Bob has a problem. He never misses an opportunity to gain frequent flier miles or hotel points, which is good. But he’s got mileage balances in nine different programs and is worried that some will expire because he’s not on top of things.
Sure, as I advised in the Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune book, you should focus your efforts on two or three airlines tops and one main hotel program, but life is messy. Different destinations are served by different airlines, for a start. Or maybe your business flights have to be on the cheapest choice no matter what.
I talked last week about the Travel Hacking Cartel and how it promises to help you rack up enough miles for four free flights per year, or maybe a couple international ones. A free flight can make a huge difference for budget travelers. After all, while India, Indonesia, and Ecuador may be screaming bargains after arrival, you have to spend real money to fly there. Accumulate enough miles, however, and that part of your budget could disappear.
If you’re accumulating frequent flier miles and hotel points in multiple programs though, how do you keep track of all that without logging into a slew of individual sites regularly? Or maintaining a spreadsheet? Or both?
That’s where mileage tracking programs come in. The most basic will just keep tabs on your miles and tell you where you stand. Others will flag ones about to expire, alert you to bonus opportunities, and even tell you if you’re better off buying a ticket than cashing in mileage.
Paid Mileage Tracking Programs
I signed up for MileBlaster after seeing their presentation at the PhoCusWright travel tech conference and think it’s certainly worth the minimal price of $9 a year. (For the moment it’s on sale for $7.99 even!) It keeps most of your mileage balances in one place, in a nice handy mobile-friendly interface—see the screen shot at the top. There are a few holes in all these trackers, like Southwest’s program, but it’s got most of them. Once you spend the ten minutes setting it up with your numbers and log-ins, it automatically updates your totals. The cool part is, it alerts you when you have points/miles that are about to expire, as with the short window on USAir. Then you can go get a magazine subscription or buy something from the online mileage mall to reset the clock.
Mileblaster will also help you calculate the mileage for a trip, see if there are any bonus opportunities available, and tell you how close you are to elite status. It’s a handy program that is dead easy once you set it up. If your time spent tracking this stuff is worth more than $8, jump on it.
There’s a competing program with a twist on the way from FlyMuch, but it’s just in beta right now. It looked promising from what I saw though.
Free Mileage Tracking Programs
AwardWallet has been around for years and has one big advantage: no subscription fees. I haven’t used it personally though and there’s very little info on their site: you have to register to get past the very basic intro. There’s also a paid version to eliminate some of the restrictions, but no pricing info listed on their site for this.
If you’re willing to put up with lots of ads, USA Today’s MileTracker program also covers the basics, keeping track of your accounts in a web-based interface. Here’s how it works.
There are also tracking programs available through American Express and Fidelity if you do business with either of them.
Insider Info Sites
If you’re racking up a lot of miles and manage to hit elite status on one of the airlines, that’s when you start getting the real goodies, like upgrades to business class or first class. Hey, you didn’t think all those people sitting in the front of the plane actually paid three times as much as you, did you? No, most of them got upgraded.
I’ve been giving ExpertFlyer a whirl lately and though I’m not able to take advantage of a lot of the information, I can see it’s a gold mine for road warriors with elite status. It’ll give you the upgrade availability before you book the flight, so you know if you can move up a level. It’ll also show you how full a flight is, what the seat options are, and what the change penalties will be. I also found one key piece of info for an upcoming trip: a flight to South America on Copa is allowed one free stopover in Panama City. That info does not show up in the booking process on Copa Air’s site, so I’m picking up the phone and saying, “I want my free stopover!” The ExpertFlyer price is $5-$10 a month depending on the level you choose, or $99 for a year. You can try it for free on a five-day trial.
FirstClassFlyer is a source for getting into business class for the price of economy, scoring upgrades, and taking advantage of “mistake fares” that pop up regularly and then disappear quickly. They’re offering a free 14-day free trial, but after that you need to pony up. How much? I have no idea since their sneaky site doesn’t tell you until you register. JoeSentMe.com offers a lot of the same info, with more transparent pricing. Or you can just wade through the forums at FlyerTalk.com for free.
How do you keep track of all your mileage and points?