A new breed of award discovery tools

18

When I first wrote about Seats.Aero (see: Seats.aero: a wonderfully nerdy tool for finding Unicorn flight awards), it was one of a kind. Unlike other award search tools, Seats.Aero does most of its work in-advance and then makes it fast and easy to find awards that would have been near impossible to find otherwise. For example, it was the only tool I knew of that could answer the question of which business class awards were available between the US and Asia without starting with specific airports or dates. But I called it a “nerdy tool” for a reason. Seats.Aero is surely incomprehensible to beginners. But now, a year later, there are numerous beginner-oriented award search tools that have added similar features. These “award discovery” tools save pre-run award searches and make it fast and easy to discover award availability that you otherwise would not have thought to look for. They also share another feature with Seats.Aero: since the results are from pre-run award searches, the awards may no longer be available by the time you find them. Still, they provide a great starting point for discovering hard-to-find awards.

Award discover tools, like point.me explore (shown above), let you search for awards to anywhere and across time rather than being forced to pick a set date and destination to search.
Award discover tools are fast because they only show awards that were found in the past and stored for this purpose. In this image of PointsYeah’s DayDream Explorer results, you can see business class flights to New Zealand and Australia for 55,000 points. That doesn’t mean those awards are available now, though. They may have already been snagged by others.

Discovery Tool Criteria

For this post, I looked at 5 award discovery tools to compare their features:

  • point.me Explore
  • PointsYeah Daydream Explorer
  • roame SkyView
  • AwardTool Panorama
  • Seats.Aero

After running numerous discovery searches with each of the above tools, I found that they all look similar (except for nerdy Seats.Aero), but they varied by certain key features. In my opinion, the ideal award discovery tool offers all of the following:

  • Flex From: Ability to set flexible “from” regions. You should be able to look for flights originating in a country or continent rather than just from a specific airport. For example, you should be able to include flights originating anywhere in the United States or North America.
  • Flex To: Ability to set flexible “to” regions. You should be able to look for flights to a country or continent rather than just to a specific airport. For example, you should be able to look for flights “to Europe”.
  • Flex Dates: Ability to set flexible date ranges. Ideally you can look for flight availability for the whole year, for a specific month, or for any date range you prefer.
  • Min Seats: Ability to set minimum number of passengers. If two or more people will be traveling, you should be able to filter to results that offer two or more award seats.
  • Min Prem: Ability to weed out economy-heavy itineraries from business or first class searches. When searching for a business class flight to Australia, for example, you don’t want the results to include a business class flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco followed by an economy flight from San Francisco to Sydney. Some of these tools handle this by allowing you to set a premium cabin minimum percentage.
  • Quick check: Ability to check results against real-time availability. All of these tools use data cached from earlier award searches and so the results are often out of date. That’s inevitable. But there should be a way to quickly determine if a good looking result is still valid.
  • Broad and recent: A key ingredient for these tools is that they’ve pre-searched all of the routes and dates you might care about. It’s impossible to search and store everything, though. So, the best tool caches data from the most searches and updates them frequently.

Discovery Tool Overview

point.me PointsYeah roame AwardTool Seats.Aero
Price $0 $0 $12.99/mo or $109.99/yr $10.99/mo or $84.99/yr $9.99/mo or $99.99/yr
Price Notes Available w/out subscribing Subscribe to free version of PointsYeah Free version offers limited functionality Free version offers limited functionality
Flex From No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Flex To Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Flex Dates Select 1 or more months, or up to 15 day range Select month or up to 60 day range. Easy surf next/prev range. Select up to 30 day range Select up to 90 day range Select up to 360 days (date +/- 180 days)
Min Seats Yes Yes No No Yes but…1
Min Prem No Yes Yes Ish2 Ish3
Quick Check No Ish4 Ish4 Ish4 Yes
Broad & Recent5 ? ? ? ? ?
Best Discovery Tools Greg’s #1 Choice Greg’s #2 Choice

