an average of 84.7% of the time, but on flights covering more than 2,500 miles, seat availability dropped to 42.7%. 

Of the 25 airlines surveyed, 18 offered long-haul flights. IdeaWorksCompany provided ITN with the seat-availability percentages on a few of these 18 airlines. When the data of only the long-haul flights were considered — the percentage of times award seats could have been booked for flights of more than 2,500 miles — airlines ranked as follows:

No. 1 was Singapore Airlines at 94.3%. Second best was United at 75.7%, followed by Qantas at 72.9%.

Second from the bottom were Turkish Airlines and SAS Scandinavian, each with 5.7%. And last was US Airways at 4.3%.

I suspect that the above findings corroborate what some of you have already determined from experience.

 

Some low-cost or no-frills airlines like Ryanair, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Jetstar Asia, AirAsiaX and Scoot Airways are again exploring the idea of adding long-haul flights (eight or more hours) to their schedules. In the past, several low-cost airlines tried to service international routes but were unable to make them economically viable. 

The allure of cheap international tickets may convince some of you to book the flights. Just remember the adage ‘You get what you pay for.’ 

Plan on paying extra for almost all services, amenities and food. You can expect higher baggage fees (and lower weight limits on baggage) and no free blankets, pillows, movies, coffee or sodas. 

And — note — don’t forget to take an internationally accepted credit card. In June, Norwegian Air Shuttle got some bad press when, on the route from Oslo to New York, it refused a blanket to a boy because he had cash but no credit card and left some passengers without food or water for almost 12 hours because they wouldn’t use or didn’t have acceptable credit cards.

Although the airline has since apologized and now will provide water free of charge and accept cash (as well as credit cards) on its long-haul flights, this demonstrates that if you want a cheap long-haul ticket, you’ll have to consider forgoing many of the amenities you are used to receiving on larger airlines.

 

In my June column, I printed a request from Merrill Sarty, who wanted to know how other subscribers keep track of articles in ITN that they may want to reference later.

Sallie Silver of Oviedo, Florida, wrote, “I also write down, on the front page of the magazine, the page numbers of articles of interest to me. When my husband and I are finished with the issue, I tear out the articles and file them by country in a 2-drawer file cabinet. This way, when we are ready to travel to that country, I can pull out the appropriate folder, reread articles and either take them with us or jot down notes and discard the articles.”

Nanci Alexander of Lexington, Kentucky, wrote, “I have an old-fashioned filing cabinet containing files with information and itineraries from past trips as well as files for future travel. I also have files for ‘insurance,’ ‘airlines,’ etc. When I read the magazine, I turn down corners of pages with information I’m interested in saving. When I’m finished reading, I clip those articles and drop them in the appropriate files. 

“When I’m ready to plan a trip, I pull out the files and use the information. For a recent trip to Ireland, I used information from numerous clippings from the last few years, and it was very helpful. My husband leaves all the planning to me. He has stopped asking me ‘How did you know this?’ because the answer is always, ‘I read about it in ITN’!”

Nanci added, “Unlike the reader from Ventura, California, who reads the magazine in one sitting, I read only a few pages every day to make it last longer!”

If you reference ITN articles differently or take it a step further, write in. Others will benefit.

“Oh, by the way,” wrote Richard Milberg of Easton, Pennsylvania, “I’ve been subscribing to ITN for at least 16 years. I keep the last two years on the shelf and another three years of back issues in the basement along with Consumer Report. ITN and CR are the only magazines worth keeping.”

 

September brings National Grandparents Day (Sept. 8), and coming up on Oct. 16 is National Boss’s Day. A great gift is a subscription to ITN. Call 800/486-4968 and a gift card will be sent out within a week, or go to our subscription page. Once a month as the latest issue is delivered, it’s you they’ll be thinking of.    — DT

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 451st issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine, the one about which subscriber Judy Gallagher of Freeport, Illinois, wrote, “It is the best travel magazine I have ever seen.”

In Dubai are not one but two skycrapers inspired by New York City’s Chrysler building. Photo: 123RF.com

What makes ITN special is we print articles and letters submitted by our subscribers, who write not for profit but for the benefit of other international travelers. (ITN covers all destinations except those in the US.) If you’re a subscriber and have something interesting or helpful to share from a recent trip, write it up and send it in.

If you have an idea for a Feature Article (photos required) and would like to see our Writers’ Guidelines, we’ll send you a copy on request, or you can just visit our website and click on “Write In.”

