Credit: Kari Paul
Travel rewards points have the ability to take you far, but only if you can successfully navigate the increasingly confusing ins and outs of credit card and frequent flier programs. With varying earnings systems, fees, and policies, mileage programs can seem overwhelming to the average consumer, but several services have recently emerged to streamline the process and help consumers optimize their points. Check out the latest tools and soon you could be hopping on a plane across the world for free:
Launched in March 2016 of this year, SlingShot acts as a free personal travel concierge, creating a custom step-by-step program to get users going on their next trip. Start by filling out a profile and SlingShot will do the rest, by analyzing about 20 data points including existing miles, preferred past travel destinations, interests, spending patterns, and credit score to create a plan.
SlingShot either uses the goal destination input by the traveler or chooses one for them based on their interests. Its algorithm matches users with one of more than 100 credit card points programs and determines how much they will have to spend over the next few months to accrue enough miles to reach the goal destination.
The path to a more connected and inclusive world is paved with travel and the connections we make outside our cultures. That is our mission—if we can make travel easier to understand, more people will be able to use it, and build those connections.”
There are some drawbacks. SlingShot receives compensation from credit card companies, although it says guarantees that it will “always suggest the product(s) most beneficial to your travel plans, regardless of level of compensation.” It does not have the most responsive interface, has a bit of a delay between submitting a profile and receiving a plan, and is best for flexible travelers who are open to starting new rewards programs and changing up trip plans on a whim. Although the algorithm can fall short in some aspects, SlingShot does have customer service representatives to answer questions and help users change their plans. Its website and pre-packaged programs are sleek and eye-catching, and with a responsive team to answer questions it truly does feel like a custom concierge service for your travel adventures.
This program, which also launched in March 2016, works in a similar fashion to SlingShot, with a few key differences. Like SlingShot, it allows users to input a goal destination and tells them the best way to get there, but RewardExpert offers more than one plan to choose from with a feature that lists travel strategies similar to a typical flight search service, like Kayak. RewardExpert focuses on making plans based on the points users already have rather than encouraging them to spend more to get more. If a user is new to rewards travel, the program will recommend the best program for them to enroll in based on their travel plans in to go on the trip they have in mind. If they are a member of multiple travel programs, it rates the best companies to redeem with, including how to combine points and convert them between programs, rating programs by grade: A (excellent) B, (good) or C (poor). Unlike SlingShot, RewardExpert does not take any compensation from credit card companies and offers “completely unbiased advice” to its users.
RewardExpert also syncs with user credit cards and frequent flier accounts to update the plans in real time, showing the changing numbers of how much travelers must spend each month to reach their points goals and how many months it will take them to make the trip for free, including hidden taxes and fees. It offers quick feedback with experts at the site through an online chat feature. Overall the site is very streamlined, responsive, and easy-to-understand. With points constantly changing rules and value, RewardExpert’s ever-changing database is a definite pro. RewardExpert doesn’t have a trip-generating feature so if you are feeling impulsive and want to let the algorithm pick your destination, you’d be better off with SlingShot.
Launched in August 2015, site is less personalized but more information-packed than the other two services. It has been around for a little more than a year, building its database of tips and tools for travelers along the way. AwardAce doesn’t make a custom plan for users like SlingShot or RewardExpert, but offers comprehensive services to maximize points, including a guide to booking, database of program features, and search engine to show just how far your points can take you. Co-founder Huge Ma said he wanted to develop resources for users that did not require making an account or inputting personal information.
That is one thing we are sticking to, We don’t need to dig through your transaction data.”
As of now AwardAce doesn’t receive compensation from credit card companies or mileage programs. It does host banner ads on its site and is working on money models that allow it to remain independent in the future. One of its most popular features “Discover,” allows users to plug in how many miles they have racked up and then shows them where they can afford to travel based on those points, using seven awards programs. Its proprietary pricing calculator that tells users the cheapest way to book award tickets between two cities by searching across seven award programs.
The company acknowledges that it is only scratching the surface, but the move represents Airbnb’s first steps toward fighting discrimination. It is a company that appears committed to change.
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