Award Booking Review: MileValue (trip 1)

A few days ago I suggested that a good way to get the most out of your miles is to use a good award booking service (see “Get the most from your miles”).  Today I’ll review my experience with using one award booking service: MileValue.  I used MileValue’s service twice recently so I’ll describe both experiences in separate posts.  Full disclosure: MileValue offered me a discount on his service in exchange for writing a review.  Yes, I should have turned down the offer in order to remain impartial, but I accepted it.  Bad me.  I’ll do my best to write an impartial review anyway.

Trip 1: Alaska and beyond

My family made a somewhat last minute decision to postpone a trip to Paris and to do an Alaskan cruise instead.  For details, see “I get by (and to Alaska) with a little help from my friends” and “So Long Alaska, and Thanks for All the Fish.”  As I wrote before, the whole idea of going on a cruise started with my desire to use British Airways miles to fly Cathay Pacific business class between New York City and Vancouver.  I checked availability and found it was wide open on the dates we wanted to travel.  So, if we were going in that direction anyway, why not book a cruise?  We ended up picking one that departed from Seward, Alaska (near Anchorage) and ended in Vancouver whereupon we would fly Cathay Pacific to NYC before returning home to Ann Arbor, MI.

Background:  Because of the cruise, we had very little flexibility in our dates of travel.  We had to get to Anchorage before August 3rd, but for other reasons we couldn’t leave Ann Arbor until August 2nd.  I wanted to fly first class to Anchorage, but I couldn’t find any low level availability for the three of us.  I spent several hours trying all of the options I could think of.  Delta wasn’t much use since it doesn’t allow one way awards (well, Delta allows them, but charges the same as a round trip).  Delta didn’t have any low level availability anyway.  I looked into British Airways Avios, United miles, and AA miles, but couldn’t find anything good.  I tried options such as flying to other cities with United miles, and then using Avios for the last hop but still couldn’t find anything good.  In the end, it occurred to me that I might be able to find low level awards for two of us, and book a higher priced award for the third person.  But, by that time I was tired and frustrated.  I figured that I’ve been meaning to test out award booking services anyway, so why not give it a shot?  I emailed MileValue.  I told him what I was trying to do, what miles I had available and the dates that were possible for travel.

Result:  Four hours after I emailed him, MileValue emailed me back with a set of bookable options for each leg of my journey.  For the flight out to Anchorage, the best option he came up with was the one I would have pursued had I not given up: Use United miles to buy two seats at saver level (25K) and one at high level (50K).  By averaging the cost across all three of us, this came to just over 33K miles per person for the one-way journey in first class to Anchorage (with two stops).  Fortunately, MileValue had somehow found a better route (in terms of departure time, arrival time, and layovers) than I had seen even when I searched for just one person.  The leg from Vancouver to NYC was a given, so he just repeated what I had already planned: Cathay Pacific business class using 25K British Airways Avios per person.  For the final return from NYC, he gave me several options including using only 4500 British Airways Avios per person (economy) or 10K United miles per person (economy).  Even though it cost more miles, I chose the United option because the times worked much better for us.

MileValue offered to make the bookings for us (if we gave him all of the info he would need).  Due to the fact that the United outbound flights were within 21 days, I would have been charged $75 per person to book the award.  So, instead of having MileValue book the award and instead of doing it myself, I asked my friend Scottrick (Hack My Trip) if he would book the award for me.  I used my Ultimate Rewards points to transfer the needed miles to him.  Since he has high level status with United, the close-in booking fee was waved and so I saved $225 (thanks again Scottrick!).  I was also able later on to make changes to the return flight (to an earlier time) for no fee since the award was booked under Scottrick’s account!

Review: So, how do I think MileValue did with this award?  Was it worth the fee?  Let’s look at the results by category:

