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Frequent Flier Miles Are Getting Easier to Redeem

Many airlines have made frequent flier seats available on more of their flights. Here's why.
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Here's something those trying to cash in on frequent flier miles or points seldom hear: It's now easier to book the flight you want to the destination you want.

The annual Switchfly Reward Seat Availability Survey, which gauges the frequent flier programs at 25 of the world's largest airlines, found seats were available for frequent flier redemption on 72.4 percent of the flights checked. That's a 1.3 percentage point increase compared with the prior year.

"I was surprised by this year's results," said Jay Sorensen, president of IdeaWorks consulting firm, which surveyed 7,640 flights in March. "Typically, when you see the industry recovering from financial duress, one of the things they cut back on is giving away free seats."

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Instead, many airlines have actually made frequent flier seats available on more of their flights.

Sorensen credits the boost to the independent credit cards many fliers now use to rack up award miles that they can redeem without restrictions. Those credit cards, like the one offered by Capitol One, have become popular with consumers, and have forced airlines to make it easier for members of their own frequent flier programs to cash in miles or points to compete.

"[The airlines] want to compete against the bank-issued credit cards, so this is one way for them to do that," Sorensen said.

As has been the case in past years, low-cost carriers have the most flights offering seats for frequent flier redemption, according to the study.

On average, 95.8 percent of the low-cost airline flights surveyed had seats available. By comparison, traditional airlines had frequent flier award seats on 65 percent of their flights. That's up 4 percentage points from last year, but still well below the availability offered by low-cost airlines.