Travel is one of life’s greatest joys, and traveling for less money is twice as much. An even greater extravaganza is booking your award travel without lifting a finger Award booking services like to advertise.
Of course, as with all things in life, there is always a catch. Award booking services can offer a great deal of value, but only within the confines of the frequent flyer programs they deal with. At the end of the day, the airline always wins. To ensure that you are happy with the support provided, it is important to understand what Award Booking Services can and cannot do on your behalf.
Award booking services have three main goals:
- To save you time compared to finding award flights themselves.
- To save money, either in miles or flight taxes and fees.
- To present you with further options compared to what most consumers independently find.
In most cases, award booking services meet all three of these goals but cannot bypass airline rules. Here is what you should know before requesting their services.
Award booking services can find available inventory but cannot open additional seats
Perhaps the most important thing to know about award booking services is that their primary skills are to find hidden award slots. By studying the seat inventory on a day-to-day basis, they know which routes are most likely to have tickets available, when the inventory is frequently released, and how to put together multiple partner airlines based on availability trends.
Think of them as professional treasure hunters: their intimate knowledge of frequent flyer programs is like a map leading to buried treasure. You have the skills and resources to uncover it, but only if the airline buried something for them to find.
Award booking services can help you find the lowest prices but cannot negotiate discounts
Award booking services advertise that they can save you tens of thousands of airline miles by booking tickets on your behalf, which may sound too good to be true. They do this by comparing the prices of several frequent flyer programs that you may have access to through transferable credit card points. Often times, many airlines from the same alliance have access to exactly the same flights but will price them differently depending on the rules of their individual frequent flyer program.
By studying the award tables of lesser-known programs, award booking services know which “currency” of the frequent flyer program requires the fewest miles (or the fewest taxes). At the end of the day, you’ll land on the same flights but at a lower overall cost.
Award booking services can advise you on how to earn more miles, but cannot sell you miles of their own
It is against the terms and conditions of frequent flyer programs to sell airline miles, and award booking services carefully follow the rules so they can stay in business. If you only need a few miles for your reservation, you can’t count on them to catch up.
Instead, award booking services can advise you on how to get the remaining miles you need, for example by transferring credit card points, converting hotel points or, in some cases, by purchasing the remaining miles directly from the airline (which the airlines allow and encourage) .
Award booking services can tell you where to transfer credit card points but cannot move them back
Transferable credit card points, such as American Express Membership Rewards or Pursue ultimate rewards, are an incredibly flexible tool. They can give you access to ten or more airline programs and increase your chances of finding coveted award flights at a fair price. The downside, however, is that it sometimes takes hours or even a few days to convert your points into airline miles.
Most airlines do not allow you to hold award flights without paying, so there is a small risk that the flight you want may disappear in the time it takes you to review your options, arrange for a credit card transfer, and get the transfer complete waiting. In this case, your points will remain in the airline program that you transferred to in order to use them on another flight. You can’t move them back to the credit card even with the help of a professional.
Award booking services can add lap children to your reservation, but they cannot book them for free
Parents don’t always know that international travel with a baby on their lap isn’t nearly as easy as flying to grandparents in another state. On international itineraries, babies must be added to the reservation on your lap before showing up to check-in at the airport – and tickets can be shockingly expensive.
Even if an infant doesn’t have a seat of their own, airlines charge additional fees to allow them to fly. The prices are set by the frequent flyer program (and not the operating airline) and are often 10% of the cash price of a ticket. For a $ 5,000 business class flight, that means your toddler could cost $ 500. If cash is an issue, ask your award booking service to limit their search to programs that allow infant tickets paid in miles. However, this can limit your options.
Award booking services can book premium flights but not always help with upgrades
Often times, you can get the most bang for your buck by using airline miles to book business or first class tickets that cost thousands of dollars. However, some travelers want to expand their miles further by booking economy seats and using miles to upgrade.
Upgrade rules are cumbersome and require the purchase of economy tickets in certain price ranges in order to qualify at all. For this reason, some award booking services do not support upgrades at all. Others can help, but only if you haven’t booked a ticket yet so they can check that everything was purchased correctly.
Award booking services can help with schedule changes but cannot pull strings in a last minute emergency
Flight schedule changes and cancellations are common, especially if you’ve booked months in advance. If the changes affect your itinerary, your award booking service can help you find alternative flights and rebook your trip if necessary, although a fee may be charged.
In the case of last-minute flight changes or missed connections, things look different. Unlike traditional travel agencies, award booking services often have limited office hours and no caller at 3 a.m. while stuck in China. If weather or a mechanical delay is thwarting your travel plans, it’s best to sort things out the old-fashioned way: speak to agents at the airport or call the airline directly.
Award booking services can make recommendations but cannot read your mind
Award booking services go out of their way to find the best possible flights for you, but travel is subjective. Choosing the “best” means something different for every traveler: it might be the cheapest ticket, the fastest route, or the most luxurious aircraft. Rarely will you find all three in a single itinerary.
Often times, hoping not to waste your time, advisors only look for options they think will be of interest to you, which could mean that you are overlooking some routes or airlines. Communication is essential here.
What is most important to you Make sure you communicate your top priorities and where you are willing to compromise. That way, they know they need to look for more expensive options when they can speed up the trip or choose alternative dates to enhance your experience.
Award booking services have years of experience and in-depth knowledge of frequent flyer programs that can save you time and money compared to booking a flight yourself. However, they work under any airline program and are still restricted. Setting your expectations in advance can help you decide whether or not an award booking service is right for you.