Disclosure: Frequent Miler will earn a commission if you sign up for the above tools through the links above.
* AwardTool: Save $20 off your first year with code “FREQUENTMILER20”


1) Seats.Aero lets pro members set a minimum number of seats to look for, but that feature doesn’t work with Aeroplan, Qantas, or AA awards.
2) AwardTool offers the option to limit to “nonstop cabin class”. This helps alleviate the need for a minimum percent premium filter.
3) Seats.Aero usually doesn’t include mixed cabin awards in the results and so there is no need to set a minimum.
4) To check results with point.me, the tool has you run a full point.me search for the given date and from/to airports, which can take about 2 minutes to run. That’s too slow in my opinion. Seats.aero includes a simple refresh button to allow checking results for that flight immediately. The other tools offer ways to run quick searches either within their own tool or by linking out to the identified program. For example, to check an AA award, a fast way to do it is to click out to AA.com to run the search with the parameters already filled in by the search tool.
5) Unfortunately I don’t have any way to assess this!

Experiments

In order to see which award discovery tool is best, I came up with a couple of scenarios and used each tool to try to find the best award flights for each scenario…

  • Experiment 1: First Class to Asia anywhere, anytime. The idea is that I want to fly one-way international first class to Asia, the nicer the better, and I’m willing to position to any airport in the United States, and I’m willing to fly any time over the next 12 months.
  • Experiment 2: Family of 4 one-way Chicago to Europe in business class any time between August 1 and September 30.

Experiment 1: First Class to Asia, Anywhere, Anytime

The idea here is that I want to use my miles to fly in the best of the best luxury to Asia and I’m willing to leave any time and fly from any airport in the U.S. Which tool results in the best answer?

point.me Explore

  • I was happy that point.me Explore let me select an entire year at once. I was unhappy that I had to select departure airports one at a time. I looked at NY (JFK), Washington DC (IAD), Chicago (ORD), LA (LAX), and San Francisco (SFO) and set the destination as “Asia”.
  • point.me let me select “Business & First” class of service, but I couldn’t limit to first class only. Each result shows “Business Class” though, so I could scroll down to look for first class.
  • Result: I didn’t find any results labelled “First Class”.
  • My take: This tool isn’t suited for answering the question I posed.

PointsYeah Daydream Explorer

  • Allowed me to select from “United States” to “Asia”
  • Allowed me to select “First Only”
  • Allowed me to select Premium Cabin % >= 60%
  • Allowed a 60 day time window and forward and back buttons to easy go forward and back 60 days at a time.
  • Results:
    • The tool identified lots of first class flights to the Middle East and India
    • The tool identified lots of expensive first class Emirates flights to many destinations
    • My favorite find (which I verified through AA) was a December 9th first class flight from Dallas to San Francisco (AA economy) and then onward on Japan Airlines 777-300ER first class to Tokyo for 80,000 AA miles + $11.20.
    • Interestingly, AA.com did not show the same flight as available from SFO to Tokyo. It was only bookable in conjunction with the flight from Dallas.
  • My take: This tool did a great job. I love the forward/back time selector.

roame SkyView

  • Allowed me to select from “United States” to “Asia”
  • Allowed me to select First Class
  • Allowed me to select Premium Cabin % >= 60%
  • Allowed a 30 day time window but seemed to require redoing the time window for each search to try to cover the whole year.
  • Results:
    • The tool identified an overwhelming number of multi-leg AA and British Airways itineraries ending in Istanbul or Cypress. I couldn’t find a good way to remove these uninteresting results.
    • Due to a combination of difficulty in spanning a whole year of results and the problem identified above, I gave up on using this tool for this experiment.
  • My take: This tool isn’t suited for answering the question I posed.

