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Which airline should you be loyal to?

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LOYALTY PROGRAM CHOICE BASED ON DEPARTURE COUNT

flights.alldest.sm.frompdf

If you read Decision Science News, you’re probably a professor or grad student or researcher or policy type who flies around a lot to conferences, symposia, workshops, tutorials, summer schools, and all-hands meetings. You travel the globe to give talks and work with co-authors. All this flying around is hard on you, but, you find it gets easier on you when you have status on the airlines you use through their frequent flier programs. Status allows you to choose your seat easily (which helps if you are tall), board early (which makes it easier to carry on luggage, which saves time), upgrade to business class (which helps you get work done), etc. You have found that being loyal to one airline pays off in terms of status.

But which airline should you choose to be loyal to? A simple rule would be to choose the airline that has the most departures from your home airport.

We figured this out for where we’re based: New York City. We scraped all the flights departing from NYC’s three airports (LGA=LaGuardia, JFK=John F Kennedy, EWR=Newark) for an entire week and looked at which airlines had the most departures. This was disappointing because a huge number of the flights listed were by regional airlines you never heard of like “ExpressJet” and “Chautauqua Airlines”(*). Codeshares. So, we scraped the web to figure out who these little airlines were actually flying for, the Deltas, Americans and Uniteds of the world.

The result is above. In short:

  • If you live in NJ, go with United
  • If you’re a LaGuardia/JFK flyer, go with Delta

This surprised us. We thought American had the most out of the New York airports. Once again, a little data analysis provides big insight.

What do you do if you discover you want to switch loyalties? We’ve heard (but not tried it) that you can get status on one airline with proof of status on another airline. We hear you need to fly a certain amount in 6 months or they revoke it.

Now, suppose you don’t care about all destinations, but just places you are likely to fly. Well, we don’t know much about you in particular, DSN reader, but we might assume you tend to go where the people are. So, we redid the analysis restricting to the following airports, which fall within the major metropolitan areas of the US and Canada:

New York, NY
Newark, NJ
Los Angeles, CA
Long Beach, CA
Chicago, IL
Washington, DC
San Francisco, CA
Oakland, CA
San Jose, CA
Boston, MA
Philadelphia, PA
Dallas, TX
Miami, FL
Houston, TX
Atlanta, GA
Detroit, MI
Seattle, WA
Phoenix, AZ
Minneapolis, MN
Cleveland, OH
Denver, CO
San Diego, CA
Portland, OR
Orlando, FL
Saint Louis, MO
Tampa, FL
Pittsburgh, PA
Toronto, ON
Montreal, QC
Vancouver, BC

And here is that result:

flights.topmetro.sm.frompdf

Much the same.

As a side note, this was a lot of work after the kid went to bed. And it still isn’t perfect. Flight data are messy. Tools used (an incomplete list):

(*) Here are the raw results before merging the codeshare flights with the big airlines. EWR, JFK and LGA combined, only airlines with more than 200 departures per week:

AIRLINE            DEPARTURES / WEEK
United             1872
JetBlue Airways    1398
Delta Air Lines    1351
Atlantic Southeast 1234
American           842
ShuttleAmerica     711
American Eagle     662
Chautauqua         436
US Airways         421
Express Airlines   370
Southwest          266
Commutair          253
Republic Airlines  249
Compass Airlines   207

4 Comments

  1. KJE says:

    If you fly out of EWR, you’re probably flying Continental. Why doesn’t that airline show up?

    July 3, 2013 @ 8:10 pm

  2. dan says:

    Oh KJE, don’t you know that Continental Airlines ceased operations March 3, 2012? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_Airlines It’s now United.

    July 3, 2013 @ 8:57 pm

  3. Andrew Gelman says:

    Dan,

    I think you are making a mistake with your alphabetical ordering and your color coding.

    July 5, 2013 @ 9:19 pm

  4. dan says:

    No doubt. One mistake is doing the graphs when exhausted from doing the other stuff. Anyway, are you suggesting order bars by height and don’t color code?

    July 6, 2013 @ 4:02 am

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