The tools we use

In a recent post I casually mentioned that I use a site called Award Mapper to find hotels where I can spend my points.  Quite a few readers responded that they were excited to learn about that site from my post.  So, today I’ll list more tools that may be useful to you.  I’ll also edit this post and publish it as a page under the Resources menu on my site.

AwardMapper

In the post, “The game we play,” I outlined the basics of the points and miles game:

  1. Acquire points & miles very cheaply
  2. Use points & miles for maximum value

In this post, I’ll list tools that help with these objectives.

Acquire points & miles

There are many ways to get points & miles cheaply.  The top 3 most lucrative are: signing up for credit card bonuses, maximizing use of online portals, and maximizing credit card category bonuses.

Credit card signup bonuses

Tools to use:

  1. Free Trips & Tricks Newsletter: If you are new to the idea of signing up for credit cards to get points & miles, consider signing up for this free e-mail newsletter. 
  2. Best Offers: I maintain a page with what I consider to be the best publicly available signup offers.  Check your e-mail and snail mail for offers too since it is possible to get targeted for even better offers.
 
Online portals

Tools to use:

  1. CashBackMonitor: There are many websites designed to help find the best portal for any given merchant, but I believe this one to be the most reliable.
  2. Frequent Miler’s Quick Deals: Subscribe to my Quick Deals page for alerts regarding portals, gift cards, flights, hotels, and many other deals.
  3. Frequent Miler Laboratory: Before buying or using gift cards through a portal, check with the Laboratory to see whether you’re likely to earn portal points from buying gift cards and/or from using them.  In some cases you can double portal earnings by double-dipping: go through the portal once to buy gift cards, and go through the portal again to use the gift cards.  Please also report back via the Laboratory comments section to let us know about your experience.
  4. Relevant posts: “Top 6 shopping portal myths”, ”How to ensure your portal points.”
 
Credit card category bonuses

Tools to use:

  1. Best category bonuses: Visit this page to see which cards have the best bonuses for different categories of spend (e.g. drug stores, gas stations, dining, etc.)
  2. Visa supplier locator: Search this site for local merchants to see how Visa codes them.  To get a grocery store category bonus when you use your credit card at a particular store, for example, the transaction has to be coded as a grocery store purchase.  This is determined by how that store setup their merchant account for credit card processing.  Some stores have multiple supplier codes.  For example, a purchase at Target may code differently depending upon whether you check out at the pharmacy, electronics department, or main registers.  Also, Amex and Discover may code stores differently than Visa.

Use points & miles

Tools to use:

  1. AwardWallet: Use this web app and mobile app to keep track of points and miles across many different programs.  Disclosure: Award Wallet does advertise my site at no cost to me, so my bias goes beyond the fact that I’m a loyal user.
  2. Award Mapper: Use this web app to find hotels near your intended destination that accept points for free nights.  Award Mapper shows the hotels on an embedded Google map and lets you narrow results to just the point programs you are interested in.  It also very helpfully shows the number of points per night required for a free stay.
  3. Wandering Aramean Travel Tools: This is a collection of miscellaneous travel tools.  Personally, I regularly use the OneWorld Award Alerts feature (great for using Avios!), but I highly recommend registering and poking around to find other useful tools within the collection.
  4. Transfer Partner Master List: Use this spreadsheet to find which airline and hotel programs you can transfer points to from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards (UR), Amex Membership Rewards (MR), and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG).
  5. Wikipedia: Pull up the Wikipedia page for any airport, then click to “Airlines and destinations.”  This will show you all of the direct flights, by airline, from that airport.
  6. Airline award search tools: Several paid options exist to help you find award space across airlines.  These include Expert Flyer, Award Nexus, and KVS.  Each has pros and cons, so I’d recommend doing a free trial before committing. 
  7. Award Booking Services: If you don’t have the skill, knowledge, or time to find the best awards for your needs, consider employing an award booking service instead.

