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9 Tools to Help You Use Your Airline Miles

9 Tools to Help You Use Your Airline Miles

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:

1. ITA Matrix Software

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.

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2. Great Circle Mapper

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.

3. Award Chart Comparison

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.

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4. Wikipedia

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.

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6. Google

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.

7. Mile.Biz

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.

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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.

9. ANA’s Mileage Plan

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

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Last Updated on March 4, 2019

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

Many people will suggest that the best thing to do with your credit cards during these tough economic times is to cut them up with a pair of scissors. Indeed, if you are already in huge debt, you probably should stop using them and begin a payback strategy immediately. However, if you are not currently in trouble with your credit cards, there are wise ways to use them.

I happen to really love my credit cards so I will share with you my approach to how I use mine without getting into deep financial trouble.

Ever since about 1983 when I got my first Visa card, I continue to charge as many of my purchases as possible on credit. Everything from gas, groceries and monthly payments for services like my cable and home security monitoring are charged on credit. Despite my heavy usage, I have maintained the joy of never paying any interest fees at all on any of my credit cards.

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Here are some tips on how best to use your credit cards without falling into the trap of paying those nasty double-digit interest fees.

Do Not Treat Credit Cards as Your Funding Sources

Too many people treat their credit cards as funding sources for major purchases. Do not do this if you want to stay out of trouble. I use my credit cards as convenient financial instruments so I do not have to carry around much cash. In fact, I hate carrying cash, especially coins. When you buy things on credit, the purchases are clean and you will not get annoying coins back as change.

I do not rely on my Visa, MasterCard or American Express to fund any of my purchases, large or small. This brings me to my golden rule when it comes to whether I will pull out any of my credit cards either at a retail or online store.

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I never purchase anything with my credit cards if I do not have the actual cash on hand in my bank account.

If I really cannot pay for the item or service with cash that I already have at the bank, then I simply will not make the purchase. Remember, my credit cards are not used as funding sources. They are just convenient alternatives to actual cash in my pocket.

Make Sure to Always Pay Off Balances in Full Each Month

The next very important part of my overall strategy is to make absolutely sure that I pay the balances in full each and every month no matter how large they are. This should never be a problem if the cash has been budgeted for my purchases and secured in the bank. I have always paid my full balances each month ever since my very first credit card and this is why I never pay interest charges.

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Using Credit Cards with Rewards

Most of my credit cards are of the “no annual fees” type, including one MasterCard on a separate account I keep at home as a spare in case I lose my wallet or incur any fraudulent charges. However, I do use a main Visa card which does have an annual fee because all purchases on that card reward me with airline frequent flyer points. For me, the annual fee is worth it since I do travel and I get enough points to redeem many free flights.

You have to decide for yourself if you will charge enough purchases on credit each year without paying interest charges to warrant a credit card that rewards you with airline points (or other rewards). In my case, the answer is “yes” but that might not be the case for you.

I occasionally use a MasterCard or American Express card on small purchases just to keep those accounts active. Also, I have been to the odd retailer that accepted only a certain type of credit card, so I find that having one from each major company is quite handy. Aside from my main Visa card which earns the airline points, the rest of my cards are of the “no annual fees” variety.

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So this is how I use my credit cards without getting into any financial trouble with them. This strategy is recommended only if you are not in debt, of course. In fact, it is worth keeping in mind once you’re out of debt so that you can keep your credit cards active and treat them responsibly.

What are your credit card usage strategies? Let me know in the comments — I’d love to hear what methods you use.

Featured photo credit: Artem Bali via unsplash.com

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