The Tools We Use (for playing the game)

The post “The Games We Play,” outlines approaches we use to earn more points & miles, to get more from our points & miles, to save money, and to get elite perks for less.  This post lists the tools we use to help us achieve these goals.

Table of Contents

General tools for playing the game

Earn more points & miles

The heart of this game lies in earning points & miles, usually without traveling.  Recommended tools follow..

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 anyway, 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:

  • CashBackMonitor: Once you know where you want to shop online, use this tool to find the portal that currently offers the best rewards for shopping with that merchant.
  • 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 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.)
  • 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.

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.  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:

  • 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.  This is an important first step for finding out which routes are at least possible for booking awards.
  • 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
    • 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:
  • 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.

Flight deals

  • Google Flights: The great thing about this flight search tool is it’s speed.  Put in your parameters and results come back instantly.  For an example of how powerful this is, see: How to find great business class fares with Google Flights.
  • Flight deal websites: Sites like Thrifty Traveler, The Flight Deal and Secret Flying specialize in publishing the very best deals when they appear.
  • Flyertalk: Mileage Run Deals Forum.
  • Hipmunk: Use Hipmunk to search for flights, hotels, and car rentals.  Hipmunk includes helpful visuals and “agony” ratings (e.g. multiple stops on a flight increases agony).
  • Momondo and Skyscanner: These are additional flight search aggregators.  They include more online travel agencies than competitors like Kayak and can therefore lead to better deals at times.
  • ITA Matrix: This is an incredibly flexible flight search engine.  Limit searches to particular airlines or alliances; specify specific stopovers, and much much more.
  • Skiplagged: Find cheaper flights by intentionally skipping the final leg of your itinerary.  For details about this technique (including important cautions), please see my post: Skiplagging for the best flights at the best price.

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.
  • 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:

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 »

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CaveDweller
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CaveDweller

Can u put a link on the website so this post is easy to find ? I will save it too but this post makes it easy to send to someone interested but I think 99% won’t act on this.
Thanks

Mommatraveler
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Mommatraveler

Nice summary, Greg. Thanks!

Alex
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Alex

Unless I missed it, there’s no mention of DoC. That blog is a must for anyone in the game. It’s one of the few places readers can get an unbiased opinion on an offer/deal/site and the breadth of information and data points is astounding.

5150d
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5150d

+1

Miles Ahead
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Miles Ahead

Looking at this post reminds me how much I have used and learned from this blog. I want to say thanks to you and Nick for all that you do.

frugalman
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frugalman

Wow, wonderful information! This post may be easily overlooked and underappreciated. But I know a few of them and I can tell that, with these tools, you can create tremendous value. Will visit each of the website today and enrich my own “tool set” :). Thanks, Greg. You are awesome.

CaveDweller
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CaveDweller

frugalman
Blogs are unreal if it doesn’t work IT costs u Nutthing ..CHEERs

Acker
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Acker

Greg, This post is a direct gift from above. Thanks.

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