 

Other miscellaneous travel tools

Other tools that I rely on for planning travel include:

  1. TripIt: Keep track of all of your trip reservations in one place simply by emailing your confirmations to plans@tripit.com.  This is probably my number one most used travel tool after Google maps.
  2. Google maps:  Google maps are great for so many things that I don’t know where to begin.  I use it to plan routes; to get turn by turn spoken directions when driving; to get public transportation directions; to get my bearings ahead of time through Street View; etc.
  3. ITA Matrix: This is an incredibly flexible flight search engine.  Limit searches to particular airlines or alliances; specify specific stopovers, and much much more.  Include “/?showPricePerMile=true” at the end of the URL if you’re interested in seeing and sorting on the price per mile for each flight option.
  4. Google Flights: The great thing about this flight search tool is it’s speed.  Put in your parameters and results come back instantly.
  5. Kayak: Search for flights, hotels, and car rentals. Kayak will automatically look across many other sites to find the best options.
  6. HipMunk: This is similar to Kayak for search flights and hotels, but it adds helpful visuals and “agony” ratings (e.g. multiple stops on a flight increases agony).
  7. Great Circle Mapper: Map your itinerary to picture visually or to determine distances for various routes.  This is great for using miles in programs that have distance based award charts, such as British Airways Avios.
  8. The Flight Deal: As it’s name implies, this blog identifies and publishes terrific flight deals.
  9. RouteHappy: This site estimates how good a flight is based on many factors including the types of seats on the flight, amenities, flyer ratings, etc. 
  10. SeatGuru: Find the best seat on your flight.
  11. TripAdvisor: Traveler reviews (especially hotels). Be careful not to rely too much on the overall ranking TripAdvisor assigns to each hotel.  Instead, use it to narrow down your search and then read the reviews to see if they are really relevant to you. 

What did I forget?


Follow me on Twitter / Like me on Facebook / Find me on Google+


If you are new to collecting miles, click here for the free newsletter
If you are new to Frequent Miler, start here

Comments

  1. Great list – I love Award Mapper – it really is a great tool for finding the best deal on a hotel redemption.

    Especially if (like me) you have points in several different hotel currencies – Award Mapper is a must

  2. I also like evrewards for checking online shopping. I just wish I could find one that will also include other airlines or points like Avios.

  3. Great list!
    I was not aware of Award Mapper. What a great time saver to find the best rate among the different brands of hotels!
    Airfarewatchdog is another good site.

    • Interesting. Why do you prefer it? I ran them both side by side for a while a couple of years ago and found that tripit was better at parsing some confirmations. Maybe they’ve caught up by now?

  4. Thanks Greg…Excellent info!

    Do you have a chart by chance or info on card churning?
    Which cards/companies you can churn to get their card/offer again – after a certain amt. of time?

    Misty

  5. Greg will you be at the Chicago Seminars in October?
    Do you have a schedule of where you will be hosting seminars?

    • Yes, I’ll be speaking at the Chicago Seminars. That’s the only one with availability that is currently on my schedule, but I’m sure there will be more soon. I should add a page to my blog showing upcoming events…

  6. Don’t you use Wikipedia for a list of all airlines that fly into a particular airport? It’s nearly always my first stop when shopping award tickets…

  7. Just stumbled across great comparison website showing all the frequent flyer programs and the awards needed to go the route you type in………www.milesz.biz a real time saver that should be added to the toolbox…….I also think a sub heading under “Acquire Points and Miles” should be “The Basics of Manufactured Spend”……..every discussion I have with a newbie comes back around to I can’t spend that much in 3 months and then the discussion must turn to manufactured spend……..I consider that as a building block and since you are the master at it you should get the credit for the insights into these tools…….

  8. Great list! Thanks for putting it together.

    Three sites I use in conjunction with ITA for flights:

    The twin sites theflightdeal.com and faredealalert.com plus milecalc.com. The first two are for good flight deals and the last is for cpm calculation and comparison (airline program changes 2015 notwithstanding).

    Thanks again.

  9. People also need a password manager for all these sites. I use LastPass but One Password is another good option.

  10. You might also mention mint.com for tracking when your payments are due for your current set of credit cards. You might not want to trust them with your bank account, but I figure its safe enough giving them access to your credit card info.

  11. Check out manspender.com. Lets you track all of your MS activity and accounts…a souped up excel spreadsheet.

  12. Manspender is an intriguing website…..but why is it better than building your own excel spreadsheet? Doesn’t seem to allow sharing of info? What am I missing?

    • Well, why build a spreadsheet when you don’t need to?

      I’ll caveat this by saying manspender.com is my site, and there’s more features to come. But a few benefits:

      1. It’s online and mobile friendly, so you can enter/view data wherever you are.
      2. The spreadsheet work is done for you, so no need to build your own.
      3. It does some relational stuff that is difficult in spreadsheets
      4. It’s free.

      Thanks

      • Just a question not a critique……….but I have started using it and the saved analysis part is great………it has great potential…….

  13. What version of kivalens are you using. For two months having trouble with siverlight working on PC. Have you had any problems?

Leave a Reply

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

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>