I’m no stranger to airline award travel. I’ve been gathering miles and (occasionally) redeeming them for nearly-free travel since the 80’s. My AAdvantage account with American Airlines was opened in 1984, the year frequent flyer programs were introduced.
Award booking used to be easy
Until now, things have been simple. I flew a lot, accumulated a lot of mileage, and redeemed the miles directly with the airline I’d been flying with. In most cases, it was Delta. My top award travel redemption was in 1998, when I booked four free Delta business class seats to Germany for a family vacation.
Today, though, everything has changed. Airline codeshare alliances and the proliferation of credit card programs (with points that are convertible to airline miles) have made accumulation and redemption of points and miles a very complicated, albeit lucrative, opportunity. Large signup bonuses now make it possible to earn free award travel just by getting a new credit card. (Plus paying a sometimes-hefty annual fee, and sometimes meeting minimum spend requirements in the first few months.)
For the past couple of years, I’ve been accumulating points by spending on both American Express and Chase VISA credit cards. Each program enables transfer of points to miles with more than a dozen partner airlines. These airlines, in turn, can issue award travel on their own flights, or on their codeshare partner’s flights. As an example, I can redeem my Delta SkyMiles points (it’s silly to call them “miles” anymore*) for flights on Delta, or I can redeem them for flights operated by any of the other 18 SkyTeam member airlines.
If you’re starting to get confused reading this, consider my apprehension when I started planning a trip to Italy for later this year. I had a few thousand miles in both United and Delta plans, and a sizeable bucket of points in each of my AmEx and Chase accounts. While it might have been possible to transfer all my points to one airline (there is some overlap between AmEx and Chase partners) it soon became apparent that this would be a very limiting strategy in terms of flight options.
A helping hand for your award booking
Fortunately, I found Robert, who has created AwardCat, a service dedicated to helping people like me make the most efficient use of their points and miles to book award travel with any airline. Simply put, you tell Robert (or one of his associates – it’s still a small firm) your points and miles balances and when and where you want to travel. Robert then researches frequent flyer programs and alliances to find a booking strategy to make it happen. If you want, AwardCat will do the bookings for you.
The obvious question is, “Can’t I do that myself?” Of course, you can, but for complex searches and bookings, you may find yourself outside your comfort zone. For the trip I just booked, I was clearly over my head. The final trip was booked using American Express points transferred to Aeroplan and Chase points transferred to United, and then booking the outbound and return legs individually through those programs. You’re paying AwardCat for their experience and knowledge plus access to their research tools.
I think of the service as akin to tax preparation. The easy stuff you can do yourself online. When it gets complicated, though, you call an accountant for peace of mind and to avoid pulling out your hair.
I’m glad I found AwardCat. Thanks, Robert.