 

Subscriber Doug Buhler of San Gabriel, California, regarding an item in my June 2013 column, wrote, “You listed Dubai International Airport (DXB) as second highest for international passenger traffic in 2012. How can this be? We are so curious! My guess is that it is a stopping place for flights from Europe to Asia and vice versa. Just an amazing stat!”

Statistics on the passenger and freight traffic through 1,500 airports in 2012 were assembled by the Airports Council International. When looking at the numbers of passengers passing through on international flights, Dubai came in second to London Heathrow (LHR). Dubai’s ranking is skewed high, though, because almost all airport traffic there is international. When both international and domestic flights were considered, Dubai dropped to No. 9 and Atlanta (ATL) topped the list. 

Still, the ACI report did not speculate on why Dubai ranked so highly, but the following factors are certainly at play.

• Dubai International is strategically located, with excellent flight access not only to Europe and Asia but to the Middle East and Africa. Over two-thirds of the world’s population lives within an 8-hour flight of Dubai. One-third lives within four hours’ flying time. And, yes, for now, most of the flights into Dubai are transiting to other countries.

• Dubai International is one of the few modernized airports in the Arabic world that can handle such a high level of traffic as well as the newer, larger planes. 

• DXB is the hub of the fleet of super-jumbo jets of the airline Emirates (more passengers per flight).

• DXB actively seeks contracts with large airlines.

• Dubai’s policy makers are focused on becoming a global hub of finance and commerce, and that has stimulated an increase in international-business air traffic. 

A heads up — Dubai International Airport will be renovating and resurfacing runways next year. The southern runway will be closed May 1-31, 2014, and the northern runway will be out of service May 31-July 20, affecting airline traffic considerably. Some travelers may end up being routed through the United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) instead.

 

Those of you who redeem frequent-flyer miles for airline tickets may find this of interest. IdeaWorksCompany (Shorewood, WI), which researches loyalty-points programs, released in May the results of its latest annual Switchfly Reward Seat Availability Survey.

The study involved 25 airlines, chosen because they were among the airlines having the most passenger traffic in 2011 and because their websites allowed queries in March 2013 about flights to take place from June through October 2013.

IdeaWorksCompany’s researchers requested what many award-program travelers most commonly request: using “saver style” award points or the equivalent, the availability of seats for two people on round-trip flights three to seven months out on the top routes of each carrier.

7,560 queries each resulted in seats being available for a round-trip. The airlines were then ranked by the percentage of times that requests were successful, that one or more sets of seats were available for at least one round-trip flight on the dates requested. 

For example, of the 280 times that such seats were sought on Virgin Australia flights, reservations could have been made successfully 276 times, for a result of 98.6%.

I’ll give you all the rankings in a moment. First, from the results of these annual surveys, IdeaWorksCompany has made some observations and conclusions.

In regard to seat availability, low-cost carriers generally rank higher than the larger, “network” carriers. In 2013, the seven “value-oriented” airlines surveyed averaged 96% in seat availability, while the average for the larger airlines was 61.5%.

What’s the reason for that? Surveyors surmised that because low-cost carriers have more daily flights covering shorter distances, each seat award costs the carrier less, so on each flight it can offer a higher percentage of seats for award-redeeming passengers. 

In contrast, the larger airlines have fewer daily flights covering more long-haul routes and, with seats more expensive, a lower percentage of seats may be made available for award-redeeming passengers. The demand for award tickets on long-haul flights is higher, as well.

Also, the larger airlines have had loyalty-points programs tied to credit card companies for a longer time and, as a result, their members have accumulated a greater supply of points. This supply of points can overwhelm a carrier’s ability to provide awards.

Here, now, is the list of the 25 airlines investigated and the percentage of times for each that seats were found to be available for someone using award points.

Air Berlin, 100%; GOL (Brazilian), 100%; Southwest, 100%; Virgin Australia, 98.6%; AirTran Airways, 95%; Air Asia, 90%; JetBlue, 88.6%; Singapore Airlines, 88.6%; Qantas Group, 86.4%; Lufthansa/SWISS/Austrian, 82.1%; United Airlines, 80%; Air China, 79.3%; Air France/KLM, 77.9%; Air Canada, 66.4%; British Airways, 65.7%; Alaska Airlines, 56.4%; Cathay Pacific, 56.4%; LAN, 55%; Avianca/Taca, 54.3%; SAS Scandinavian, 51.4%; American Airlines, 48.6%; Emirates, 45%; Turkish Airlines, 40%; Delta Air Lines, 36.4%, and US Airways, 36.4%. 

(To read the full report, visit www.ideaworkscompany.com/may-9-2013-press-release. A PDF can be downloaded.)

