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When you’re planning your next trip, where do you start?  Do you already have everything ironed out for the next two years?  Or are you just jumping on any mistake fare that comes along?

Either way, check out these tools to get you there faster, cheaper, and easier!

AwardHacker

AwardHacker takes the guess work (and the slogging through pages and pages of Flyertalk information) out of award bookings.  The site aggregates award charts and average award prices that use them, and average points/flight cost of airlines that use a dynamic pricing model, and spits out the most “points-effective” option to get anywhere you want to.

The most important part here, is the number of points you’ll need to book.  In addition to that, AwardHacker will show you which points transfer to the program you need, and which airline you’ll fly on.

For this example, let’s run a flight from my home airport to Auckland, New Zealand.  I’ve got family there and have yet to visit, so I’ll be booking this trip in the next year or two.

http://www.awardhacker.com/#f=Boston&t=AKL&o=0&c=y&s=1&p=0

Anatomy of a points redemption!  I’ve circled the most important parts here – in green, you’ll see the mileage currency you’d need to book the flight.  Blue shows the actual airline you’d be flying on.  Since different award charts have different sweet spots, you’re not always flying with the airline you book through.  I’ve circled in red the transferrable points options.  You can top off your mileage balances with one of the highlighted options to book some of these awards.

I’ve got a few options.  The cheapest one is using Japan Airlines’ Mileage Bank on American Airlines flights.  I don’t have any JAL miles, but I could definitely transfer some SPG points over.  Next up, I’ve got the option to book with All Nippon Airways Mileage Club for 75,000 miles, and fly on either United or Air New Zealand.  This makes sense, as these are all Star Alliance Partners.  Again, I don’t have any ANA miles, but could easily transfer either SPG points or Membership Rewards to the program.  After the first two options, there are plenty at the 80,000 mile level.

But that’s a really long flight.  What if I want to splurge and go for first class?  Swap the “cabin” from economy to first, and AwardHacker will spit out your new options:

It looks like the JAL miles on AA metal still offers a good price, as well as JAL miles on Cathay Pacific metal in third place.  In second place though, Alaska pops up as a valuable program – 160,000 miles roundtrip, only a bit more than booking through Japan Airlines.  I’ve also got Star Alliance partners Lufthansa and Air Canada lined up, as well as booking and flying with American Airlines rounding out the cheapest 6 options.

FlightConnections

This is a great tool for figuring out how to get to your next destination.  The FlightConnections site allows users to input a departure and arrival airport, and search for all flights that connect the dots.  The search engine defaults to nonstop routes, and you can select up to 2 stops along your way.

I’ll often use FlightConnections in conjunction with AwardHacker.  Once I figure out which miles I need to save up for booking, I’ll look at the flight routes I’d be taking. When crosschecking, you always want to look at the airline you’re flying with (the actual metal tube you’ll be hurtling across the world in, circled in blue above), which isn’t always the same as the mileage currency you’ll be using (circled in green above).  For BOS-AKL in economy, I’ll want to look at American Airlines, United Airlines, and Air New Zealand.

http://www.flightconnections.com/

Let’s break down this FlightConnections page (you might want to click on it to expand the image).  In green, you’ve got your arrival and destination airports, punch those in, and the site will give you all the options.  FlightConnections will default you to the lowest number of stops available on that route, as noted in the red boxes.  Click the “Xst” buttons to choose the number of stops.  In orange, I’ve highlighted your route options, I’ve settled on LAX, because it gives us both an American Airlines option and a United Airlines/Air New Zealand option, which you’ll notice in blue in the bottom right of the screen.

Obviously there’s no direct flight Boston to Auckland (a whopping 9,000 miles if you could fly nonstop!), so FlightConnections has defaulted me to routes with at least one stop.  For Air New Zealand and United, I can stop in SFO, IAH, or LAX.  If I opt to spend JAL miles on an American Airlines flight, I will only be able to fly through LAX.  You’ll also notice that I could book the BOS-SFO route on a number of airlines.  In some scenarios, this makes sense.  When using  All Nippon Airways or Japan Airlines though, both award charts are region-based.  Since Boston and Los Angeles are in the same regions, I might as well get that connecting flight on one ticket.

Award Mapper

Once you know where you’re going, you’ll need a place to stay.  That’s where Award Mapper comes in handy – this site helps you find hotel options throughout the world from most of the major chains, and displays the categories and cost/night in points.  Usually, I’ll simply select whichever brands I have points with at the time, and scroll around the map to get an idea of what an average stay costs.

http://awardmapper.com/

One more!  Type your destination into the box outlined in pink.  In red, I’ve highlighted the bulk of the hotels, in Auckland proper, and farther south near the airport – makes sense.  Along the right side of the screen, outlined in green, you’ll see some details on the hotels with markers on your screen.  On the opposite side, in blue, you can select which brands to look for.  The selections are dynamic, so you can turn them on and off whenever you want to dial in on a specific brand.  In orange, I’ve highlighted Award Mapper’s point scale.  You can slide it to select the range of cost you want to spend, just remember, not all points are created equal!  30,000 SPG points will get you their top-of-the-line Category 7 offerings, while 30,000 IHG points will get you a middle tier Category 5 resort (IHG goes up to Category 11).

Typically, I only search the program that I have a lot of points in – at the moment that’s SPG (and therefore Marriott), Hilton, and IHG.  Since there’s not many options in Auckland, I decided to leave all the chains highlighted.  This shows a solid number of Best Western and Choice Hotels, neither of which I have points with at the moment.  If I’m not staying with family when I go to Auckland, I might be following Dan up on those Best Western cards!

I consistently check these three sites when trying to wrap my head around my next travel session.  Occasionally, I’ve noticed an out-of-date destination or route, but on balance, these are all accurate and useful tools.  I’ve all of them bookmarked, and if you ever need help booking a trip, you should check them out!

What’s in your travel hacking tool belt?


Points With a Crew has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Points With a Crew and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Other links on this page may also pay me a commission - as always, thanks for your support if you use them
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