June 30, 2014
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.
In the post, “The game we play,” I outlined the basics of the points and miles game:
- Acquire points & miles very cheaply
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
Tools to use:
- 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.
- Frequent Miler’s Quick Deals: Subscribe to my Quick Deals page for alerts regarding portals, gift cards, flights, hotels, and many other deals.
- 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.
- Relevant posts: “Top 6 shopping portal myths”, ”How to ensure your portal points.”
Credit card category bonuses
Tools to use:
- 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.)
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- TripIt: Keep track of all of your trip reservations in one place simply by emailing your confirmations to firstname.lastname@example.org. This is probably my number one most used travel tool after Google maps.
- 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.
- 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.
- Google Flights: The great thing about this flight search tool is it’s speed. Put in your parameters and results come back instantly.
- Kayak: Search for flights, hotels, and car rentals. Kayak will automatically look across many other sites to find the best options.
- 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).
- 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.
- The Flight Deal: As it’s name implies, this blog identifies and publishes terrific flight deals.
- 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.
- SeatGuru: Find the best seat on your flight.
- 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?