If you've been earning miles long enough you're well aware that it's far easier to earn miles, than to burn miles.
In a perfect world there would be a single tool available that enables you to search for award availability across all programs.
Unfortunately, when it comes to booking award flights with your airline miles there is no one system that’s going to be able to do all the work for you.
Award Booking Resources & Tools
When booking airline awards there are some very useful tools our there that can not only save you time, but also a lot of headache. I hate hearing stories of people booking standard priced award tickets for twice the amount of miles just because they got frustrated with the search process.
I've compiled a list of some of my favorite award booking tools to help you book award flights easier. They each have their pros and cons, so I suggest that you try them out and choose which ones work the best for you.
Milez.biz - Award Chart Aggregator
Milez.biz is more useful for the miles earning stage of planning an award or choosing which miles to use for a certain destination. You can easily look up and compare how many miles it costs across all major airlines. To do this you just have to search a routing and it will pull up award prices for ALL airlines. If you want to compare the miles needed across just a few airline you can select the airlines you want to search using the drop down menu. To search all airlines don’t select any and it will search all airlines.
This is a great tool to decide which airline has the route for the lowest miles. You can also use it to plan ahead for an upcoming trip to determine which miles would be best to earn for a future flight.
ITA Matrix Airfare Search
ITA Matrix Software is one of the best places to start any trip search. On the surface it’s similar to any other airfare search engine, like Kayak or Travelocity. Input your travel dates and destination information and you get back a list of airfares correlated to a list of airlines.
Except it’s not just that. The features that the ITA Matrix Software has is unique compared to other programs that only offer broad results and don’t provide you with certain options that could help you personalize your trip itinerary. Plus it’s free unlike other programs such as KVS Tool and ExpertFlyer.
Part One: How to Use the ITA Matrix Software
Part Two: Mastering the ITA Matrix Advanced Options
For two reasons Google Flights is also a “go-to” search tool when looking for flight information and routing for a trip. Number one, it’s easy, and number two it’s quick.
One of my favorite ways to look up flight information when researching the routing for a trip is by searching Google. It’s quick and dirty, and returns spot on results for even the most obscure airports. If you know the airport codes, a simple search will pull up flight numbers, days of the week the flight departs, departure and arrival times, as well as the price.
Even if you don’t know the airport code you can often times even just search the city (“LAX to Rome”) and the flight information will pull up as a result.
Read more: How To Use Google to Look Up Flight Info to Book Awards
Wikipedia comes in a close second behind the ITA Matrix as a resource to find routing information, and often times can be a quick tool to use before using ITA Matrix. Every Wikipedia page for an airport contains a section called “Airlines and Destinations.”
For instance, by searching “Rome airport wiki” I can easily find the airlines and destinations that fly into Rome. Even better is that if you are using miles that are of a major alliance, you can quickly scan to see which airlines in the alliance fly into the city.
If you don’t know what airlines are in the alliance you can click on the airline name on the wiki page and it will tell you what alliance it’s in. After you compile a list of all the airlines flying into your destination you can move onto kayak.com or another flight searching tool.
Great Circle (GC) Mapper
GC Mapper is a handy tool to find out how many actual miles are traveled on a specific routing. This is particularly useful when you are pricing out AA Explorer awards or British Airways wards or any other awards that are priced by distance flown.
AwardHacker is a free product with an aim to help the average award flyer find the best award flights without being an expert in ever airline program. It's purpose is simple, to find award pricing across all major airline programs. You can simply input a departure and destination city and you'll get back the cost in miles across all major frequent flyer programs.
Some cool aspects of the tool include that it supports distance based award charts, allows you to filter based on airlines and cabins, and gives route information. Plus, you also get the bonus of possible transfer options from bank rewards programs.
One of the major drawbacks include that the tool does not show fuel surcharge info, so although you're given a comparison in mileage price you don't know how high fuel surcharges may be.
Airline Transfer Partner Guide
Created here at Well Traveled Mile, I made this Airline Transfer Partner Guide to quickly look up which flexible bank-points can be transferred to particular airline programs. You can see
The chart includes Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, SPG Starpoints, and Citi Thank You points. To find out where you can transfer points to, simply follow a line from the bank program to the airline programs in which transferred are supported.
The airline programs are also grouped into airline alliances so you'll know what airlines you'll be able to fly on when you transfer points to a particular program.
You can find more of my award booking tools here:
Master List of Stopover and Open-jaw Rules
Master List of Airline Award Fees
Understanding Award Ticket Stopover & Open-jaws
The KVS Tool is not free, but can offer some useful ways to search for award space if you are familiar with airline terminology and coding.
Basically, it’s not exactly user friendly. Through the KVS tool, you can find visa information, award availability and creative routing for Star Alliance, oneworld and Sky Team depending on the membership level you purchase.
Membership levels range from $35 per year $60 and $75.
Award Nexus is a paid site with membership ranges from a Premium Basic package for $59 to Premium Expert for $249, but it’s free to those with a FlyerTalk or MilePoint handle.
Although its not absolutely perfect it can definitely help with searching on a lot of different engines and allows you to search with a range of routing options. This can save you some time, but it won't do all the work for you and you’ll most likely have to use another tool to fill in the gaps.
ANA’s Mileage Plan - Star Alliance Award Availability
Using ANA’s Mileage Plan website you can search for award availability on Star Alliance partners. This is one of the few online resources that allows you to find free information about award availability on Star Alliance partner airlines.
However, to get access to ANA’s search tools you need to have some miles with their program. If I remember correctly it’s only 100 miles, so you could ust credit a short leftover segment on one of your itineraries. There is also a trick to bypass ANA’s restriction and get access with no miles in your account.
Note that although ANA’s website is free, it is fairly difficult to use. I’ll follow up with a post including how to use it with lots of screenshots in the weeks to come.
Read more: Step-by-Step Guide to Using the ANA Search Tool to Find Star Alliance Availability
Award Mapper - Hotel Award Aggregator
If you plan on using redeeming hotel points on a trip Award Mapper is great tool to look up what hotels are at a destination and how much it costs per night. You can easily navigate the map to the city you’re traveling too and zoom in to find the hotels locations and award price per night.
It's always essential to double check the price on the hotel programs website, but from my experience all of the information seems to be accurate and up-to-date. It’s definitely worth a look and can help you narrow down your hotels options if you have hotel points across multiple brands.
Visa Mapper - Visa Requirement Aggregator
I stumbled across this nifty little tool and found it to be useful when you need to quickly look up visa requirements. You can search for all visa’s needed for a certain citizenship and quickly find which countries require any visas for entry. On top of that you can choose to search by countries that don’t require a visa, visa available upon arrival, visa through online, visa required prior to arrival, and restricted travel countries.
The one qualm I have about the site is that to get full use it requires you to register with either you Google or Facebook account.
The Bottom Line
Between these tools and a little experience you’ll be quickly booking awards like a pro.
After using several of them you will find the one that fits your needs better than the rest and it will become your “go to” tool when making a new award booking.
What's are your favorite award booking tools? Share in the comments below!