A Southwest Airlines Boeing Co. 737-700 jet taxis to Terminal 1 as a Delta Air Lines Inc. Embraer SA 175 plane lands at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California.

Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A Southwest Airlines Boeing Co. 737-700 jet taxis to Terminal 1 as a Delta Air Lines Inc. Embraer SA 175 plane lands at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California.

With a record number of people flying around the world, airlines have made it a little bit tougher for frequent flyers to cash in their miles or points for a free flight. CarTrawler’s annual Reward Seat Availability Survey found frequent flyer seats available on 72.4 percent of the flights it checked; that’s down from 76.6 percent in last year’s survey.

CarTrawler’s annual Reward Seat Availability Survey found frequent-flyer seats available on 72.4 percent of the flights it checked; that’s down from 76.6 percent in last year’s survey.

“The airlines outside of the U.S. are not as healthy as those here in the U.S., and a lot of those foreign carriers would rather sell a seat for cash than offer it to a frequent flyer,” said Jay Sorensen, president of IdeaWorks, which conducted the survey.

As in past years, Southwest Airlines was the top carrier out of 25 ranked in the survey. IdeaWorks found frequent-flyer seats available on every Southwest flight it checked.

“Southwest benefits from having a very consumer-friendly system, and this is an airline that makes reward-seat availability a priority,” said Sorensen.

Right behind Southwest was JetBlue, with reward seats open on 94.3 percent of its flights. Lufthansa, Air Berlin and Air Canada were the three other carriers with frequent-flyer seats available on at least 90 percent of the flights checked.

By comparison, Colombia-based carrier Avianca ranked dead last in the survey, with reward seats open on just 38.6 percent of the flights checked by IdeaWorks.

As in past years, Sorensen found more seats available on value-oriented airlines, with seats open on 83 percent of the flights. As for long-haul flights, which tend to be flown by legacy carriers, saver-style seats were open on 60.3 percent of the flights.

The Reward Seat Availability Survey is based on queries of 7,420 flights between June and October of this year.

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