The Bureau of Transportation Statistics has now released on-time data for all months in 2023, which means I get to play data geek, specifically with an eye toward positioning flights and how much time to build in to connections to have a great chance of everything working out, at least as long as this year is like data from 2023.

Marketing Carrier Arrival Stats

First, let’s look look at the 90th and 95th percentile for arrival delays by marketing carrier (or, in other words, how many minutes past scheduled arrival captures 90% or 95% of all carrier arrivals)? Note that this includes regional jets operated by partner airlines like SkyWest, Endeavor, and United Express.

Marketing Carrier90th Percentile Arrival Delay
95th Percentile Arrival Delay
American Airlines5183
Alaska Airlines3153
2023 Arrival statistics by marketing carrier.

I’m most surprised by JetBlue here, given that to have a 95% chance of arriving in time for your connection, you need to pad your connection time by nearly 2 hours and 20 minutes. On the other hand, I wrote this on a JetBlue flight that was delayed by about 3 ½ hours, so I guess confirmed? Well played JetBlue.

Operating Carrier Arrival Stats

Now, let’s look at the same thing for major airlines flying mainline aircraft, excluding any regional jets, since often we’re able to avoid regional jets for positioning flights or connections and historically they don’t perform as well:

Marketing Carrier90th Percentile Arrival Delay
95th Percentile Arrival Delay
2023 Arrival statistics by operating carrier, major airlines.

Note that AA’s operation has worse (!) performance when its regional partner airlines are excluded from the statistics and we only consider mainline flights. I had to go triple check this data because wow, that sucks AA.

What about data for the regionals only, when they’re operating on behalf of one of the majors?

Marketing Carrier90th Percentile Arrival Delay
95th Percentile Arrival Delay
Air Wisconsin61114
2023 Arrival statistics by operating carrier, regional airlines operating for another carrier.

My mental model for regional jet carriers is usually: avoid GoJet and Mesa, SkyWest is most likely to get you there. The data proves that’s only somewhat correct for 2023 though.

Major Hub Arrival Statistics

Ok, but what about a given hub? We all know that some function better than others, so let’s look at arrival delays at the top 15 airports by total number of commercial flights, plus one bonus airport.

Airport90th Percentile Arrival Delay
95th Percentile Arrival Delay
2023 Arrival statistics by airport, ordered by total number of air carrier flights in 2023.

So I guess avoid positioning flights to Orlando, Boston, or JFK if you can help it.

Also for fun, these are the worst airports for delays:

Airport90th Percentile Arrival Delay
95th Percentile Arrival Delay
2023 Arrival statistics by airport, ordered by biggest 95th percentile arrival delays.

So, don’t expect to fly to Provo, UT in any timely fashion. Maybe the late arrivals explain why Provo, part of what’s affectionally called “Happy Valley”, is the number one spot in the nation for anti-depressant prescriptions per capita.

By Season

We can dissect this data in a million different ways, but we know winter storms make things worse and summer thunderstorms don’t help either. So let’s look at when you’re most likely to be delayed, by month.

So, build extra time in for positioning flights in June and July.

What about breaking this down by day of the week?

The takeaway here is probably that the day of week doesn’t matter much, unless it’s Tuesday.


If you’re interested in seeing the raw CSV data (which ended up in an SQL database), let me know, I’m happy to share. Otherwise, good luck on those award flights!

MEAB today, prolly.

  1. Citi ThankYou Points has a 25% transfer bonus to Avianca Lifemiles through April 13.

    Avianca has a quirky award chart with plenty of hacks, but my favorite easy hack is to tack an economy flight on to the end of a one way itinerary to make the whole thing price lower. (Thanks to TheSultan1)
  2. American Express Offers has a new offer for a $300 statement credit after $2,000 spend through June 16.