AwardTool Panorama

  • Allowed me to select from “United States” to “Asia”
  • Allowed me to select Nonstop First Class
  • Allowed a 90 day time window but seemed to require redoing the time window for each search to try to cover the whole year.
  • Results:
    • The tool identified an overwhelming number of first class flights to India starting at 93,500 AA miles. I wasn’t interested in these because most if not all are on carriers with less than great first class.
    • The tool identified a bunch of first class awards from Hawaii to Tokyo on ANA for 93,500 United miles
    • The tool found an ANA first class flight from New York to Tokyo but when I clicked to check real time results, it was no longer available
    • The tool found a bunch of near-term Etihad 787-9 first class flights from Washington DC to Abu Dhabi bookable with 115,000 AA miles + $7. I found at least one that was still bookable on AA.com.
  • My take: While this one did better than point.me or roame, it wasn’t as usable as PointsYeah. I couldn’t find a way to filter out the huge amount of uninteresting results. Nor could I find an easy way to change time periods like with PointsYeah.

Seats.Aero

  • I set the Search to look from “USA” (USA – large airports) to “ASA” (Asia – large airports)
  • I set the date initially to September 1 +/- 180 days, but that resulted in an error so I changed it to May 10 +/- 60 days, then September 10 +/- 60 days
  • I filtered to cabin “First”
  • I excluded Air India and American Airlines to remove uninteresting results from the get-go (I love that option).
  • I sorted by the first class column to get the cheapest first class awards on top
  • Results
    • The initial +/- 180 search was too broad and I got this error: “We encountered an unexpected error processing your search. In some cases, reducing the number of airports or days searched can resolve this.” I changed to doing multiple +/- 60 day searches
    • I immediately found two near-term Japan Airlines first class flights to Tokyo bookable for 80,000 AA miles. I checked AA.com and both (one from SFO and one from Dallas) were still bookable.
    • I realized that I wasn’t seeing Etihad or Emirates flights because the middle east isn’t included in “Asia – large airports” so I added “MEA” (Middle East – large airports) to the “to” list. Now I found lots of near term Etihad first class flights from DC to Abu Dhabi bookable for 115,000 AA miles, and lots of very expensive Emirates first class flights.
  • My take: While this tool did a good job overall, it wasn’t nearly as easy to use as PointsYeah’s tool. Note that I used Seats.Aero’s “Search” function to try to make an apples to apples comparison with other tools, but in reality the Seats.Aero Explore function may have been a better fit for what I was trying to do. I just wish the tool offered a mega-explore feature where we can use the Explore functionality across all programs at once.

Experiment 2: Family of 4 one-way Chicago to Europe

In this experiment, I tried each tool to see if a family of 4 could find one-way business class flights from Chicago to Europe any time between August 1 and September 30. Additionally, I want to spend less than 100,000 points per person.

point.me Explore

  • Super easy to set criteria: I was able to run a single search for Chicago to Europe, 4 people, business or first class, August & September.
  • No results came back for less than 100,000 points per person (in fact, the cheapest result was 160,000)

PointsYeah Daydream Explorer

  • I was able to run a single search for Chicago to Europe, 4 seats, business or first class, August 1 to September 29 (so close to the end of September!).
  • PointsYeah returned many results with prices under 100,000 points per person. Since some had very high taxes, I filtered to max taxes = $400
  • One of the best looking options was Chicago to Madrid Spain in business class and onward to Lyon, France in economy for 55,000 points + $150 per person on Iberia. I checked it on Iberia’s website and it was indeed bookable. Excellent result! Interestingly, Chicago to Madrid alone was not available in business class.
  • Another great option was to fly Chicago to JFK economy and onward in business class on AA for 57,500 Alaska miles plus $18.10. I checked the real time results, and it was still bookable!
  • Other destinations for which this tool identified awards available for less than 60,000 points per person and with reasonable taxes were to Lisbon (57,500 AA miles + $23.10), London (57,500 Alaska miles + $18.10), Madrid (57,500 Alaska miles + $18.10), Stockholm (57,500 AA miles + $23.10), Barcelona (59,300 LifeMiles + $44.60).
  • My take: PointsYeah knocked this one out of the park.

roame SkyView

  • I couldn’t find a way to specify 4 passengers, so I didn’t try this one.

AwardTool Panorama

  • I couldn’t find a way to specify 4 passengers, so I didn’t try this one.

