Saturday, July 22, 2017

Cool tool to search for award seats across all airlines

One of the toughest parts of the points game is actually finding the flights you want once you've gathered enough points. Most people end up with a mix of points across several carriers and maybe a pile or two of transferable points like American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards.

If you're just perusing possibilities, AwardHacker.com is great for showing you all of your potential options. You can filter the list so it doesn't show flights with programs you don't have points for. While this is great for brainstorming (and for choosing which new points programs to join), it doesn't show the availability of those rewards, so you'll need to use something different once you're ready to book.
Award Hacker (click to enlarge)

There are several options to look for reward seat availability. The "beginner" way is to search one airline's site and make sure it's set to also show partner flights (e.g., using United.com can show you results for United and nearly all of their Star Alliance partners). There are a few downsides to this, the biggest is that you have to search at least 3 websites (United/Star Alliance, Delta/SkyTeam, and American/Oneworld) for availability when you're trying to use transferable points. Another is that many airlines hide available award seats from their alliance partners when inventories get low.

But if you're looking for an award seat that's pretty easy to find, say, 1 person, 10 months from now, in low season on a busy route, that's likely all you need. But if you're looking for something a bit more challenging, you'll quickly want smarter tools. Earlier this year, a new startup called AwardEx.io launched that adds real-time seat availability to AwardHacker-style rewards searches. Yes, there are other options for this type of service (Expert Flyer, Award Nexus, FlightFox) but I've found they're almost too "pro" for most of my needs. AwardEx has a simple interface and a straightforward pricing structure

AwardEx.io pricing after you've used up your signup credits


It's a lot like searching on Kayak or Google flights. Put in your dates and cities (it automatically includes nearby airports) and other flight info and search.

Search (click to enlarge)

Results are conveniently grouped by transferable point programs first, then by individual airlines below. One feature I'd love to see here is some kind of a flag letting you know that one of these groups includes a direct flight.
Results (click to enlarge)

Once the results load, make sure you take advantage of that Sort button to find those cheap/nonstop flights.


Once you've found a flight you like, AwardEx gives you instructions for how to book.


I've spot-checked several examples and each time I've been able to actually locate the open seat it's recommended at the price point shown in AwardEx. Since seats can vanish without warning, it's helpful to know in advance which transferable points transfer instantly and which ones don't (cheat sheet here).



This seems like a great tool to have in my toolbox going forward. Since I only learned of it after planning our next big trip, I'll have to report back on how useful it is planning the trip after that.






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