  • Better Award Availability.  A good award booking service can often find the seats that don’t appear to exist.  In this case, I’m pretty sure I would have eventually found flights for the same cost (in miles) if I had completed the award search myself.  Of course, I don’t know if any other service could have done better so I can’t really rate him high or low on this category.
  • Save Miles & Money.  A good award booking service will know which of your points can get you to your destination and back for the lowest cost in terms of both miles and cash.  MileValue correctly identified Avios as the cheapest option for my return leg from NYC.  In my case I already knew that, but it’s big plus for those who are less aware of how best to use their miles.  On the negative side, MileValue did not suggest the possibility of going to a United elite flyer to get the $75 close-in fees waved.  Had I not known about that option already, I would have spent $225 more than I need to.
  • Better flight experience.  A good award booking service will know which flights have the best seats and service and will try to get you on those flights; and, they’ll proactively find itineraries with the fewest stops and shortest layovers (while avoiding layovers that risk missed connections).  For the outbound flight, MileValue found better flights and connections than I could find myself.  He also went out of his way to inform me of what to expect from the flights (e.g. this leg has seats with less pitch than that leg, ….).  Overall I’d say MileValue succeeded nicely in this category.
  • Less Aggravation.  Booking award travel can be a huge headache.  A good award booking service will do the hard work for you.  In this case I had already sunk about three hours into this and probably would have spent at least another two hours before settling for the best options I could find.  Even then, I would have wondered if an award booking service might have done better.  By going with MileValue when I did, I saved a couple of hours of aggravation and doubt.  If I had started off with MileValue from the beginning, I would have saved about 5 hours of aggravation.

MileValue usually charges $199 for 3 passengers ($99 for the first passenger and then $50 for each additional), but he charged me only $99 total.  Was it worth it?  For me, since I already knew most of the tricks used here, I got value from saving time and doubt (about whether I booked the best option), but I’m not sure it was worth $99.  The true value would have come if a person didn’t know as much as I did about booking awards.  Such a person could easily have spent 50,000 or more additional United miles to book a similar itinerary.  Given the Fair Trading Price of United Miles at 1.31 cents each, using MileValue’s service would conservatively save such a person $655 worth of miles.  So, for people with limited award booking skills, the service is clearly worthwhile.  For people with moderate to advanced skills (like me), the value is debatable.

A bad test?  I had no complaints with MileValue’s service, but I also didn’t think that the specific situation here turned out to be a good one for evaluating an award booking service.  My situation was very specific and not very flexible, and since I already knew most of the award booking tricks that could be employed here, I didn’t personally gain a lot from it.  Luckily, I had a second test waiting in the wings.  My mom (AKA “Mom Miler”) and her husband have been planning a big trip to Asia for early next year so I turned to MileValue again to see what he could do.  I’ll report on that experience soon.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

Comments

  1. I look forward to the review of the Asia trip. This trip was atypical for me since I rarely work on domestic awards. I’m glad I was able to find you an itinerary you couldn’t find. I found it by always double checking certain possibilities segment by segment.

    You’re savvy enough that this award is not the type you would normally need an award booking service for. If someone inexperienced came to me with the same specifications, I would have produced even more value for them than I was able to produce for you.

    For those interested, this is what I emailed the Frequent Miler; it’s a good example of the little touches I add like comparisons to paid tickets and the next flight in case you miss a short connection, and the order for booking multiple awards:

    DTW-ANC

    A few options here.

    8/2
    DTW-DEN 8:35 AM – 9:41 AM (United Express First, so seats have 1 inch less leg room and 2 inches less width than regular domestic first)
    DEN-SEA 11:15 AM – 12:58 PM (United First)
    SEA-ANC 1:37 PM – 4:13 PM (United First)
    100k miles and $240 total, 11:38 travel time

    There are only two first class awards available on this itinerary and zero economy, so you would have to get the two saver first awards for 25k each and one “easypass” first award for 50k. Each ticket has a $75 fee for being booked within 21 days of departure, which is the vast majority of the $240 cash outlay.

    There is only a 39 minute layover in SEA. If you missed the connection, the next United flight that day is at 9:17 PM, arriving ANC at 11:53 PM.

    8/3
    DTW-IAH 12:03 PM – 1:49 PM (United Express first)
    IAH-ANC 3:17 PM – 7:30 PM (United first)
    75k miles and $240 total, 11:27 travel time

    My first thought for DTW-ANC was American / Alaska Airlines using Avios, but that combo is showing no availability 8/2. And they are showing no availability this week, making me think they don’t release last minute award space to Alaska during the summer.

    Delta is also showing only medium and high availability for 8/2 and this week, so they are a bad option too.

    I looked up the cash price from DTW-ANC 8/2 and the cheapest is $452 pp ($1356 total) on Delta, so I think you get good value for miles on an award.

    YVR-JFK
    8/10 or 8/11
    YVR-JFK 10:50 PM – 7:00 AM +1 (Cathay biz)
    75,000 Avios and $238 total

    Not much to add. This is obviously the best product you can get. BA is adding a little bit of a surcharge, but there’s no way to avoid that with your miles.