Here are more observations. 

IdeaWorksCompany pointed out that airlines vary in their strategies of offering rewards travel. The high levels of availability on flights of Air Berlin, GOL, Southwest and Virgin Australia indicate that those airlines allocate awards generously. (The availability of award seats on Southwest Airlines flights increased from 53% in 2011 to 100% in 2013.)

Of the eight US-based carriers surveyed, Delta, American and US Airways offered the most seats for bookings made only five to 15 days before the flight. (While Delta’s award-ticket availability rate was only 36.4% for bookings made three to seven months in advance, its rate was 60% for bookings only five to 15 days out.)

I apologize for saving it for last, but here’s an observation more relevant to international travelers. Researchers found that for flights of 250 to 2,500 miles, award seats were available an average of 84.7% of the time, but on flights covering more than 2,500 miles, seat availability dropped to 42.7%. 

Of the 25 airlines surveyed, 18 offered long-haul flights. IdeaWorksCompany provided ITN with the seat-availability percentages on a few of these 18 airlines. When the data of only the long-haul flights were considered — the percentage of times award seats could have been booked for flights of more than 2,500 miles — airlines ranked as follows:

No. 1 was Singapore Airlines at 94.3%. Second best was United at 75.7%, followed by Qantas at 72.9%.

Second from the bottom were Turkish Airlines and SAS Scandinavian, each with 5.7%. And last was US Airways at 4.3%.

I suspect that the above findings corroborate what some of you have already determined from experience.

 

Some low-cost or no-frills airlines like Ryanair, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Jetstar Asia, AirAsiaX and Scoot Airways are again exploring the idea of adding long-haul flights (eight or more hours) to their schedules. In the past, several low-cost airlines tried to service international routes but were unable to make them economically viable. 

The allure of cheap international tickets may convince some of you to book the flights. Just remember the adage ‘You get what you pay for.’ 

Plan on paying extra for almost all services, amenities and food. You can expect higher baggage fees (and lower weight limits on baggage) and no free blankets, pillows, movies, coffee or sodas. 

And — note — don’t forget to take an internationally accepted credit card. In June, Norwegian Air Shuttle got some bad press when, on the route from Oslo to New York, it refused a blanket to a boy because he had cash but no credit card and left some passengers without food or water for almost 12 hours because they wouldn’t use or didn’t have acceptable credit cards.

Although the airline has since apologized and now will provide water free of charge and accept cash (as well as credit cards) on its long-haul flights, this demonstrates that if you want a cheap long-haul ticket, you’ll have to consider forgoing many of the amenities you are used to receiving on larger airlines.

 

In my June column, I printed a request from Merrill Sarty, who wanted to know how other subscribers keep track of articles in ITN that they may want to reference later.

Sallie Silver of Oviedo, Florida, wrote, “I also write down, on the front page of the magazine, the page numbers of articles of interest to me. When my husband and I are finished with the issue, I tear out the articles and file them by country in a 2-drawer file cabinet. This way, when we are ready to travel to that country, I can pull out the appropriate folder, reread articles and either take them with us or jot down notes and discard the articles.”

Nanci Alexander of Lexington, Kentucky, wrote, “I have an old-fashioned filing cabinet containing files with information and itineraries from past trips as well as files for future travel. I also have files for ‘insurance,’ ‘airlines,’ etc. When I read the magazine, I turn down corners of pages with information I’m interested in saving. When I’m finished reading, I clip those articles and drop them in the appropriate files. 

“When I’m ready to plan a trip, I pull out the files and use the information. For a recent trip to Ireland, I used information from numerous clippings from the last few years, and it was very helpful. My husband leaves all the planning to me. He has stopped asking me ‘How did you know this?’ because the answer is always, ‘I read about it in ITN’!”

Nanci added, “Unlike the reader from Ventura, California, who reads the magazine in one sitting, I read only a few pages every day to make it last longer!”

If you reference ITN articles differently or take it a step further, write in. Others will benefit.

“Oh, by the way,” wrote Richard Milberg of Easton, Pennsylvania, “I’ve been subscribing to ITN for at least 16 years. I keep the last two years on the shelf and another three years of back issues in the basement along with Consumer Report. ITN and CR are the only magazines worth keeping.”

 

September brings National Grandparents Day (Sept. 8), and coming up on Oct. 16 is National Boss’s Day. A great gift is a subscription to ITN. Call 800/486-4968 and a gift card will be sent out within a week, or go to our subscription page. Once a month as the latest issue is delivered, it’s you they’ll be thinking of.    — DT