Earning frequent flyer miles is one of the easiest ways to get super cheap or almost free travel. Whether you’ve been racking up the miles from flying, credit card bonuses, or e-shopping or dining programs, there are many great resources for learning about the best deals and ways to earn tons of miles. But that’s only half the battle. After getting them you have to learn how get the most from them and there are some helpful resources out there to help you maximize your miles and book award flights. Here are nine of the best air miles booking tools:
The ITA Matrix is one of the best places to start looking for award tickets. You can’t book directly through the website, but with the information you gather from the ITA Matrix, you can book the itinerary you want through the airline’s award program. The ITA Matrix starts off like any other flight search engine website, but once you get the hang of it, you can create more sophisticated searches like specific number of connections, airlines you want to exclude in the search, the length of your connection, etc. Once you find the flight schedules you like, write down the flight numbers, the connection times and the name of the airlines. The next step would be to call the airline to make the award reservation using the information you found.
Some awards charts are distance-based, so knowing the number of miles you plan to fly is important. The Great Circle Mapper is an excellent tool to help you figure out the total miles that will be flown per segment. This way you can visualize which destinations you may need to modify or eliminate based on the cost of the awards.
Not all mileage programs are created equally, and to know how far airline miles can take you will you help you figure out which miles to focus on earning. The Award Chart Comparisons provide a great visual to compare how far miles from each major airline’s mileage program will take you, whether it’s for First Class or Economy. For example, for one airline it may cost 60,000 miles to fly to Europe from North America, whereas with another it may cost 80,000 miles. This way you can determine where you may want to fly, spending the least amount of miles.
It may or may not surprise you that Wikipedia made the list of top award-booking resources. Wikipedia serves as a tool that provides information on where airlines have their hubs, what airlines are within the routing network, and who they have codeshare agreements with. This all is useful for creating stopovers or connections through specific destinations and maximizing your award experience. To find the information, just look up the specific airline on the Wikipedia search bar and click the link on the “Destinations” section.
5. Award Mapper
Beyond the world of airline miles, there are hotel awards for free nightly stays. If you’ve been racking up points for stays at different properties, but don’t have the time or patience to look for award nights at every single possible property, Award Mapper will help you get it done all at once. Award Mapper uses Google Maps by locating the property and the amount of points you need for an award night. Miles and Points blog, DoverTime goes into detail on how to book a free night using Award Mapper.
The almost obvious solution to any question is to “Google it” and the same holds true for award booking. Create a Google search between two destinations you plan to depart from and arrive at, then after you get search results switch over to the “Flights” tab. You’ll receive a schedule at the cash value, but it’s a quick way to see what flights are available, flight numbers, days of the week the flight departs, and departure and arrival times.
Mile.Biz is useful for planning and comparing the amount of miles required for specific routes and airlines. This is a unique feature because other tools don’t specify the amount of miles that are required to book an award. The biggest drawback is that is does not take into account situations when you use miles to book awards on partner airlines.
8. KVS Tool
If you are airline code savvy and are willing to spend $35 to $75 for a yearly membership, the KVS Tool offers very sophisticated and detailed award information. The KVS Tools shows visa information, award availability and routing information for Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam.
The ANA Mileage Plan award booking site is a great resource for finding Star Alliance award availability, which isn’t always easy to locate for the 29 airlines. Typically, if you’re looking for Star Alliance availability, you would look for awards on United Airlines’ site, but United doesn’t always publish all of its availability. ANA’s site is free, but you do have to create an account to find results for partner airlines. You wouldn’t make your award reservation through the ANA website if you’re using United miles. You would use the website to collect flight information, then call United’s reservation line to finalize your itinerary.
Featured photo credit: Angelo Cueva via flickr.com