Seats.Aero

  • Here I was able to specify Chicago to EUR (Europe – major airports), August 30 +/- 28 Days (close enough to all of August + September), 4 seats, business class.
  • After sorting by business class, the tool identified many decent looking results including KLM to Amsterdam for 55,500 miles + $206 (I verified that this was still available).
  • Many of the results were with AA, but the tool reports that with AA (and others), the minimum seat count isn’t taken into account: “You specified a minimum seat count but Aeromexico, Air Canada Aeroplan, American Airlines, Qantas Frequent Flyer do not provide us with the available seat count. Your desired number of seats may not be available from those programs.”
  • Since the AA results aren’t reliable with multiple passengers, I scanned down to the next best option: use 57.5K Alaska Miles + $19 to fly Chicago to London. While the first one I looked at no longer had four seats, then next one still did. Good result.
  • And that was about it. This tool didn’t find flights to smaller cities because I chose the built-in “EUR” destination which only looks at large city airports in Europe.

Final Answer

This is easy. Based on the experiments I ran, the PointsYeah Daydream Explorer is the best award discovery tool of the bunch. Even better, full functionality appears to be available with a free subscription! I’ll still use Seats.Aero for the things it does best, but for answering the broadest questions such as “where can my family go in business class this summer?,” PointsYeah Daydream Explorer is a great option.

For more about most of the tools mentioned above, see: Which award search tool is best?

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18 Comments
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whocares

so…translation – it will be harder to find seats on certain routes…as more people use these.

Making things harder…helps to a certain degree. so of course…I leave this comment…which most people probably already knew anyway.

finally figured out points.aero more in last few weeks. Didn’t realize you could use the search boxes — AT THE BOTTOM to find exactly what you are looking for. Until then — I thought the tool was interesting, but not super helpful/easy to use.

Rachel

My tech-whiz brother-in-law drilled it into my head that nothing on the internet is free: if you aren’t paying, then you are the currency. Meaning that your data is worth more than a fee to the company providing the service. Been trying to figure out what the benefit is to PointsYeah, because they are the only service of its kind without a paid option…?

anonymous

Nice. Now do “solo traveler, business or first, LAX to Europe, shoulder seasons.”:-D

Frahan

Hey Greg, how did you do +/- 28 days of search with seats.aero? I can see only +/- 1 day in the search function 😐

Greek Blogger G.

PointsYeah! I’m a beleaver

Raylan

Dang, I was hoping IB’s random releases of 3 or more seats wouldn’t get out. I was able to book 3x summer J ORD-MAD-BGO on IB for ~160k total + about 450 in taxes and fees total. Absolutely screaming deal for a pretty hot destination in the middle of peak travel season. To your point in the post though, it seems to rely on some sort of married segment logic because the ORD-MAD segment didn’t have similar availability.

Tony

A great review as usual. For me, what you called “discovery tools” are more useful than tools to search for specific awards. If I have a more complete picture of what’s possible, I can often look for those possibilities better myself, in terms of completeness, accuracy, and/or efficiency.

andrew

It is interesting that most do not search BA avios when award nexus has been doing it for years.

AwardTool

AwardTool support BA avios cross all our products including real-time search, Panorama, and routes

Last edited 18 days ago by AwardTool
Lee

Never new about the regional to/from search feature on seats.aero. You taught me a new trick. Thank you.

Laura Schott

Great article and experiment. Thank you for this! Incredibly useful information.

WarmBread

Excellent article!!!

PAAM

Thank you. This indeed was on my mind on which tool is best for its use. Your article enables me to answer most of my questions. PointsYeah and seats.aero are 2 of my favorite too.

Kyle Gifford

Did PointsYeah’s results include everything that the other tools included? Or were there cases where the other tools found different results not on PointsYeah? I’m curious whether one could exclusively use PointsYeah, or if they should still cross-references with other tools just in case.

tom

thanks – great post
appreciate the fair review, whereas others on BA always seem to push points.me (which they have a financial interest in)