The Tools We Use (for playing the points and miles game). 2020 Edition.

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tools for miles and points

The post “The Games We Play,” outlines some of the top tools for earning more points & miles, for getting more out of our points & miles, for saving money, and getting elite perks for less.  This post lists the tools we use to help us achieve these goals.

Table of Contents: Tools for miles and points

General tools for playing the miles and points game

Tools for earning more points & miles

The heart of this game lies in earning points & miles, usually without traveling.  Here are some of the top tools for miles & points.

Credit card bonuses

Credit card signup bonuses are the quickest and easiest way to earn crazy amounts of points & miles quickly.  We use these tools to make the most of it:

Shopping portals

If you’re planning to buy something online you might as well earn extra miles, points or cash back by starting your shopping with an online shopping portal. Use these tools to maximize your rewards:

Credit card bonus categories

Many credit cards offer extra points for spend within certain categories.

  • 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.)
  • Award Wallet Merchant Category Lookup Tool.  In addition to keeping track of your point balances, Award Wallet provides an easy way to lookup merchants to see how those merchants have been coded so that you can determine whether or not you’ll earn a category bonus.
  • 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.
  • Doctor of Credit’s Payment Workshop: Doctor of Credit maintains a table indicating whether or not various purchases earned category bonuses with various cards.  The data mostly comes from reader reports.

Manufactured spending

It’s possible to increase credit card spend and to get most of that money back to use to pay your credit card bill.

Award bookings

Once you’ve earned points and miles, the next step of the game is to use those points towards maximum value. Here are some tools for getting more out of your points and miles, or you can find our series of sweet spot award posts here.

Transfer points to airline & hotel programs:

Hotel awards:

  • 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.
  • Open Hotel Alert: If you can’t find award nights for the dates and hotel of interest, use this free tool to alert you when rooms become available for sale.  With most hotel chains, you can book award nights whenever standard rooms are available for sale.

Flight awards:

The best general purpose award search tool, in my opinion, is Juicy Miles.  See: Juicy Miles: Finally, a Kayak-like tool for flight awards!

More tools:

  • Which routes exist?  To find the best awards, it’s necessary to know your options:
    • FlightConnections.com: Graphically displays all direct routes from any given departure airport.
    • FlightsFrom.com: Shows all flight routes that depart any selected airport.
    • 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.
  • How much should an award cost?  A number of tools exist to try to answer this question.  Try these:
  • Free tools to help find awards:
    • award.flights Award Finder: This one works as a Chrome browser extension.  At the time of this writing the tool can be used to find awards on the following airlines: ANA, British Airways, Etihad, Singapore, JAL, Air Canada, Qantas, and KLM
    • SeatSpy.com: This is a fantastic free tool for finding awards on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic operated flights.  See this post for full details.
    • AA Award Map Tool.  Find available awards based on how much you’re willing to spend.  See this post for details.
    • United.com: This one is pretty good for finding awards across most Star Alliance carriers
    • BA.com: Good for finding awards across most OneWorld Alliance carriers.  AA.com is better but doesn’t provide support for as many OneWorld airlines.
    • Air France website: Good for finding awards across most SkyTeam Alliance carriers (note that the calendar tool doesn’t currently work for carriers other than Air France and KLM so you have to search for specific days).
  • Paid tools to help find awards:
    • Juicy Miles Award Search Tool: This is a general purpose tool which lets you search for awards based on your origin and destination and date of travel.  Juicy Miles then searches for awards across many different programs.  Read our post about this tool here.
    • Expert Flyer: Expert Flyer is best if you already know which airline you want to fly.  Pick and airline, route, and date and Expert Flyer can tell you whether awards are available.  You can even set alerts so that you’ll be notified when awards show up.  Expert Flyer doesn’t help you decide which miles to use to book the award once found.
    • Award Nexus
    • KVS
    • Wandering Aramean Travel Tools: This is a collection of miscellaneous travel tools including a few that help with award searches.
  • 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.

Deal seeking

Often, this hobby is purely about seeking the best deal. Usually these deals are travel deals, but not always. Here are some tools for finding good deals, (with and without points and miles).

Flight deals

Hotel deals

  • Current Hotel Promotions: We keep a running list of all of the best hotel promos here.
  • Extreme Hotel Deals: True to its name, this site publishes extreme hotel deals.
  • HotelSlash: Email your hotel confirmation to HotelSlash and they’ll alert you if/when the price goes down.
  • Google Maps: This is a great tool, in general, for turn by turn directions, but it’s also pretty good for finding the cheapest hotel rates. Enter a location, click “nearby”, then select “hotels”.
  • Kayak: This is a general tool for searching for the best airfare, car rentals, hotels, and more. I especially like how it compares hotel prices across many different sites.  When searching for hotels, make sure to log into Kayak to see member-only pricing.
  • Greyhound Road Rewards: Sign up for Greyhound’s free rewards program to get access to their member-only hotel deals. See: Look to Greyhound for hotel deals (yes, Greyhound).
  • Pruvo: Use this tool to get alerted to price drops after you book a hotel. See this Travel with Grant post for details.

Other travel deals

Non-travel deals

  • SlickDeals Hot Deals Forum:  If a good deal exists, it can probably be found here.  If you register for an account, you can setup alerts for specific stores or products.  Or, if you prefer to see all the best deals as they’re happening, try Live View (see this post for details).
  • Current Amex Offers: Many banks offer deals for using their credit card with specific merchants. Amex, though, tends to have far more offers than its rivals and at times these offers are crazily generous.  Use our Current Amex Offers page to see which offers are current before logging into each of your Amex cards to see if you’ve been targeted for any of those deals.

Elite perks

  • Best Credit Card Offers: Many credit cards offer elite status directly or elite benefits (such as lounge access).  This page shows the top perks for each listed credit card.  Look for the “noteworthy perks” section for each card.
  • Best Big Spend Bonuses: Many credit cards offer elite status with high spend. This page lists the best options for earning status with big spend.
  • Lounge Buddy: Lounge Buddy is an app that details lounge options at airports. You can set up Lounge Buddy with information about the credit cards you have that offer lounge access and any elite status you may have with airlines.  Lounge Buddy will automatically use this information to tell you which lounges you should have free access to.
  • StatusMatcher.com:  One of the best ways to get elite status is by asking for a match from another program.  StatusMatcher is a useful site for finding out what status matches work and don’t work before trying yourself.

What should beginners do?

I imagine that this post must be overwhelming to those just starting out in this hobby.  If that’s you, I recommend starting with these free tools for points and miles enthusiasts:

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