January 15, 2014
I don’t run an award booking service, but I do frequently get asked award related questions. With complicated requests, I’ve always suggested award booking services as the answer. With simpler questions, though, I usually try to give simple answers. For international travel, the easy answer has usually been “United”. United miles have been (and continue to be) very easy to accumulate (thanks to Chase’s amazing signup bonuses for the United cards and the Ultimate Rewards cards such as the Ink Plus, Ink Bold, and Sapphire Preferred). United miles are also extremely easy to use: United has a huge number of partners (thanks to membership in the Star Alliance) and, unlike most other carriers, almost all partner flights are bookable online. And, until the United devaluation kicks in on February 1, United miles have offered good value: Their award chart was competitive in most areas.
As of February 1, the easy answer of “United” mostly goes away. Yes, United miles will still be easy to earn. And, yes, their miles will still be easy to use. But now, the miles won’t always offer good value compared to the competition. If you plan to fly international economy class, United is still a reasonable all around solution. For business or first class, though, their prices have gone up quite a bit especially when partner flights are involved. There are still plenty of specific routes in which United continues to offer good value, but United is no longer a good answer for all types of international travel.
Here’s the new and complicated “all-around” answer:
To get the best value from your miles, going forward, start with flexible points programs: Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG). Each of these programs allow you to convert points to any of a number of airline loyalty programs. Then, when you know where you want to go, find the airline transfer partner that has availability through its own flights or, more likely, through its partners and has the best award prices. Oh, and don’t forget that with some partners you’ll have to pay hefty fuel surcharges, but with other partners you won’t.
All of this complexity makes my head spin. So, more than ever before, if I’m asked an award booking question I will most likely recommend going to an award booking service. This brings me back to the title of this post… Are award booking services more valuable now that the need for them has increased? I think so.
Award Booking Services
Rather than recommend a specific service, I’ve setup a page called “Award Booking Services” that you can find under the Flights menu at the top of each page on this blog. Or, you can go directly to this link: Award Booking Services. Currently, it’s just a list of available services, but I hope that readers will add reviews on that page so as to make it more useful going forward.
Do it yourself
If you’d rather figure out your awards yourself, there are many blog posts out there that can help get you started. Here are a few that I found particularly useful:
- Best First And Business Cabin Mileage Award Tickets (One Mile at a Time)
- So Here’s Which Miles You Should Use for Trips to Different Regions (Online Travel Review)
- Consolidated list of airline partners and which are bookable online (The Points Guy)
- Hidden Gem Airline Redemptions (Travel is Free)
- Which Star Alliance Program Is Best For First and Business Class Awards? (One Mile at a Time)
Do you know of other particularly helpful posts? Please comment below.