When you’re trying to juggle dozens of credit cards, deals, loyalty accounts, and award redemptions, organization is everything. Luckily, there are several tools that can save you a lot of time. In this post, I will walk through the tools and services I use to streamline my award travel earning and redemptions.
Organizing your Credit Cards, Bank Accounts, and Gift Cards
For credit cards, I use a password-protected spreadsheet that lists all my card numbers, expiration dates, and security codes. I include when I applied for the card when I was approved, the signup bonus amount and requirements, as well as when I plan to cancel the card. I use the same spreadsheet to keep track of:
- Any bank account bonuses that I am pursuing
- Visa and Mastercard gift cards
- Third-party gift cards that I am reselling
- Purchases made for buying groups
I save the spreadsheet in my OneDrive account so I can access it anywhere, but I have also used Dropbox and Google Sheets to do the same thing.
I use Credit Karma and Credit Sesame to track my credit score. I monitor my credit card, bank account, and investment transactions and balances using Personal Capital. While the service is primarily for investing and budgeting, the ability to see purchases across all cards on one screen saves a ton of time. It is also a particularly useful way to catch annual fees on older cards right after they post to your account.
Managing your Loyalty Accounts
Award Wallet will monitor all your loyalty accounts and travel reservations. It can notify you about changes in your point balances and status levels and even inform you about any approaching point and certificate expirations.
AwardWallet touts support for 696 loyalty programs, including all major airlines and hotels. You can also link store loyalty accounts such as Staples or voucher-based sites such as Groupon and Living Social.
A free account will get you most of AwardWallet’s core features. However, if you upgrade to AwardWallet Plus, you can get more detailed monitoring as we as unlimited and faster updating of your accounts. See a comparison of the features here. It costs $30 to upgrade, but if you use my code free-esofxt, you can get a year of Plus for free.
Searching for Flight Routings
Google Flights certainly does not require an explanation. It is probably one of the most popular resources out there to check and track the price of flights. One of Google Flights’ more useful features is the ability to search by region. For example, if you are planning a long weekend trip to Europe but did not know which city you wanted to fly into, you could type your origin airport and type Europe as the destination.
Flight Connections allows you to see all nonstop and multi-stop flights originating from a specific airport. This can be extremely useful when planning out routing for a complex or round-the-world itinerary. When booking an award ticket, it may be necessary to add a positioning flight from your home airport to another airport that services a nonstop flight to your final destination. Flight Connections can help you understand the best airports to route through. For example, the map below shows all nonstop routes to Bali (Denpasar), Indonesia.
Searching for Award Flights
Award Hacker is a free tool that lists the cheapest award redemptions by routing. It is a great starting point when determining which point currencies you should focus on earning for a specific trip.
Award.flightsi s a chrome extension that allows you to initiate award searches across multiple airlines with one click. While you need to provide your login credentials for each airline when setting up the extension, it can certainly save you time when searching multiple sites. Unfortunately, it does not offer any automated search functionality.
The AA Award Map is American Airlines’ tool for searching all available AAdvantage award space by region, including flights of their OneWorld partners that are bookable on AA.com. It has been around for many years but is a handy tool to use when you have a lot of AAdvantage miles to burn and want to scan availability across an entire region.
While AA has vastly improved the number of Oneworld partners bookable through AA.com over the past few years, there are still a few partners that will not show in your searches, including LATAM, S7, and China Southern.
Juicy Miles aims to be the most comprehensive, yet also easiest to use, award flight search engine out there. For $29.99 a month or $9.99 for five days, you can conduct unlimited searches across 27 loyalty programs. After entering in your origin, destination, and travel date, Juicy Miles will provide you with possible redemption options. Juicy Miles is best for finding the lowest-priced award redemption. It even considers any current transfer bonuses from Marriott, Citi, Amex, and Chase.
While the monthly $29.99 subscription price is a bit steep compared to other services described below, I could see where the $9.99 5-day pass could be a great deal when you are in the midst of trip planning.
Although it can easily be considered the Swiss Army Knife of award search tools, there are still some limitations. For example, Juicy Miles only shows Saver level availability for American Airlines and does not yet support Aisa Miles.
Juicy Miles may be best for running dozens of searches to find what destinations and dates have award availability. However, what if you have already determined your destination and travel dates, but there is no award availability?
Monitoring Award Space for a single destination or trip
Many airlines will release award space when their booking calendar opens (usually 330 – 360 days out) and then may release additional seats closer to the departure date. For example, Cathay Pacific has historically released some Business- and First-class award space to its partners in the days leading up to departure. The award travel tools below provide the ability to search and monitor award availability for specific flights or routings.
Award Nexus provides search functionality across all three major alliances. While you could certainly run all these searches yourself, the value comes from the amount of time saved.
Unlike Juicy Miles’s subscription model, with Award Nexus, you pay for a certain number of credits that roughly correspond to the number of searches you want to perform. One credit entitles you to search one airline site for an award flight between two airports, on one date, and in one class. There are a few different packages, including 500 points for $59, 1,400 points for $129, or 2,800 points for $140. The two higher plans come out to 9 cents per credit, which can certainly add up when you are monitoring multiple routes and dates. These premium plans also provide access to an automated search with results delivered through email.
One of Award Nexus’ more economical packages is an unlimited-search trip pass for $45. This pass entitles you to run an unlimited number of searches for up to a year to 3 destinations that complete within 45 days. The package also includes one daily automated search that can use up to ten credits.
If you have a Flyertalk account, you can sign up for a free community membership, which will provide you with 100 credits per quarter.
Expert Flyer is another great award travel tool for monitoring award availability. The $9.99 monthly subscription option allows you to set up to 100 alerts for specific flights. They offer a free trial of their premium service when you sign up. Unfortunately, several airlines are missing from the service, including Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Qatar Airways. Luckily, these are all available through Award Nexus and are also easily searchable on AA.com. See a list of Expert Flyer’s supported airlines here.
Expert Flyer does not disclose how often they check award availability; instead, they say they have a “proprietary algorithm that varies the polling frequency based on several factors, including how far away the departure date/time is.” Their company representative wrote on Flyertalk that their algorithm “checks at minimum several times a day.” If true, that would mean Expert Flyer should alert you to new availability faster than Award Nexus.
Expert Flyer also offers a flight availability search, which can show you how many seats in each fare class are left. Just like the Award & Upgrade search, you can set up an alert for when the number of remaining seats is above or below a specified amount. This function can come in handy when a flight is listed as sold out and you’re attempting to redeem a flexible-level award. For example, American’s AAnytime awards are available whenever there is at least one seat open.
While they can be priced significantly higher than an AA Saver Award, AAnytime awards might still represent a great value compared to the price of a cash ticket. Earlier this year, I redeemed a 30,000 AAnytime award for a flight from MIA to JFK two days before departure. The cash price of that flight was consistently above $450.
Other useful tools
Cash Back Monitor: Shows the best portal rates available for each store. While Rakuten frequently offers the highest value, especially when you are earning Membership Reward points, that’s not always the case.
WhereTo Credit shows you the best places to credit your miles from paid flights based on your fare class.
Time Shifter is an app to combat jet lag. After entering your travel details, the app provides a step-by-step plan on when to sleep, drink coffee, and get exposure to bright light.
Did I miss any award travel tools? Comment below or send me an email.