With blackout dates and tricky reservations systems, booking award travel can be downright daunting. But now, companies are helping customers getting the most mileage from their miles.
Gracey Hitchcock dreamed of transforming her credit card points into a trip to the far East, but she wasn't sure where to start.
"You hear about all these blackout dates. I didn't want to be frustrated trying to do tickets," Hitchcock said.
So she turned to a professional instead. She hired an award travel booker who took her points and did some mileage magic to find her business class tickets to her dream destination.
"They know all the ins and outs and they can basically book you a ticket and make it effortless," Hitchcock said.
Airline mergers and complicated frequent flyer and credit card reward programs have spawned a brand new type of business. Now there are travel agents who specialize solely in maximizing your miles and points.
"You think that it's difficult to earn your miles? The more difficult thing is to figure out how to redeem your miles. So award planners have really become one of the hot buttons out there," Inside Flyer Magazine's Randy Petersen said.
These companies claim they can scour the system to find flight partners, routes, and deals you might not be able to find on your own. They promise to save you thousands of miles or points on your destination.
"They know what's going on, it's all that they do and they really can help you find value. Most people don't really understand all the various partners. And even today some programs have peak and off-season awards," Petersen said.
Ben Schlappig founded Points Pros, one of about a dozen award booking companies in the US. He says the service has exploded in popularity in the past few years.
"We have more business than we can handle. We're doing over a dozen requests a day easily," Schlappig said.
These services range in price from about $100 to $200 per ticket, and most will offer a guarantee.
"If we find an award that doesn't work for you, we don't charge anything," Schlappig said.
But not all award travel bookers are created equal, according to Petersen.
"You don't have to be certified to actually be an award planner. Anybody can say that they can help you find an award. Beware out there," Petersen said.
As for Hitchcock, she had an amazing trip and can't wait to save up her miles for her next adventure.
"Points bookers can really make it all happen. To me, it's a no-brainer," Hitchcock said.
Some companies are willing to offer recommendations for hotels and other vacation award travel details, but most award bookers concentrate their services on airline tickets only. Schlappig says that's because the airline award systems are the most complicated to navigate and find deals, so that's where they can help their customers the most.
List of award travel bookers (courtesy of InsideFlyer.com magazine)
Award Booking Service - $100 per passenger
Award Concierge - $250 for two passengers
Award Planners - $99 one way, $149 round-trip, $199 multi-city
Award Travel Consulting - $100 per passenger
Book Your Award - $150 per passenger
Cranky Concierge - $150
First Class and Beyond - Varies according to itinerary
Zero Hassle Awards - $100 for two passengers
Points Pros - $200 per passenger
We Fly Free - Between $69-$149 per passenger depending on flight class
World Class Perks - $150