    Note that if you have to cancel one of these tickets because reasons, Virgin Atlantic can be hard to deal with and may require multiple phone calls to chase it down. (Thanks to TeddyH)
  3. Kroger stores have a 4x fuel points promotion running tomorrow through April 2 on third party gift cards. If you use this as an opportunity for AmEx manufactured spend, find a way to separate your purchases from even dollar amounts, especially those around $500, $1,000, etc. (Thanks to Will)
  4. Do this now: Register for your targeted United MileagePlay offer. This one wasn’t the usual “Spend X on overpriced domestic first and get Y miles”, but was instead:

    – 400 miles for making a purchase with MileagePlusX
    – 400 miles for dining with MileagePlus dining

    I won’t be bothering with either for what is effectively $4.40. Hopefully you get something more exciting. (Thanks to FM)
  5. Air Canada has a 15% off paid fare sale for international flights from Canada and also for flights from the US to Canada with promo code PZEEXY91 for travel through December 13 booked by April. (Thanks to DansDeals)

Have a nice Tuesday!

A promo that unfortunately didn’t make the cut.

EDITORS NOTE: In 2024, I’m going to try and have a guest post on SaturdaysToday’s guest post is from the strong analytical mind of MattD (maybe the D stands for doppelgänger? Probably not).

Alaska plans to introduce their new award chart in March. Since joining OneWorld this was expected to happen as Alaska tries to become a global airline without any routes leaving the Americas. 

Still, I have been keen on earning Alaska miles when an opportunity or safe way presents itself. I looked back on previous Alaska award bookings and all but one were flights to Asia. I will show below why I’m still earning Alaska miles and for this example, I chose Bangkok, Thailand as my comparison point. 

Below in Table 1, we will examine the old price of routes along with the new pricing with percentage increase. At first glance, the numbers look gnarly and all hope should be abandoned.

Table 1: Old Alaska Award Chart vs New with Percent Difference for a Business Class Flight to Bangkok

AirlineOld PriceNew Price
Cathay50,00085,000 (+70%)85,000 (+70%)85,000 (+70%)85,000 (+70%)
Hainan50,00085,000 (+70%)
JAL60,00085,000 (42%)85,000 (42%)85,000 (42%)85,000 (42%)85,000 (42%)
Emirates105,000130,000 (24%)130,000 (24%)130,000 (24%)130,000 (24%)85,000 (-19%)
Singapore100,00085,000 (-15%)85,000 (-15%)13,0000 (30%)13,0000 (30%)13,0000 (30%)

Alaska’s old award chart can still be viewed here:

40,000 was used as the old standard credit card sign-up bonus and 65,000 was used as the new standard credit card sign-up bonus, which is a 62.5% increase in miles earned.

Obviously, the Cathay sweet spot is dead and will rest in its forever home with 100,000 Emirates First Class. 

Alaska awards are only getting more expensive if the miles are earned from flying/organic credit card spend. But, the inflation in Alaska credit card bonuses since 2020 means most of these routes increased less than 10%. In fact many have become cheaper if you’ve earned your miles from well-timed sign up bonuses. Table 2 shows the old and new award chart looking at how many sign up bonuses it would take to buy a business class ticket to Bangkok. 

Table 2: Alaska Sign Up Bonuses Needed for a Business Class Ticket

AirlineOld PriceNew Price

Color coded to show which award increased vs decreased measured in sign up bonuses

While the new award chart has closed some sweet spots, new ones have opened up, like flying a beach towel in business class can now be had for 50,000 miles or 80% of a sign up bonus. 

This won’t last forever as Alaska will keep devaluing enhancing their program faster than the credit card bonus increases. In the meantime though I will keep earning and burning Alaska miles.

– MattD

80% of a sign-up bonus visualized.


There are legion cards with airline incidental credits, which are obviously different than airline travel credits (a keen observer will note that they’re obviously different because one is “incidental” and the other is “travel”, duh). Examples:

  • American Express Platinum and Business Platinum
  • Bank of America Premium Rewards
  • PenFed Pathfinder
  • American Express Hilton Aspire
  • UnionBank Rewards
  • CNB National Crystal

The intended way to cash these out is for ancillary fees like checked bag charges, pet charges, in-flight purchases, and similar. But, turning them into airfare credits for future travel is usually mosre interesting and now that we’ve flown right past Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we’ve got sufficient datapoints to know what works for getting airfare instead.