    NYC-DTW

    8/14
    LGA-DTW 6:05 AM – 8:00 AM (AA economy)
    LGA-DTW 8:25 AM – 10:30 AM (AA economy)
    LGA-DTW 10:25 AM – 12:30 PM (AA economy)
    LGA-DTW 1:05 PM – 3:10 PM (AA economy)
    LGA-DTW 4:35 PM – 6:40 PM (AA economy)
    LGA-DTW 9:00 PM – 10:55 PM (AA economy)
    13.5k Avios and $7.50 total

    8/13
    EWR-DTW 8:52 PM – 10:52 PM (United Express first or economy)
    75k or 30k United miles and $7.50 total

    8/14
    EWR-DTW 7:30 AM – 9:30 AM (United express economy)
    EWR-DTW 2:50 PM – 4:50 PM (United express economy)
    EWR-DTW 8:49 PM – 10:49 PM (United express economy)
    30k United miles and $7.50 total

    Obviously the Avios award is a much better deal. It’s slightly better even than paid fares, which start at $99 plus bag fees per person on Spirit. (Also Spirit offers no frequent flier miles for flying.)

    Booking:
    If you like an itinerary that I’ve presented, let me know, so we can book ASAP. If you want something else, let me know how to change the search.

    I can do as much as you want. If you pick out the itineraries and give me your credit card number, expiration, security code, billing address, all passengers full names and birthdays, frequent flier numbers and passwords/PIN, I can book all the awards on your behalf.

    If you just give me the United account and pin plus passengers full names and birthdays, I can reserve the United award, and you can call in to book it.

    If you prefer, we can talk on the phone as I walk you through booking the awards click-by-click.

    If you book on your own, I recommend booking the Cathay award first because I have had some issues with BA.com showing phantom space, so that is the award booking most likely to go wrong.

    Scott

  2. Of course, my email was formatted a little better than that. Namely it had paragraph breaks.

    And btw, Frequent Miler, if you want to pay me an extra $100 to remove any bias, I’m willing to accept it 😉

    Maybe even via my infamous Donate! button 😉

  3. LOL at the donate. I think well thought out, well run and responsive award booking facilities are great. Not something I would use myself, in fact I have acted as a basically free award booking service to several friends who are looking to maximize points, and I enjoy the fun of the hunt with all the websites, ExpertFlyer and KVS all running side by side. The one change or at least alternative I would have offered above is to use AA miles to pay for YFR-JFK. Less miles (62.5k vs 75k – though I admit AA are probably worth more than Avios) but also they do not charge YQ the way BA do. We have done this a few times and only paid around $50 in taxes/fees (Maybe FM did not have AA miles hence it wasn’t offered?) As long as you are as detailed and responsive in your “showcase” trial as you are with everyone else, this looks to be a great service.

    • Phil: How do you get YVR – JFK in business on AA for less than 25K per person? Are you using discounts given to Citi AA cardholders? Even so, it is the case that I didn’t at the time have AA miles (I do now!), but also value them more highly than BA

  4. On often overlooked tool is matrix airfare search. I use it often, to see all (or maybe most) possible itineraries. It even has routing codes that’ll force it to look for a connection only in certain cities or on specific airline(s).

  5. I havent used milevalue’s service yet. But I read the blogs extensively and understand most of the tricks explained in the blogs associated with booking. Still, when I booked my Asia trip, I found myself spending too much time because I dont book trip everyday.

    Time is money. My time would be better spent in something more fruitful. Therefore, on my next trip, I will enlist milevalue since I feel his service fee is more than reasonable.

  6. @ frequentmiler
    “…..If I had started off with MileValue from the beginning, I would have saved about 5 hours of aggravation…..”

    To me saving 5 hours is worth $199 for his service.

    You can spend this 5 hours doing what you do best and yield a better return than $ 199.

    • JoC: Good point! When I said that it probably wasn’t really worth it to me, I was referring to the remaining bit of work that needed to be done. Had I given him the entire task right from the start, there’s no doubt it would have been worth it.

  7. “but I’m not sure it was worth $99” Are you kidding? Don’t you see what happens? You give up, you get tired and frustrated. You become unsure of your options. Your post should have been more favorable towards Milevalue, when he gave you what you needed: a sound mind, to make the right choices. Definitely worth your peace of mind and only $99.
    ps I have never used his services before, it’s just that your post seemed skewed in a negative manner.

