Your ability to book affordable travel depends heavily on your knowledge of the tools available to help you. Master the following 10 resources and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a travel hacking ninja.
These resources will help you book your most ideal travel itineraries, whether that be via cheap revenue tickets or award bookings.
- Expert Flyer
- Award Nexus
- Kayak price alerts
- ITA matrix
- Award Wallet
10 Tools That Will Make You a Better Travel Hacker
Perhaps the biggest deterrent to using miles is the relative difficulty of finding award space.
Just typing where you live and where you want to go into an airline’s award search engine may not reveal Saver award space even when there is a legal, possible award–especially when a small airport is involved. But just because nothing shows up on an airline search engine doesn’t mean no award itinerary is available.
Searching segment-by-segment–starting with the hardest segment–can yield itineraries that the search engine missed.
One of the most important steps in the segment-by-segment searching process is using Wikipedia to research possible routings. To explain, take this example: You want to fly from San Francisco to London using United miles. When you do an initial simple search on United.com, no Saver space comes up.
You can pull up London-Heathrow‘s wikipedia page and look for flights on airlines that are a member of Star Alliance (since you will be using United miles) that fly to the US/Canada…
…so now you have potential routes to search to get to London that United.com might have missed or left out because they weren’t the most direct, like:
- San Francisco > Vancouver > London
- San Francisco > Houston > London
Then you could move forward searching each segment individually, beginning with the most difficult (in this case, transoceanic) leg first.
Segment-by-segment searching skills are especially necessary when using British Airways or All Nippon Airways’ award search engines– both are known for being bad at finding flight itineraries with connections.
Have a dream trip in mind but no idea how many miles it would cost? That’s where Miles.biz comes in. This website has two primary functions:
- Determines how many miles a desired award would be depending on the mileage program being used. This way you can also compare how much it would cost using different types of miles, in the probable case that you have different kinds and want to get the best value per mile. The mileage calculator is on the home page.
- Provides inspiration if you have a big stash of rewards and don’t know the best way to use them. They have another tool called the Suggestions Engine where you input how many miles you have with a program and your home airport, and up to five suggestions are given of where you could fly to and for how many miles.
They track 79 frequent flyer programs so chances are the type(s) of miles you have are covered.
3. Expert Flyer
I use Expert Flyer mainly for finding award space that I can’t find elsewhere, like Air Tahiti Nui and Aer Lingus for example. It provides at least some award search capability on all these airlines.
I also use Expert Flyer for several other things like searching Maximum Permitted Mileage, finding published fares, and setting award space alerts.
It is a paid service–$100 per year/$10 per month for the premium package, or $5 a month if you only need the basic package. Click here to see the difference between the premium and basic package. You can also try it free for a five day trial.
4. Award Nexus
Imagine you’ve searched for award space, and there is none on and in your ideal date/flight/cabin. You could give up or you could hope that space opens up.
If you choose to hope it opens up, you can search frequently, but that is a time waster, and you might forget to search some days. An award alert solves the problem by automating a daily search of the award space and emailing you if space opens up.
You can set an alert for almost any award space on Award Nexus, so that you will be the first to know if award space opens up. It will cost you though. To set an alert, you have to buy one of these premium accounts (and you pay for the alerts with the points included in your package–price of the alert depends on the parameters of the search).
Kayak.com offers a service called price alerts that you can activate as long as you have an account on kayak. Kayak will send you the best price for the requested route, either every day or however often you specify out of the seven days of the week.
I try never to use cash for flights for obvious reasons, but sometimes I can’t get good value from my miles. I have a value in mind for each of my mileage balances like 1.6 cents each for United miles and 1.8 cents for American Airlines miles. If I can’t get full value for any of my types of miles for a given trip, I use either Arrival miles from the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® or a travel credit from my Citi Prestige® Card or my Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz.
6. ITA Matrix
ITA Matrix is great for finding cheap (cash) flights and finding the fuel surcharges on award tickets.
ITA Matrix is another resource like Kayak Price Alerts that helps me find cheap flights when I can’t find a good enough value using my miles.
FlyerTalk is, most importantly, an online forum where people discuss the endless nuances of travel credit cards, mile and point earning and spending, frequent flyer programs, hotel loyalty programs, and general travel advice. It is probably the most useful source for comparing data points– i.e. if you’re trying to figure out something that is solely based on others’ experiences, which is a lot of the times the case in this hobby full of fine print.
Stumped about where to start looking with a miles question? Try a google search of the pertinent topic + “flyertalk”, and see if that turns up anything.
Pointsbuzz is an aggregation of 30 of the most popular miles/travel deal blogs out there. I love Pointsbuzz. It’s a fast way for me to stay updated on all the latest news in the frequent flyer world.
Each blog has a dedicated feed of the latest 10 posts.
9. Award Wallet
This hobby requires you to have a lot of accounts open with different loyalty programs. Award Wallet is a free service that aggregates and easily organizes all of your separate accounts.
It tracks your balance, status, user name, and password in nearly every airline, hotel, credit card, rental car, and loyalty program in one place– so much more efficient than checking all of your accounts individually.
SeatGuru is an online compendium of airline seat maps.
Using SeatGuru can be the difference between picking an award routing with a fully flat bed in Business Class versus an angled lie flat seat. It can be the difference between sitting in privacy and sharing an elbow rest with a stranger. I use it primarily in three ways:
- to figure out the best product on a given airline
- to figure out the type of seat a plane features
- to get the best seat in cabin
The websites and tools listed above will greatly increase your arsenal for travel hacking. Investing a little time to familiarize yourself with each will surely provide a tangible return.
After all your planning and mile collecting, if you still want some help connecting the dots so you get the most value out of your miles, you can contact my Award Booking Service.