If you’re too busy to care about reading further, the easiest option is the United TravelBank, which works for all card issuers. Flights booked with TravelBank funds also qualify for regular paid United benefits like a small snack and a surly flight attendant.

Methods for Airfare

Still with me? I don’t blame you, I like AA’s surly flight attendants 1.6% better than United’s surly flight attendants. Here’s what works in 2024:

  • United: Buy TravelBank credit directly. It expires in five years and can be used to pay for United flights; if you get an error during checkout at TravelBank, add your card to your United profile as a saved payment then try again. If you’re using another player’s card for your own account, use the gifting functionality at the same site instead [more info]
  • Delta: Buy airfare and pay partially with a gift card or travel credit, pay for the remainder with your card (don’t go over $250 in the remainder payment with American Express cards though). Alternatively if you have a co-branded American Express Delta card, pay partially with miles and the remainder will be credited [more info]
  • Alaska: Buy a flight that costs less than $100, then refund to your wallet after 24 hours [more info]
  • Southwest: Buy a flight less than $100, or book an international flight with taxes under $100 per ticket, then refund to a travel credit [more info]
  • Hawaiian: Buy airfare of $50 or less [more info]
  • American: Buy cheap airfare, then change it to a flight that you really want that costs more and pay with your credit card (don’t go over the credit amount though). If you want to gamble, you’ve got roughly even odds that award taxes and fees will count [more info]
  • JetBlue: Buy a flight less than $137 then cancel the flight after 24 hours and refund to your JetBlue wallet [more info]

Other Options

There are other non-airfare options that are probably unintended to be reimbursed but still are for most airlines (see each individual [more info] link), or you can stick to what AmEx HQ wants you to do like pay for in-cabin pets [more info, but corporate double-speak laiden].

Yes, in-flight dim-sum food purchases work too. Yes, they are hazardous to your survival.

Airlines often issue travel waivers for weather events, ATC strikes, political unrest, and airframe issues. We’ve talked about gaming them for other reasons in the past, but there are more games too. Let’s use the current Alaska Airlines systemwide travel waiver as an object lesson:

Alaska’s Waiver

Boeing’s 737-9 MAX’s planes have been emulating warm champagne bottles with loose cork cages, so much so that Airbus probably should issue a press release that says “It’s only an exit door plug if it comes from the ‘Exit Door Plug’ region of France. Otherwise, it’s just sparkling terror.”

Given that the 737-9 MAX is a big part of Alaska’s fleet, they have a systemwide flexible travel policy in place through Saturday.

Travel regions: Any
Ticket purchase time: Any
Original travel date: January 6 – January 13
New travel date: January 6 – January 20

The policy allows you to cancel your flight without a fee, or more interestingly, change your trip without a fee to any other flight(s) with the same origin and destination through January 20.

The Game

Let’s say you want to travel on the direct Alaska Airlines flight from San Diego, CA to Honolulu, HI in first class on Saturday, January 20. The ticket is a whopping $1,409 per passenger. If however you booked the direct flight leaving tomorrow, it’s $674 in first class, or a $735 savings over the Saturday flight.

See the angle here? To save $735, book tomorrow’s flight for $674, then change your flight online or call Alaska and ask them to switch you to Saturday, January 20’s flight for no additional charge. Easy peasy.


Some travel waivers have additional restrictions, like requiring that a ticket be purchased before the waiver was issued, or that it has the same routing as the original ticket. Like all things in airline life though, these rules really ought to be called guidelines. Most agents are willing to color outside the lines a bit with waivers, especially so if you hold status.

Happy hacking!

Exclusive: The comprehensive airframe Quality Assurance test report for the incident Boeing 737-MAX 9.

