Frequent flyer miles still hard to use

Plane with clouds

Looking for a credit card that offers airline miles as a reward? A new survey suggests you might want to reconsider.

The bottom line: It's still hard to redeem your frequent flyer miles for free flights on some U.S. airlines.

The annual study, conducted by The IdeaWorks Co. and ezRez Software Inc., examined 24 airline reward programs worldwide.

Southwest Airlines was the best U.S. air carrier, offering redeemable seats on 99.3% of flights in which the survey authors attempted to book a trip using airline rewards.

Some U.S. carriers showed improvement, including United Airlines, which had available seats on 71.4% of its flights (up 2.8 percentage points), American Airlines at 62.9% (up 5 points), Delta at 27.1% (up 14.2 points) and US Airways, 25.7% (up 15 points).

But not all U.S. carriers posted improvements.

Rewards seats got harder to book on Alaska Airlines (64.3%, down 10.7 points) and AirTran (47.1%, down 20.8 points).

What does this mean for you and that last-minute summer getaway you’re looking to book thanks to credit card reward miles?

Chances are, you’re going to have to be flexible.

The survey isn’t saying you can't get a seat using your reward miles. But it does mean you might not be able to book seats to travel on the exact days you want due to the expansion of blackout dates and carriers offering fewer flights to certain destinations.

And, in the case of cards like those offered by Citibank, you have to complete travel within certain guidelines.

Oh, and you’re also going to need to read the fine print on those cheap companion reward certificates your credit card issuer sends you annually. Companion certificates offered from cards like Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card do not include taxes, fees or surcharges.

So, do your homework and call your card issuer for all the details before getting your heart set on a specific dream vacation.

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