It’s great you’ve accumulated enough reward points to go around the world several times. However, it can be difficult to use them.
Searching for award redemptions using airlines own tools can be overly time consuming.
There are free and low-cost tools online that can help you redeem your hard-earned points for the flights and accommodations you truly want.
At this time of year, when thoughts turn to summer travel plans, it’s natural to look at your credit card statements and wonder if all the fees you’re paying for the rewards it offers are worth it. Take travel. If you’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to redeem your credit card reward points on the dates you want and for the destinations you wish to visit, you’re not alone. It’s exactly what the banks and card companies count on to make more money. Airlines aren’t helping matters with their use of surge pricing and flexible pricing at certain times and dates. Most airlines are doing away with fixed mileage redemption tables, of say, 70,000 points to go from New York to London.
A client of ours wanted to treat her extended family to a trip to Italy to celebrate her father’s 80th birthday. She had racked up over one million Chase points from her work-related travel and those points would have covered most of the trip.
However, she found it way too time-consuming and confusing to redeem those points, so she just paid for the trip 100% out of pocket. At her stage of life, the extra time it would have taken to find award seating and to understand the myriad point types and transfer partners was not worth the hassle. That’s what banks and credit card companies count on.
As financial planners, we want to ensure that our clients take advantage of all the financial tools at their disposal without having to sacrifice their precious time or add more stress to their lives. Fortunately, there are some great low-cost tools and apps that can help you redeem your points for exactly the flights and hotels you want.
How Savvy Travelers Redeem Award Points
Travel planning is stressful enough, spending your hard-earned money and reward points shouldn’t be. Most of the tools below have a natural language search engine that allows you to state: “I want to go here on this day, and I have this many points. What are my options?” The search tool will tell you instantly: “Here's exactly what you need to do and here’s the best redemption rate.” It’s as easy as using Expedia or Kayak, but instead of searching for flights based on cash, it searches for flights based on points.
Here are three tools that I’ve found very helpful for travel:
Best for finding award space availability on flights for specific days. Covers 100 airlines.
Cost: $5 for 48-hour access.
Best for free alternative to finding award flights on certain days. Covers 17 airlines.
Best for finding hotel award space for Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriot.
Let’s take them one at a time:
I’ve found this to be the best online tool for airlines. It scours 100 major airlines worldwide and provides step-by-step instructions for navigating the redemption process. For example: If you want to go to Chicago to visit your family for Thanksgiving, Points.me will tell you: “The best redemption rates are with United. If you have Chase points, the next thing to do is to transfer to United, and here are the instructions to book with United.” Points.me can also be very helpful for finding the lesser-known airlines that still used fixed mileage redemption charts. For instance, when I told Points.me that I fly United often, it replied: “Here's a United-operated flight. The cheapest way to use points is to transfer your Capital One miles to Turkish Airlines (a Star Alliance member) and redeem it on the United Flight – instead of using United miles directly.” Points.me is a great time saver, but you’ll pay $5 for every 48-hour period that you use it. You can go back as many times as you want during the same 48-hour window if you get interrupted or just need to take a break. When you consider how much time and money this tool can save you, $5 is a pretty small price to pay – about the cost of a cup of coffee at the airport. But there are free options as well.
This tool is similar to Points.me. It’s a mostly free service although there may be plans to add fees for advanced features in the future. PointsYeah is arguably faster than Points.me and has some cool advanced features. The main downside is that it only covers 17 major airlines, not 100 like Points.me. On PointsYeah you can search for award flights using flexible dates, a great option if you don’t care exactly which date(s) you want to fly and would rather find the best deals within a certain date range. For instance, you can click on Multidate search and get results within a three-day range. You can also set alerts to be notified when an award booking becomes available for a certain number of points, PointsYeah claims you’ll know about the change before anyone else, but I haven’t been able to confirm that from personal experience. You can also be notified about transfer bonuses, say a 20% transfer bonus from CapitalOne when transferring points to Virgin Atlantic.
This is an online tool that’s very helpful for finding hotel reward space at Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott properties anywhere in the world. There’s a free demo tier. There’s a basic membership for $5 a month and there’s a premium membership for $13 a month. The extra fees give you more alerts about price changes and point changes. For instance, if you were traveling to Las Vegas in December and couldn’t find suitable rooms in your price range when you first looked, StayWithPoints keeps your travel request on file and tells you instantly if prices and availability have changed on the dates you want to travel.
Many of you are at the stage of life when you are now freed up to travel more. But it’s very hard to come up with a realistic travel budget when pricing is all over the board and subject to change at a moment’s notice. At Novi, we’ve been helping clients set realistic budgets for all types of financial goals and dreams. We have powerful software and expertise that can make the process more efficient.
Planning a big trip is supposed to be fun. I’ve been using the tools above for a while now. They’re proven to be safe, reliable, and fairly easy to use. It just takes a little practice and I’m happy to help. If you or someone close to you would like to do more with travel planning and budgeting, reach out any time. I’m happy to assist.
DEVIN STARR, CFP® is an Associate Wealth Advisor at Novi Wealth Partners