Image: Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

Airlines are improving their frequent-flyer programs by increasing the number of available seats and decreasing the number of miles needed to travel to certain locations, according to the annual IdeaWorks Reward Seat Availability Survey.

The survey gauges how easy it is for travelers to redeem frequent-flyer miles and points on “basic” tickets (a.k.a. the least expensive tickets and most popular) for the 10 busiest long routes and medium-length routes of 25 different airlines.

Among the 25 carriers, Southwest’s program comes out on top, with rewards seat availability on almost every flight that IdeaWorks surveyed. Overall, the survey found that rewards tickets were available on 74 percent of flights, a big improvement from 2010, when 66 percent of flights had availability. American Airlines saw the biggest improvements, with awards seat availability on 80 percent of flights this year, compared to 50 percent last year. The top American carriers are:

  • Southwest-100 percent seat availability
  • JetBlue-94.3 percent seat availability
  • American-82.1 percent seat availability
  • United-75.5 percent seat availability
  • Delta-72.1 percent seat availability
  • Alaska-69.3 percent seat availability

The survey notes the biggest change from recent years is that more carriers are taking into account the price of the ticket, rather than distance being traveled, when rewarding consumers. This tends to benefit business class travelers above other travelers, who don’t necessarily need to take price into account if work is footing the bill. The survey also notes, however, that many travelers earn more points from credit cards than flying, giving leisure travelers an alternative way to rack up points.