12 Responses

  1. Outrageously bad advice on redemptions from the WSJ - FlyerTalk Forums

    […] Check out Scott McCartney's latest post on awards in his Middle Seat column. It is just awful. There are some pathetic nuggets like this one: […]

  2. The Travel Abstract
    The Travel Abstract at |

    This seems to be the trend these days. I first got this ignorance from Chris Elliot over at Nat Geo and this new Middle Seat article has taken it to the next level.

    I guess we know why so many people are scared away from frequent flyer miles. Hopefully with great rebuttles like yours we can demonstrate the real value of the

  3. Linda
    Linda at |

    I now use my miles almost entirely for international business class upgrades or for international first class and business class seats. But I do have an occasional need for an odd trip or a one way leg when it makes sense to use them for domestic flights, if not for me, for a family member. This article is very misleading. I recently needed a specific one way fare on a certain day and time and it would have cost $500 to buy and I was able to book a reward on United for 10,000 miles + $2.50. I always hear complaints about how difficult miles are to use, but I never have any trouble finding what I need if I am persistent and creative enough.

  4. Julian
    Julian at |

    Isn’t the fact that he scares the regular folks off frequent flyer miles good for the rest of us? More seats to redeem?

  5. Scottrick
    Scottrick at |

    You beat me to it. I think one of the worst parts of the article was leading in about how the woman was flexible with dates and separating passengers on different flights. But the most important thing to me is being flexible with the destination. If I can settle for X instead of Y, I can still have a great vacation and use half as many miles, which means I have enough to fly to Y later when the saver seats do open up.

  6. The Deal Mommy
    The Deal Mommy at |

    True, Julian, but it also makes it harder to convince friends and family about the value of collecting miles. Totally agree with this article: I booked 3 tix at 25k miles on United that would have cost me $470 each for this summer.

  7. Scott McCartney
    Scott McCartney at |


    Thanks for your comments on my coverage. I respect your opinion and appreciate the thoughtful criticism. But I also wanted to clarify a few things.

    First, there is a correlation between fare buckets and frequent-flier award buckets, thus fare and availability. Airlines have two ways to raise prices: increase the fare in particular buckets or close off a lower-priced fare level and bump inventory into a higher-priced level. As I’m sure you know, each flight has some 20 different fare buckets. So with oil prices high and inventory tight, the lowest priced buckets get cut off quicker. And as a result, the lowest-priced frequent flier award availability may get closed off as well.

    I also wanted to make clear that I was not suggesting a good strategy to redeem was for low-priced domestic tickets. Instead, the next paragraph after the one you quote says: “You can get better value using your miles for high-dollar tickets like international business-class and first-class upgrades, or by using them for last-minute trips, such as a family emergency, a funeral or just surprising someone unexpectedly. Business-class fares run so high that using miles instead gets you 6-7 cents or more for each mile. And I’ve long advocated, and employed, the last-minute strategy. Better to avoid those unexpected high-dollar tickets if you can.’’

    I studied nine routes looking at availability for every day of the rest of the year. (We ran six routes in the paper showing the percentage of days when standard-level awards were available, and I thought some of the numbers were quite enlightening.) That’s a more interesting look than something anecdotal – such as elite-level members on United saying they didn’t have any trouble finding inventory for a few trips. (Elite level fliers get better award inventory, as you know.) I think it’s quite valid to look at inventory airlines offer on their websites—that’s the portal most people start with.

    You’re correct, obviously, that a better option for US Airways miles on the Washington-Austin route I looked at is United, but United’s inventory was included. It was there. I hope you clicked through the blog post to look at the full story that ran in the paper. I do think it’s valid to look at US Airways offerings and not simply let the airline move its award responsibilities to partners.

    Bottom line, this was a macro look at the market involving four network carriers. The frequent flier world thrives on micro exceptions – yes, you can find what you want many times. Yes, you can call and get better inventory (but why should you have to do that?). I think it’s important to look sometimes at the bigger picture, and I think it’s important to hold airlines accountable for their award availability. It’s important to move past the anecdotal. There are lots of people who are happy with airline availability; there are many, many more I hear from regularly who are routinely disappointed.


  8. The Wall Street Journal’s Strategies for Getting the Most of Your Miles (are Wrong) - View from the Wing

    […] does a good job pointing out the flaws. McCartney looks only at the websites of the airlines whose miles he’s trying to use (the […]

  9. Gary
    Gary at |

    Sorry but I don’t see how wrong Scott really is.


  10. Kgoo
    Kgoo at |

    I’m interested in your statement about using US Airway miles to book United flights. I attempted this recently, about 2 weeks in advance (it was a last minute trip). However when I called US Airways, they told me there were no reward seats, even though I had checked the United site, and there were 25k mile routes available. These were not the “super saver” miles, just regular economy award for a domestic flight.

    A call to United to ask about their policy/availability for reward seats booked through partner miles just got me some lady who couldn’t speak english and kept telling me that United wasn’t the same as US Airways (no way…) until I hung up in frustration.

    So my question is, how do you all tie in the United award site search to US Airway booking? Are only the “super saver” award seats available for booking via US Airways?

    Thanks, I am still learning.