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United MileagePlus has been making it harder for members to earn additional flights based on loyalty points. Delta SkyMiles, meanwhile, is making them more affordable.

Most major U.S. airlines have shifted their rewards programs to encourage overall spending instead buying long flights, and there’s been a ton of confusion as consumers have adapted to the changes.

Analysis by IdeaWorksCompany of its 2017 CarTrawler Reward Seat Availability Survey shows that Southwest Rapid Rewards and JetBlue TrueBlue offer flyers the lowest average prices for reward seats, while United’s MileagePlus program has increased its price for rewards over the last few years.

In fact, United MileagePlus was the only program using revenue-based accrual to significantly jack up the cost for reward fares since 2013.

“American, Delta, and United, along with JetBlue and Southwest, now base accrual on the fares paid by frequent flyer members,” states the release on the analysis from IdeaWorksCompany. “Among low fare economy passengers, who don’t have elite tier status, JetBlue’s TrueBlue and Southwest’s Rapid Rewards programs offer higher accrual at 6 points per dollar compared to the rate of 5 miles per dollar offered by the others. The generosity of JetBlue and Southwest is surprisingly combined with lower average reward prices, Southwest being the lowest in the survey results at 9,300 points per roundtrip reward.”

Here’s a breakdown of the research.

Average Reward Prices for Programs Using Revenue-Based Accrual*

Airline Basic Accrual per Dollar Spent** Avg. Reward Price per R/T 2017 Avg. Reward Price per R/T 2013 2017 Compared to 2013
Southwest Rapid Rewards 6 points 9,300 9,353 0.6% lower
JetBlue TrueBlue 6 points at JetBlue.com 15,849 15,774 0.5% higher
Delta SkyMiles 5 miles 23,443 28,964 19.1% lower
American AAdvantage 5 miles 30,357 31,071 2.3% lower
United MileagePlus 5 miles 33,929 26,357 28.7% higher

* Top 251 – 2,500-mile reward markets
** Accrual based upon lowest economy fare level for non-elite members; airlines offer higher accrual for elite
members

Just 43 percent of United MileagePlus’ rewards fares cost 25,000 points or less today, down from 83 percent in 2013.

IdeaWorksCompany also examined Air Canada and Alaska Airlines, which still operate mileage-based rewards programs. It found that Alaska Airlines has made a serious effort to drop the cost of its rewards fares, which have experienced a reduction of 24.8 percent since 2013.

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Tags: business of loyalty, jetblue airways, southwest airlines

Photo credit: Southwest Rapid Rewards, along with JetBlue TrueBlue, offer the most bang for your buck in terms of rewards miles put towards additional flights. A United Airlines cabin. United Airlines / United Airlines

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