My How You Can Do It page is a thorough introduction to getting champagne travel on a beer budget. It includes a bevy of advice on acquiring frequent flyer miles and hotel points.
If you’ve followed that advice and racked up the miles and points, it just may be time to book an award trip.
Here’s a simple, 5-step process I use, and you can too, to book an award trip.
1. Determine Hotel Award Options with Hotel Hustle
If you have points and/or free night awards in various hotel loyalty programs you may find yourself flipping back and forth through a bunch of hotel websites when deciding where to stay.
For a long time I used Award Mapper as an alternative to loading up every individual hotel brand website. It worked very well so I wrote about it in a post.
There’s another site though that offers even more, and critical, info all on one screen: Hotel Hustle.
It’s easy to use – simply enter the location and dates of interest and hit Search. The site will return all of the hotel options, color coded based on hotel brand. Results include the cash price and the points rate. On top of that, the site automatically calculates the value you get from using points for a specific reservation.
So I start with this site when I’m looking to book an award trip. Through the site I identify a few hotel options that are appealing and bookable with my hotel points. Next, I….
2. Use TripAdvisor To Whittle Down Hotel Choices
TripAdvisor is far from perfect. It’s sometimes effectively gamed by companies. Overall though it’s a great site to get a feel for hotels. If a hotel is ranked the best in a city, it may not truly be the best hotel ever but it’s probably not a dud either.
In addition to checking out TripAdvisor, I’ll do a general web search for reviews by other travelers.
After doing this type of research I’ll head over to the web site of the hotel I’ve settled on and make the award booking through the hotel site.
Then I will…
3. Use Google Flights for fast and flexible airfare searching
Though Google Flights is run by the most dominant force on the internet, it seems many travelers aren’t aware of it.
I’ve previously written a post highlighting the reasons to use it over alternatives such as Kayak so I’ll just hit on a couple major points here (check out my previous post for more details).
I use Google Flights because of its speed and flexibility. Results are returned so fast you may not even realize the screen has been updated!
In addition, the site works great even in situations where you’re not exactly sure where you want to go. It will show you myriad options and has enough filters to make your eyes water.
For a typical award booking you probably know where you want to go so simply plug in the departure and destination airports and dates of interest. Then when you get the results you’ll want to focus of course on nonstop options, or the shortest flights if only connecting flights are available.
Of course when you’re analyzing the results you want to view them through the prism of your frequent flyer mile balances. I’ll start by comparing the nonstop flight carriers with my miles balances but I’ll also keep in mind my balances in programs which allow transfers (e.g. Chase’s Ultimate Rewards, Amex’s Membership Rewards).
I confirm award seat availability on the airline websites and I’ll then…
4. Use Route Happy to settle any “ties”
If there is more than one flight selection that is bookable using the miles I have in my accounts I’ll go to Route Happy for the tiebreaker. This can happen quite often as airlines often will schedule flights for similar times.
Route Happy gives info on the comfort and convenience factors for flights. Each flight is ranked from 1 to 10 and details such as seat pitch, WiFi and entertainment setup are covered.
5. Visit Seat Guru to get the good seats
As I’m booking my award flight on an airline website I’ll simultaneously pull up Seat Guru. I cross-check the seat plan shown on Seat Guru against the seat plan being displayed by the airline to ensure they match. Then, using the info on Seat Guru about good and bad seats, I select my seat for my award flight.
So that’s the simple summary for booking an award trip!
Have questions or comments? Leave them below in the comments section and I’ll do my best to respond.