  8. I like the review and I’m also using milevalue for an award trip, however if you take a discount or even accept an offer to write a review for the regular fee there is no way to do an unbiased review.
    The only way for this to be an accurate review is for the award service to not even know who you are, or that you write a travel blog. Just saying…

  9. Havent used Milevalue services yet, but I highly recommend his blog/email list for the very useful info it provides. It’s my daily required reading (along with Frequent Milers blog of course!)

  10. It appears that your review was a bit biased in a negative way (…what would happen if you have paid the full price?)
    P.S.
    For me, milevalue blog is in top five blogs I follow.

  11. I have an award booking service question: If the service actually books the flights for you, how does the airline resolve identity? Does the booking service pretend to be you on the phone, or is there some rule related to travel services allowing to book for other people. Last year I booked a BA award trip to Asia and the agent told me that I couldn’t book using my wife’s miles unless I set up a family account (which is easy and I did). But if this had been another airline which doesn’t consolidate accounts, how would the booking work?

  12. I think Milvevalue’s price is right. I am trying to plan a similar trip to yours FM, based on your posts, thanks for the idea! I, however, want to do Vancouver and Anchorage, sans cruise, departing from EWR. I can probably handle the booking myself with BA and AA but it’s 4 of us and I find that booking 4 is a lot harder than booking 1 or 2.

  13. It’s the TIME, TIME !!!!

    We all read the blogs, we are smart enough to apply them. But the fact that we dont do this everyday, making this Find-the-best-award-save-miles-money time consuming.

  14. I recently used milevalue’s booking service. I felt the “price” was well worth it and I was very happy with his results. Though I was aware of open jaws and layover, I certainly had no idea how to book, and he was able to include it all for my family trip of 5 to Europe! I sent him a request, and in less than 24 hours I was ready to book.

  15. Coleman’s booking had the additional difficulty of having 5 awards booked from 4 accounts, some of which were short of miles, so I helped strategize which account to use for each award to buy the fewest miles–all of which were bought through the US Airways 100% bonus promo.
    I agree with JoC. Most of what I do, you could probably do. It might just take you hours and hours of learning the ins-and-outs of every program in which you have miles, hours and hours searching, and hours wrangling with incompetent agents on the phone.
    I can save you that time and just let you pick among the options I send you.

  16. It would be interesting to see the award booking service provider is a high elite flyer in Star alliance ; then he/she can help out on close in booking as well as dodging change fees. Chase has been generous to let people transfer UR to anybody.

    • PJ: I was thinking that too, but United has T&C rules against accepting payment or bartering for award bookings. I think that if an award booking service did this it would violate these rules.

  17. MileValue (or anyone),

    Do Award Booking services have the ability to book trips for clients with their high status? For instance, could you have saved FM the $75 per person. If not with United, with any other airlines. That would go a long way in justifying the cost, and I don’t have high status friends like FM does.

  18. I became so frustrated the last time I tried to do it myself. Even though it worked out fantastic, I will 100% be using you (milevalue) next time I need a trip. It just isn’t worth my headache when this is not my full time job

  19. @Charlie: that is just asking to get the award bookers acct shut down if they continually book different people’s awards from their elite Accra to dodge awards. I don’t think an award Booker would be stupid enough to do that.

  20. I completely agree with Joe. It is IMPOSSIBLE to give a proper review when the award Booker knows you are writing a review on them. They are going to go FAR above and beyond for you, much more so than they would do for a normal customer. This award booking review series is pointless if you don’t do it anonymously.

    • I completely agree with Joe and Gregorygrady. I can’t give unbiased reviews unless I approach the services incognito. Most of the players know me, though, so this would be hard to do. I’m not trying to be a Consumers Union of award booking, though. I mostly just blog about things that interest me and hope that they interest readers as well. Right now one of the things that interest me are award booking services. So, I’ll continue to write about them. I’ll put in big disclaimers explaining why my experience may not have been typical. Readers can always comment with their own experiences to help balance things out.

  21. @FM, if you do a fair job (as you did here) of explaining the service you were provided, it will be clear to us using a booking service if we are getting the same level of service you received. So even though you might be getting better service than the average Joe who uses the booking service, your review will help us to create an expectation and if it is not met, no payment will need to be met. I am not saying anyone should let the bookers do the work and then skip out, but if it’s clear that they are not putting in the effort… Also, the email Milevalue provided is of great use to see what service the bookers are providing.

  22. Continuing with having a high-level elite book award travel for you…

    How many people who are not savvy at booking award travel, know that someone they trust is also a high-level elite? And, is it something MileValue should inform customers of if it isn’t volunteered?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *