6 Tips For Using An Award Booking Service

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[An anonymous Million Mile Secret reader tried out many of the major award booking services in yesterday's post and shares ways to make the most of an award booking service.]

It seems to me in the world of travel there are three phases: the planning process, the getting there process, and the being there process.  For me, the planning process can sometimes be the most daunting.  It’s fun and exciting to acquire all the miles and points and pick my dream destinations.

And then comes booking the award tickets.  Exciting, though often oh-so-frustrating.  If you’re like me, there are times when you’ve considered using an award booking service.  You want help booking the tickets, planning a great itinerary, and choosing the best aircrafts and class of service.  In other words, you want a great value for the miles you’ve accumulated.  Who wouldn’t?

After personally using various award booking services, here’s my list of 6 must-know tips.  I’ve had very varied experiences using these services and I want you to benefit from what I’ve learned.  I want you to get the best possible value and have the smoothest experience when you hire award booking services.

6 Tips For Using Award Booking Services

1.  Your Preferences.  It clearly helps to have specific destinations in mind as well as approximate dates.  However, I’d suggest having a back-up plan both for destination and dates.  Knowing what’s most important helps, too.  For instance, are non-stop flights more important than class of service?

Would you fly business class even if you’ve got the miles for first class if the route is non-stop and on the exact dates you want?  Knowing your preferences helps the award services guide you.

2.   Do some research on your own.  Once you ask the booking services for help they’ll present you with lots of choices.  Let’s say you’re starting from San Francisco and going to Europe using United miles.  You’ll often go through London.

Your research will show you that you have two non-stop choices, one in the morning and one at night.  You’ll see that you can also go through many other US cities before heading overseas.  If you’ve looked at some of this information ahead of time, you’ll be better able to evaluate their recommendations.

And while you’re doing some basic research, learn how to see whether award seats are even available for the dates and flights you have in mind.  That will also help you narrow down your itinerary options.

3.   Ask questions.  The first question I would ask before even giving the award booking service the go ahead to get started is, “When will you get to my itinerary?”  They don’t like to answer this question because they don’t want to lose our business. But I think it’s a fair question.

I’d like to know what to expect right up front.  Often we assume they’ll get to our booking right away.  I’ve made the mistake of making this assumption and it was weeks before my booking got started.

After all, there are only so many award bookings they can handle in a day and even if you think yours is an easy and uncomplicated one, it will still take them more time than you think.  This leads me to my next point.

4.   Who’s in charge?   As far as I can tell, most of the award booking owners are NOT doing this as their full-time job.  They all have other primary jobs and as I’m sure you’ve noticed, they all travel a lot too!  So, many have hired or brought on board other people to do award bookings.

I found this to be frustrating as I didn’t quite understand at times who to communicate with.  And a few times the “owners” had to step in and take charge of the booking.  I even had one booking helper email me and tell me his boss was too busy and that’s why I hadn’t heard back and then he asked me if he could help me even though he didn’t know anything about how to book with the airline I wanted to use.

Whoa, not exactly the quality of service I was expecting!

5.  Ask more questions.  Will their fee include booking seats for you along with your tickets?  Some will and some won’t.  Will they set alerts for you if you don’t quite get the itinerary you want to see when a better itinerary opens? Again, some will and some won’t.

And speaking of fees, here’s my thinking on that.  The fees for award bookings are all the same, more or less.  While some services have started out free or below the fees of others, they seem to raise their fees over time anyway.  For me, a few dollars isn’t going to make a difference.

It’s the customer service that matters most.  So judge your satisfaction based on whether or not you feel the customer service was worth it.

And also as a part of being a good consumer, try as many of the booking services as you can.  You’ll likely find that they all vary in customer service and personality and you’ll hopefully find the right match for you.

6.  Double Check.  Make sure to verify the information you get from the services.  By this I mean, it’s impossible for them to have flown all the routes, all the planes, and to all the places we book awards to.

Learn how to use seatguru.com to verify which seats are on which planes and learn which alliances and miles are best used to different parts of the world.  All of this knowledge will help you make the right choices for yourself.

Bottom Line

If you’ve used booking services and had satisfying experiences across the board, that’s great.  I haven’t.  They’ve been very mixed.  Even using the same service more than once, my experiences have not been at all the same.

I’ve come to realize that educating me is not a part of the award booking service’s job.  Of course, the more educated and savvy I get with booking award tickets, the less likely I’ll be to use their services.  So it’s a balancing act.

I hope these tips will be of use to you.  Continue to learn something new each time you book an award ticket using one of these services.  I have, and it’s making me a better consumer.  And it’s making the whole planning process much less daunting.

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29 Responses to 6 Tips For Using An Award Booking Service

  1. Excellent post!

  2. Trying to Learn

    I tried one last spring and it soured me. Communication seemed to be lacking as well as helpful suggestions or advice. This was to be my big first trip and I tried to do research but since I hadn’t had experience in knowing about layovers, stopovers, connections, etc…the booking service didn’t seem to think they should help me out.

  3. as stated before, doing the research and booking yourself is half the fun.

  4. Good stuff. Comes down to customer service. To the writer: If you are willing to name names with your actual experiences with the different award booking services I am all ears. I will post names, I am not tied to anyone…What are they going to do, pull my affiliate links?…Ok, that last part was a joke, please laugh, lol.

  5. @TravelBloggerBuzz I agree with you, I would like to know names. I have yet to use a service and there are so many out there that I’m not sure which one to go with. I fully understand that even a highly recommended one could result in a bad experience for me but I’d prefer to take my chances on one with good reviews than not. Please share names D! If that’s the next post in this series then forget I said anything :)

  6. On a completely unrelated note. Did BOA stop their hawaiian visa signature card? Dont see it any longer on their website? That would be a bummer..

  7. Bert-any contact info?
    email me, I always need help booking!
    tabascov@yahoo.com

  8. @Bart I. Lapers – I could also use help!: xxandersonrichxx@verizonxx.net(need to remove the x’s) Thanks —-

  9. I was pleased with the service I received from Scott at milevalue.com. He was very patient and attentive when my plans changed mid-stream. I did have a small glitch with a phone reservation fee from United, but Scott stuck with me through the arduous task of getting the credit to my credit card, even helping me with the most effective way to communicate with them to get a good resolution. In the final analysis, I got good flights, did not have to pay for the phone reservation AND was given 2,000 miles from United for my trouble. Oh, AND Scott helped me add on a free domestic one-way.

    I learned so much from him that next time, I might just be able to do it myself!

  10. The problem now is a lot of the guys that know their stuff have hired 1-2 people to help them with their business and quality of service has started to suck.

    I want to hire the guy that is taking all these spectacular trips and knows all the in n outs, not their underling.

  11. I met and was impressed with Scott of Milevalue at the Chicago seminar. He struck me as bright and enthusiastic with assisting me with an award booking. As a result I followed up with an online request, but Scott was nowhere to be found. My correspondence was with someone he apparently hired to assist him. This guy came up with ridiculous proposals, like a 26-hour itinerary from Paris to Los Angeles, routing through Frankfort, Washington, DC, San Diego and home. Never did hear from Scott. Quite disappointing.

  12. Hey, Darius!

    I remember you doing a post about stopovers, etc., included in the award redemption. I’m hoping to head to Europe this summer using AA points but making a pit-stop in Montreal. Is this possible using one award ticket? How do I start the planning?!

    Thanks!

  13. @Faye – Don’t thank me!

    @Trying to Learn @AJM @danny @JW – Thanks for the feedback!

    @Bart I. Lapers
    – That’s very generous of you.

    @Somy – I updated the link on the Airline credit card tab. Thanks for letting me know!

    @Anjum – If Montreal is your North American departure city, i.e. you leave from Montreal to Europe, you may be able to include it as a stopover.

  14. I’d actually be leaving from the US (Austin). Hoping to do AUS – Montreal – Europe. Is that possible in the same award ticket?

  15. @Anjum – It may be possible if you fly from Montreal to Europe and there is a published routing, but you may have to pay surcharges if you fly on British Airways from Montreal to London.

  16. I think we’ll avoid flying into GBR b/c of the ridiculous surcharges! So you think I can use one award ticket to get from Austin to Montreal (Montreal being the stop-over) and then to Europe? How do I go about booking this? Should I call AA?

  17. Does United have a phone number for award bookings like AA does?

  18. @Hilde – You call the United general number or the elite telephone number if you are an elite.

  19. All great advice!

    For those wondering I run my service 100% by myself and do all the work myself. No pawning off to others.

    I strive to have good customer service too.

    My best tips are:

    1. Have dates in mind but also flexible by a day or two. Telling us “2 weeks in June” doesn’t help much. Searching takes time and looking at an entire month is not feasible. Also departing mid week gives you more options that Fridays and Sundays.

    2. Let us know which programs you are part of what your current balances are. Diversity of points gives us more options when your primary program doesn’t have availability.

    3. Be willing to buy a cheap cash flight to the international gateway city. Most of the time getting the domestic connecting flights is the hardest part. Luckily it is also the cheapest segments to buy. If you already live in a major international hub it is easier! Especially if you are trying to use Delta miles out of the U.S.

    4. Be ready to book when you submit your request. Availability can vanish at any time and if you delay booking you may lose your ideal flights.

    You’ve worked hard for those miles now let’s do something fun with them!

  20. Pingback: My Week in Points January 13-19: every dollar qualifies for me - Rapid Travel Chai

  21. Anjum, your itinerary would only work if you used the BA flight. There are traditionally no stopovers permitted on AA awards except at the North American gateway. I can’t think of any other oneworld flights that would fit the bill.

  22. Pingback: Award Booking Service | Million Mile Secrets

  23. Useful, pertinent post MMS: thanks!

    My first and only experience using an award booking service was with “Bobby” at Award booking svs( see his post in the previous comments). I had an excellent experience working with him. As a result, my daughter and I are headed to Europe in February and also have a free one way booked to Maui: not bad for 40k AA points PP which was 2CC sign-on bonuses. We are thrilled!

    I’d highly reccomend his service again to anyone asking or looking for help with a booking.

  24. We have 300,000 BA avios and 2 companion passes. I want to fly from Austin to Naples or Rome on July 29, 2014, and return to Austin from Paris on August 21 or 22, 2014. We have 5 people, ages 7, 13, 16, 50, and 67. We all want to travel together.

    Since I would have to take the companion passes on BA (and pay about $750 per ticket – $3500 total), would it be worth using an award service to see if we could lower our cost? Could we get the tickets with our miles on another airline without using the companion passes?

  25. @Sara – 5 people on the same flight will be tough. If you have other miles, it could be worth it to ask an award booking service if they can lower the cost. If you only have British Airways points, it isn’t going to get much cheaper, and even cost more than $3,500 for 5 folks!

  26. Tammy Horvath

    Does anyone know anyone with booking experience for Australia and Tahiti? I am trying to combine the 2 trips into 1 – 2 week trip next end of April beginning of May. I thought using United (Star Alliance) would be great because of the one open jaw and the 2 free stopovers but I can’t get anything to work. I’ve just been using Dec to practice it. I have been able to get AA.com to work and found matches on Qantas so I guess my back up plan is to use them.

    I want to fly from LAX to Cairns, Australia (CNS) and the I need to get to Tahiti (PPT) almost a week later and then back to the US. I live on the East Coast, PIT, BWI, IAD, DCA are my home airports but I am willing to fly back to LAX and use Southwest to get home.

    United was the best choice because I could do a free one way stopover in HNL (Hawaii) at an earlier date as a bonus trip, if I could figure out how. It’s not necessary but would’ve been nice.

    I only need two days in Australia (Great Barrier Reef snorkel and Daintree Rain forest) and the rest will be travel time since flights take so long and you lose a few days just getting there. If anyone has any experience with this or advice I’m open to suggestions, including any positive experience with booking companies. I have tons of AA miles, 63,000 United, tons of Southwest, 70,000 US Airways, 100,000 Amex Membership Rewards and 173,000 Ultimate rewards. Btw, there are 2 of us traveling.

  27. Tammy Horvath

    Oh, I forgot, the end of April beginning of May 2015.

  28. Tammy Horvath

    One more thing, I could do Tahiti first and Australia last if that would make more sense.

  29. Hi

    I just used Alex from http://www.easyawardbooking.com. He was able to find me 4 business tickets tot europe for next summer. He efficiently and professionalism was outstanding. After wasting more than a month try to do the leg work myself I contacted Alex and he was able to get everything done within 24 hours!

    Bill

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