EDITORS NOTE: In 2024, I’m going to try and have a guest post on Saturdays, and today marks the first ever Saturday post at MEAB 🎉. Today’s post is from John at Miles Mastery. John produces great travel hacking reference content and a weekly news roundup, and we’re lucky to have him for the first ever Saturday post!

The start of the new year always brings in new opportunities to spend those hard earned churned points that you’ve been accumulating! However, before you jump in guns blazing and transfer all your points for a unicorn 20 cpp redemption, let’s talk about one of the worst things that can happen to churners besides a shutdown: phantom availability.

What Is Phantom Availability?

It’s basically the award travel equivalent of getting catfished.

In all seriousness, it’s when an airline program shows a certain flight award available to be booked but that award in reality does not exist. This is commonly seen when booking partner awards through an airline program. A notorious example of this is when trying to book ANA awards through Air Canada Aeroplan.

How Do I Avoid Phantom Availability?

Glad you asked. It’s quite simple actually. You just need to cross reference with different airline partners to verify that the award is available to other partners as well. Usually if at least 2 partners can see the exact flight you want, there’s a high chance that the program is showing real award space.

You cannot use the award airline’s own program to verify space because there is no guarantee that partner airlines will have access to the same availability. So if you’re trying to book United Polaris via Air Canada Aeroplan, you cannot go to United’s website to verify this award space.

So let’s get into the best ways to verify award availability for each alliance.

Star Alliance

United is usually not the best way to book Star Alliance awards but it ironically is one of the best ways to verify partner award space. The other two good airline programs to use are Air Canada Aeroplan and Avianca Lifemiles. You can use a combination of the 3 to check if coveted awards like ANA business class, Eva business class, or Lufthansa first class awards are real.

BONUS TIP: Air Canada has a strange partnership with Singapore Airlines where Aeroplan will sometimes have more access to Singapore Airlines award space than Singapore Airlines’ own program. There may be instances where Singapore Airlines award flights don’t show up on United and show up as waitlisted on Singapore’s website but are actually bookable with no waitlist via Aeroplan. However, this is definitely the exception and not the norm.


British Airways and Cathay Pacific are the two best ways of verifying OneWorld partner award space. While Alaska Airlines and American Airlines are two of the best programs to book OneWorld award flights they unfortunately also often show phantom availability and shouldn’t be trusted without additional verification.


Delta is the best program to verify SkyTeam award space. Air France Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club are good programs to use as well but they often don’t show all of the partner space. Delta is the most reliable in showing the partner availability online.

In general, you can always call the program you’re trying to book through and ask the agent to see if they can find the award space you’re looking at. If they do, you can then transfer over your points to complete the booking since almost all programs except for a few (ahem looking at you Singapore Airlines and Chase), will have the points immediately transferred.

John at Miles Mastery

Be careful out there and don’t get catfished by the airlines

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m on an annual blogging vacation for the last two weeks of the year. To make sure you still have content, some of the smartest members of the community have stepped up with guest posts in my absence. Special thanks to today’s author, the most genuine person I know, @nutella, for writing this post while I’m on vacation. I’ll see you on January 1!

Let’s break down the nuances of United’s TravelBank, future flight credits, and electronic travel certificates.

TravelBank (“TB”)

  • Funds are attached to a MileagePlus account, and likely courtesy of airline incidentals
  • Expiry = “book by”; funds must be used to book a flight within 5 years from the date of the load
  • Not name-locked (i.e. not restricted to a specific traveler)
  • You cannot mix TB funds with ETC or FFC on the same ticket purchase
  • Cannot be directly used for United partner flights 

Electronic travel certificates (“ETC”)

  • Funds are likely the result of service recovery, or if you volunteered to take a later flight 
  • Expiry = “book by”; funds must be used to book a flight within 1 year from the date of issuance
  • Not name-locked (i.e. not restricted to a specific traveler) 
  • You cannot mix ETC funds with FFC or TB on the same ticket purchase
  • Can be directly used for United partner flights

Future flight credits (“FFC”)

  • Funds are likely the result of a flight that was canceled 
  • Expiry = “begin travel by”; funds must be used on a flight that begins travel within 1 year of the date of the original ticket that was purchased
  • Name-locked  (i.e. restricted to a specific traveler)
  • You cannot mix FFC funds with ETC or TB on the same ticket purchase
  • Can be directly used for United partner flights

Simple, right? Now, let’s cover two common questions:

Q: How can I combine TravelBank / electronic travel certificates / future flight credits on the same ticket purchase?

