I’m sure that fancy post title has you wondering what I’m thinking. This week, The Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney posted a piece ($) on the latest study from IdeaWorks, some consulting outfit that decided to try and see how many seats it could find on various airlines at the 25,000 mile “restricted” award level. As you might have guessed, some airlines were better than others. Not surprisingly, Delta was close to the bottom…and US Airways was at the bottom, while Southwest was near the top. United and American were in the middle of the pack.

Delta seems to struggle with award availability, but I really do believe that has more to do with their awful booking engine than anything else. I’ve seen enough anecdotal evidence around the interweb to lead me to conclude that while their availability isn’t as good as United or American, it’s not as bad as Delta.com would lead you to believe if you don’t do your homework. Then there’s US Airways, which I’ve not earned a single mile on in years (credit US flights to UA or CO), but in my experience hasn’t had the worst availability in the world. And again, there’s enough evidence out there if you look that many have successfully burned large numbers of US miles for great Star Alliance partner awards that make me feel like Dividend Miles might not be the worst mileage program on the planet.

Of course, the bobble-heads in the traditional media latched onto this study like it was delivered by Moses. Call me an AApologist, but I think American’s award availability is a heckuvalot better than middle of the pack, and same for United. Both airlines have certainly worked out well for me with redemption, and I’d say my success rate is a lot better than mid-range. That said, the average success rate in the study was 68.6 percent. I wonder if that’s good or bad? What do you think. Frankly, I think that’s an OK number. Now…27.1 percent for Delta? Not cool on the surface, but what was the study looking for? Apparently, not apples to apples comparisons of availability. I’m so late to the party on blogging about this that I won’t bore you with analysis. Take a look at Gary’s excellent take on the subject here.

But back to my post title. My point is you can’t allow a single study like this to make you throw up your arms in defeat and switch to one of the airlines at the top. Live in Atlanta? What good is switching to Virgin Australia or GOL gonna do for you? Granted, there are some partner opportunities to take advantage of if you think a little outside the box on your mileage plan, but try getting a comp upgrade on Delta with your Virgin Atlantic # in the reservation. That’s an outlier of an example, I know, but my point is, you have to do what works best for you. Maybe that’s crediting your Delta flights to Alaska, or if you really care about Medallion benefits, you just have to stick with SkyMiles and realize that you have to do a little homework (or a lot) to effectively use your miles. Or if time is on your side, you forget that you’re a hub captive, accept connections as a fact of life, and fly United or American. These programs, almost all of them, can still be richly rewarding if you do your due diligence, and make them work for you. IdeaWorks or not, I plan to keep earning and burning miles because so far, it’s good for me. It can still be good for you too!