In another post, we explored hotel search tools for travel hacking. In the present, we’ll briefly survey tools and techniques that increase and enhance your free search travel skill-set; including five travel hacking tools of note. Note well and enjoy.
1. AwardHacker for redeeming frequent flyer miles (a gem of travel hacking tools)
So, you’re growing a diversified portfolio of airline miles. Wonderful. But which miles represent the best Redemption Value for a given destination? And even more basic, which airline flies to your destination of interest? AwardHacker is a terrific exploratory travel hacking tool that can answer both questions. It’s also a great tool to identify which miles to accumulate for a particular destination.
Let’s aim high. Sky high. Raleigh-Durham (RDU) to Tahiti (PPT for Papeete, French Polynesia). Note for completeness’ sake: to get to the famed Tahitian isle of Bora Bora, we’d have to book an additional flight on Air Tahiti; not to be confused with Air Tahiti Nui. PPT is merely the international gateway to French Polynesia.
Not to worry–we could pay for those flights using a cash back or travel statement credit card. That said, let’s keep it simple silly. Below, we can see four airlines that serve our route, sorted in order of miles required from low to high.
AwardHacker shows us four airlines whose miles we could potentially use for a Round Trip ticket from RDU to PPT in Economy class, including off-season months. So, no guarantees here. But a great place to start. We can see Air France (AF) is the winner at 60K RT.
We also see above that Air France miles (actually, Flying Blue points) can be acquired by via four transferable point programs. In this example, MR (Membership Rewards), UR (Chase Ultimate Rewards), TYP (Citi ThankYou) and SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest). We also see that flights are Operated By both Air France (AF) and Delta (DL).
Click on the drop-down to the right and AwardHacker provides several options for continuing your search:
- Step 1 provides info on booking the award seat
- Step 2 spells out the point transfer partners and their ratios (1:1 or better is ideal)
- Step 3: honestly, I don’t see the difference between steps 3 and 1
- Step 4 shows available routes. Here, we only have the option of flying from RDU to PPT via LAX
When experimenting with the tool, be sure to click the plus symbol to the left of each step to see where it leads. This is all about getting your exploratory groove on; but it could lead to an actual booking.
2. Advanced mode: FlyerTalk and other discussion forums
FlyerTalk (FT) is arguably the premiere destination for discussing miles and points. While fools aren’t suffered lightly here, it’s worthwhile signing up and posting your most difficult questions. Or merely lurking. It’s also a place where some of the best credit card signup offers are posted and discussed. I’ve been a FlyerTalk member for years; participating on it and reading other points blogs regularly have provided me with a free PhD in Points–well, perhaps something approaching a Masters as I’m still learning. Part of the joy of writing this blog is Teaching to Learn.
While I’m not overly familiar with Reddit, there are two reddits of interest to travel hackers and travel hacking tools. Evidently they’re quite popular for those comfortable with the Reddit format:
- The Award Travel Reddit – for general Award travel topics
- The Churning Reddit – for earning multiple credit card signups
3. Face to Face interaction: travel Meetup groups
Meetup.com is a wonderful place to find hobbyists in your area. As luck, and effort, would have it, I discovered, and now participate in, a local meetup for points aficionados: Raleigh Miles and Points. If RDU is your home airport, join now as we may switch services from Meetup to we know not yet what.
There’s often no substitute for real-time, in-person interaction; and these particular folk are a fun bunch. While I only joined months ago, having been in the hobby for years, I learned about several travel hacking tools I discuss here; some of which I use daily–and it’s hard to imagine playing the miles and points game without them. So the value is real.
You don’t have to be an extrovert. Beginners are welcome and encouraged. And you don’t need any level of skill to join–at least not with our group. Head to Meetup.com and see if there’s a group for miles and points in your area. It will likely be educational, entertaining, and inebriating (if you meet at local breweries as we do). And if one doesn’t exist in your area, consider creating one. Flyertalk would be a good place to ask if there are any mile and points gatherings for your home airport.
4. Mile and Points Tracking Tools
I’m biased. And so I prefer my own miles and points tracking spreadsheet for staying on top of things: what points I have, when they expire, etc. Others really enjoy a service named AwardWallet. It has free and premium subscriptions. You provide them with all your loyalty program credentials and they track things such as:
- When miles or points are about to expire
- When you’ve earned new miles or points (good to know automagically if points have posted)
Since I don’t actively use AwardWallet, I don’t know what other things they offer. But absolutely check them out. What may differentiate my spreadsheet from their service is:
- AwardWallet likely doesn’t have access to all loyalty programs (it was spotty when I was a member)
- AwardWallet doesn’t track credit card applications (my spreadsheet does)
- While there’s no automated reaching out to the Internet or notifications, the spreadsheet is your own–you don’t have to provide your credentials to anyone
5. Come together, Right now. Over points: blog post aggregators
I love, love, love these services. In times past, I’d create folders of links to my favorite miles and points blogs using the Firefox web browser. Then I’d have Firefox open up each blog in a different tab and scroll through each blog’s latest posts to see what was of interest. And honestly, I thought I was pretty clever for using this technique.
However, It could take forever for both the blogs to load; and then a now-seeming eternity to scan each blog for posts of interest. All of that has changed. Now I go to a single site that aggregates post titles from all the top miles and points blogs and scan titles from that. The page loads quickly and exposes me to more blogs than I could search on my own. This would be MilesFeed. Did I mention they also list the top daily posts from FlyerTalk’s MilesBuzz forum, as well as the latest items on the churning Reddits? Handy.
While I use MilesFeed, another website provides a similar service: PointsBuzz. While they both track roughly the same top miles and points blogs, PointsBuzz has an interesting feature lacking in MilesFeed: when you hover over a blog post title, you get a pop-up excerpt from the beginning of that post. This could entice you to open up the post or determine it’s not worth your time. I really want to like this feature–but there seems to be something clunky in the way it’s implemented. Could be my web browser. Try both and use whichever you like best.
And there you have it. Not all who wander may be lost. But all who are lost may like to wander around these travel hacking tools.