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It’s easy to get excited about the potential of traveling with miles and points. You see a few pictures on Instagram with descriptions of how they flew there for free, you read a couple of blog posts about credit cards and welcome bonuses, and before you know it, you’re hooked.
As you dream about that trip you want to take, read about earning points and sign up for two credit cards. You start earning points and before long, you’ve built up your loyalty account enough that the flights you want to take are accessible. But how do you book them right?
That’s when you know there are two aspects to maximizing your credit card and loyalty program rewards. In many ways, earning miles and points and building balances in your loyalty accounts is the easy part. Actually using those points to book flights can be a bit more difficult.
Booking award flights
Just as you learn how to earn miles and points, you can easily find many references that teach you how to use your rewards to fly. You just need to take the time to learn about redemptions.
If you have points tied to individual programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards® or American Express membership rewards, or individual programs like Delta SkyMiles or American AAdvantage miles, there are details you need to know and rules and restrictions to follow for rewards. Tickets.
As time goes by and you get a little practice looking for open award seats on the routes you want to fly, it will get a little easier. The same goes for deciding where to send your transferable points and how to book the flights you’ve earned.
But that doesn’t mean you should ignore tools designed to make award flights even easier.
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Tools to make award flight booking easier
No matter how often you spend, transfer and book, or how comfortable you are with the process, even the most seasoned miles and points redeemer can use some help when it comes to loyalty program redemptions. We’ve put together a list of some of the best tools we’ve found to simplify things and get you behind your computer and into the air.
Straight to the points
If you’re interested in booking premium cabin award flights, meaning seats in business or first class, and want the process to be as easy as possible, Structuring to the Points can’t go wrong with the aptly named.
Straight to the points It started as a newsletter a few years ago, and in early 2021 added a premium membership level that includes virtual meetings, text alerts, exact dates, and instructions for booking tickets. The site is run by Spencer Howard, who have long been recognized as the top experts in award redemption in travel rewards.
“After hearing from people with tons of airline miles and credit card points, I started straight to the points,” Howard said. “They had miles and points to book business and first class flights to destinations all over the world. They couldn’t find award space or figure out the best way to book. I decided to make it all easier.”
Keeping it simple is exactly what it does, straight to the point, and that’s why it made it to the top of our list. Instead of searching for specific dates and times for each person, Direct to Points focuses on sending alerts when it finds a reward cluster on a specific route. Often, the flights shown are available for multiple award seats and for periods ranging from several weeks to several months.
Direct to the Points Alerts include not only the available lines and dates for these awards, but also several great program options for booking, what currencies those program points can be transferred from, and what you actually need to do. Take the seats. Everything is written for you; All you have to do is make a reservation.
If you have a little flexibility in your travel plans, have high balances in multiple loyalty accounts and can book soon after receiving an alert, Straight To The Points is the service you should sign up for. There’s a basic version of the Alerts newsletter that’s available for free, but if you want to receive all the information and booking details we’ve discussed above and be the first to hear about available award space, Direct to Points Premium will cost you $9.99 per month or $99 per year.
ExpertFlyer is another useful tool for those looking to book their own award tickets. It doesn’t tell you how to book tickets or which programs to use, but where ExpertFlyer shines is finding award seats for the dates and destinations you want to travel.
According to ExpertFlyer, the service is “designed to meet the needs of the casual flyer, airline mileage program advanced passengers, professional travel managers and the occasional air traveler looking for great value.” We think it does.
On the ExpertFlyer website, there is a wealth of information on everything from fare classes to on-time information for each flight. The most useful tool for booking award tickets is the powerful multi-day award seat search function. Once you enter your search criteria, you’ll get results showing every flight available for that route and what seats are available for each flight class.
If there are no seats available when you want to fly, ExpertFlyer allows you to set alerts for the flights you want. If an award seat becomes available, you will be notified and can make a reservation. This is incredibly valuable for people who have difficulty finding rewards for certain destinations.
You can search by airline or airline and find all available award seats up to seven days away. This is especially useful when putting together award flights that might not come up through an airline website search. You can manually check availability for each flight class and then be fully prepared when you call the airline to make a reservation.
These are just a few of the many features offered with a paid Pro membership. ExpertFlyer has two tiers of Pro membership, but some of the most useful features include award flight availability alerts and the ability to search +/- three days, if you want to use it, you need to go with the following. Premium Pro level for $9.99 per month or $99 per year.
Prize hacker It’s a great place to start your reward searches and the only completely free tool on the list. For each route search, the site allows you to specify your origin and destination, your class, how many stops are allowed, and limit the search to specific airline programs or flexible cash programs.
Your search will return information based on the airline program you are on. Results include the number of miles required, the airline program used, how many stops there will be, and what airlines will operate the flights. It lets you know which currencies are transferable in each airline program.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when looking at search results on AwardHacker, though. First, the search results tell you the cost per kilometer, but no information about taxes, fees and fuel surcharges. On some programs, especially when flying in premium cabins, these fees can be several hundred dollars per ticket, so it’s important to check those.
The second thing to be aware of is something that often confuses new users: results on AwardHacker are hypothetical. The results you get when you complete a search have nothing to do with what seats are available to book on that particular route on the date you want. AwardHacker easily provides the miles it costs you to book a low-level award for each airline. It is up to you to find an award seat available in that lower tier on the day you can fly.
Those things being said, AwardHacker remains a useful tool for finding the number of miles required per route for each airline program. Although we found the free site to be a little flashy at times, it’s still a good place to start your rewards search, which will help you decide which loyalty programs you want to check out first.
Point. I It’s a new and better iteration of the old Juicy Miles service. One Mile at a Time has teamed up with the Points Benefits team to take things one step further.
When using the service, you can run a single search with dates and destinations and search over 30 programs and 100 airlines to find as many award offers as possible. They’re limited by not being able to show extended availability for things like United cardholders or elite members of some airlines, but being able to do a search like this can save a lot of time when looking for flights.
Point.me not only shows you the rewards available and how much each program costs, it also shows you how to earn those points – where to transfer them, and walks you through the entire process from transfer to booking. You can even link your AwardWallet account and it will show you the best booking options for the points and miles you have.
Point.me offers a variety of services and price points, from single day searches to full concierge bookings, so you can find one that works for your situation.
- $5—Starter Pass allows 24 hours of standard plan access
- $129 per year or $12 per month – standard plan
- Unlimited searches
- Custom results for your reward
- Access to the best current award deals
- Special tips to fill your points
- $260 per year – premium plan
- Everything in the regular plan
- 10% discount on all ancillary services
- Personalized miles and points “check” every year
- 5. Pass the 24-hour starter as a gift to friends and family every year
- $200/passenger—full service reservation
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Although there are many businesses that look for and book flights for your rewards, you can easily spend a couple of hundred dollars per person for each one-way flight. If you want to save money, you’re better off learning to book award flights on your own. That’s why we thought it was important to share with you these four companies that make it easy to find and book your award flights.
Award Hacker gives you an idea of how many miles it will cost you to get low-cost award flights wherever you want to go, and ExpertFlyer streamlines the award flight search process for your specific dates and locations. Point.me shows you the actual booking prices in real time, for your dates and for each airline program. Ultimately, redeeming your points directly to the points makes it as easy as possible, as long as you want to fly in top class and have some flexibility in your travel.
The four tools we’ve outlined in this article should be seriously considered by anyone looking to up their miles and points savings game. Each device may be better for different travelers, but no matter which one you choose to use, after relaxing in business-class while flying to the other side of the world, you will understand that it was well worth it. The investment.
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