A: Convert your TB and/or ETC into FFC, and apply FFC’s to pay for your ticket. While United does not allow more than one type of these currencies to be used on a single purchase, they do allow uses of multiple instances of the same currency. 

For example, let’s say you wanted to book a $269 flight, wanted to burn some of your TravelBank balance, and currently hold a $99 future flight credit. You can first book a ~$170 dummy flight with TravelBank, and after ~24 hours – cancel this flight (the refund will be in the form of a future flight credit). Now, book your $269 flight and apply the two future flight credits.

Beware: if you cancel your dummy flight online within 24 hours of booking, the refund will be returned to the original payment method. If you can’t wait for 24 hours to pass, call United and they may be able to cancel the flight and immediately issue the refund as a FFC.

Q: How can I use TravelBank to book United partner flights?
A: Convert your TravelBank to a future flight credit, then use the future flight credit to book your United partner flight.

For example, let’s say you wanted to book a $420 flight operated by Air Canada and wanted to burn some of your TravelBank balance. Follow the same method as above, just be sure to find a dummy flight on United metal.


A wise man once said, “you can use your TravelBank to book a dummy flight on United metal from DEN or IAH to LBB (Lubbock, TX), but be sure to cancel it for a future flight credit to fly literally anywhere else”

Today, MEAB features a special guest who will respond to each news item: Your annoying Uncle Kyle that always seems to have a take that’s tangential to reality but not grounded in reality. Why? Practice my friends, practice – because you probably only see Kyle at Thanksgiving and Christmas and it’s time to gear up.

  1. Southwest flights are now bookable through the Chase travel portal, but only Wanna Get Away and Wanna Get Away Plus fares.

    Kyle’s response: WGA+ fares as a 1.5 cent per point booking with low friction means that brokering of Southwest flights is going to skyrocket. Watch out!
  2. Office Depot/OfficeMax stores have $15 off of $300 in Mastercard gift cards through Saturday, limit eight per transaction. As usual, link your cards to Dosh, liquidate your American Express Business Gold $20 monthly credits, try for multiple transactions back-to-back, and experiment with different purchase amounts.

    Kyle’s response: You’re waiting in line behind someone arguing about a $0.45 coupon at a store with staffing levels lower than the half-sized aisles of InkJet toner to buy a Mastercard with a Visa? Are you even listening to yourself talk?
  3. Chase Offers has 13% back on at least $50 and up to $307.69 in airfare booked by tomorrow. (No, I didn’t make that number up, why do you ask?) This is gamable in multiple ways.

    Kyle’s response: I haven’t known anything about gaming since Tetris, but you know that booking airfare means flying Southwest right? Their boarding process is a mass psychological experiment and you’re the subject!
  4. UPDATE: Dead! There have now been at least a half dozen reports of successfully transferring the pseudo Ultimate Rewards with a fixed 1.0 cent per point from the Ink Business Premier to real Ultimate Rewards accounts from other premium cards, but only by phone.

    It’s unclear if this is a bug or intentional, but either way the 150,000 pseudo Ultimate Reward sign up bonus for $10,000 spend in three months available in branch or perhaps via Green Star offers looks extremely attractive right about now, especially if you can earn it quickly.

    Kyle’s response: You know that those pseudo Ultimate Rewards points are how the government tracks your spend, right? Converting them to a variable value point throws them off because they can’t know exactly what you spent.

Have a nice Monday!

Kyle’s response: You do know Mondays suck, right? Everyone knows that because Garfield taught us. Stop being so chipper.

Even the Thanksgiving pie will be fed up with Kyle.