The Tools We Use (for playing the points and miles game)


The post “The Games We Play,” outlines some of the top techniques for earning more points & miles, for getting more out of our points & miles, for saving money, and getting elite perks for less.  In this post, you’ll find the tools we use to help us achieve these goals.

This post has been updated with additional award search tools and numerous small updates.

tools for miles and points

General tools for playing the miles and points game

Tools for earning more points & miles

The heart of this game lies in earning points & miles, usually without traveling.  Here are some of the top tools for miles & points.

Credit card bonuses

Credit card signup bonuses are the quickest and easiest way to earn crazy amounts of points & miles quickly.  We use these tools to make the most of it:

Shopping portals

If you’re planning to buy something online you might as well earn extra miles, points or cash back by starting your shopping with an online shopping portal. Use these tools to maximize your rewards:

Credit card bonus categories

Many credit cards offer extra points for spend within certain categories.

  • Best category bonuses: Visit this page to see which cards have the best bonuses for different categories of spend (e.g. drug stores, gas stations, dining, etc.)
  • Award Wallet Merchant Category Lookup Tool.  In addition to keeping track of your point balances, Award Wallet provides an easy way to lookup merchants to see how those merchants have been coded so that you can determine whether or not you’ll earn a category bonus.
  • Doctor of Credit’s Payment Workshop: Doctor of Credit maintains a table indicating whether or not various purchases earned category bonuses with various cards.  The data mostly comes from reader reports.

Manufactured spending

It’s possible to increase credit card spend and to get most of that money back to use to pay your credit card bill.

Award bookings

Once you’ve earned points and miles, the next step of the game is to use those points towards maximum value. Here are some tools for getting more out of your points and miles, or you can find our series of sweet spot award posts here.

Transferable Points

Hotel awards

  • Multiple tools can be used to help find open available award space at hotels.  Please see this post for details: Tools for finding impossible hotel awards.  That post covers:
    • StayWithPoints (affiliate link): Use this tool to find award availability at select hotels.  This is best used for popular hotels that are often sold out of base rooms during peak dates.
    • MaxMyPoint: Very similar to StayWithPoints, above.  New users: Apply code FrequentMiler to get 20% off for 3 months of paid Platinum Membership (note: Frequent Miler will earn a small commission when you use this code to sign up).
    • Open Hotel Alert: If you can’t find award nights for the dates and hotel of interest, use this free tool to alert you when rooms become available for sale.  With most hotel chains, you can book award nights whenever standard rooms are available for sale.  This tool is ideal for hotels that aren’t available through the other tools above.
  • More hotel award tools:
    • Awayz: Paid tool for finding best value hotels based on selected city and dates
    • Award Mapper: Use this web app to find hotels near your intended destination that accept points for free nights.  Award Mapper shows the hotels on an embedded Google map and lets you narrow results to just the point programs you are interested in. Unfortunately, not all programs are regularly updated in this tool, but it’s still a useful resource.
    • Points vs Cash Worksheets: We’ve developed worksheets for some hotel brands to help you decide whether booking with points or with cash is a better deal:

Flight awards

Finding flight awards can be really tough.  Fortunately, some 3rd party tools exist to help.

Flight Award Tools for All Skill Levels

  • PointsYeah, Roame.Travel, and AwardLogic work like regular airfare search tools, but for award flights.  With each tool, you can enter your desired route and dates for travel and these tools will show you which award flights are available and how much they cost.  You can find a comparison overview here: Which award search tool is best?
  • SeatSpy: This is an excellent tool for finding specific non-stop routes on certain airlines.  Full details about the tool and what it is best used for can be found here: SeatSpy: A tool for finding non-stop awards. Why is that useful?
  • AA Award Map Tool.  Find available awards based on how much you’re willing to spend.  See this post for details.
  • This one is pretty good for finding awards across most Star Alliance carriers
  • Good for finding awards across most OneWorld Alliance carriers. is better but doesn’t provide support for as many OneWorld airlines.
  • Air France website: Good for finding awards across most SkyTeam Alliance carriers (note that the calendar tool doesn’t currently work for carriers other than Air France and KLM so you have to search for specific days).

Flight Award Tools for Experts

With each of the following tools, you need to know what you’re doing to get the most out of them, but each is very powerful:

  • Expert Flyer: Use Expert Flyer to search for award availability on specific supported airlines.  Expert Flyer lets you search a week at a time, but only one airline at a time. It will also let you set alerts for specific flights.  This tool is best used when you know which airline you want to fly and want to find award or upgrade space.
  • Seats.Aero: This is a mostly free tool which makes it easy to find close-in awards on long-haul flights.  This is especially useful for finding otherwise very difficult to find award space.  Full details here: a wonderfully nerdy tool for finding Unicorn flight awards.

More flight award tools

  • Award Alerts: Several services such as Straight to the Points and Thrifty Traveler Premium alert readers when great flight awards are available.
  • Which routes exist?  To find the best awards, it helps to know your options:
    • Graphically displays all direct routes from any given departure airport.
    • Shows all flight routes that depart any selected airport.
    • Wikipedia: Pull up the Wikipedia page for any airport, then click to “Airlines and destinations.”  This will show you all of the direct flights, by airline, from that airport.
  • How much should an award cost?  A number of tools exist to try to answer this question.  Try these:
  • Additional paid tools to help find awards:
  • Award Booking Services: If you don’t have the skill, knowledge, or time to find the best awards for your needs, consider employing an award booking service instead.

Deal seeking

Often, this hobby is purely about seeking the best deal. Usually these deals are travel deals, but not always. Here are some tools for finding good deals, (with and without points and miles).

Flight deals

Hotel deals

  • Current Hotel Promotions: We keep a running list of all of the best hotel promos here.
  • Extreme Hotel Deals: True to its name, this site publishes extreme hotel deals.
  • HotelSlash: Email your hotel confirmation to HotelSlash and they’ll alert you if/when the price goes down.
  • Google Hotels: This is an excellent and easy to use site which shows hotel prices across many platforms.
  • Kayak (Affiliate Link): This is a general tool for searching for the best airfare, car rentals, hotels, and more. I especially like how it compares prices across many different sites.  Make sure to log into Kayak to see member-only pricing.
  • Capital One Spring:  You don’t need to be a Capital One cardholder to sign up for this free service.  While not all of the “deals” on this site are good, some are excellent.
  • Pruvo: Use this tool to get alerted to price drops after you book a hotel. See this Travel with Grant post for details.

Car Rental Deals

Other travel deals

Non-travel deals

  • SlickDeals Hot Deals Forum:  If a good deal exists, it can probably be found here.  If you register for an account, you can setup alerts for specific stores or products.  Or, if you prefer to see all the best deals as they’re happening, try Live View (see this post for details).
  • Current Amex Offers: Many banks offer deals for using their credit card with specific merchants. Amex, though, tends to have far more offers than its rivals and at times these offers are crazily generous.  Use our Current Amex Offers page to see which offers are current before logging into each of your Amex cards to see if you’ve been targeted for any of those deals.

Elite perks

  • Best Credit Card Offers: Many credit cards offer elite status directly or elite benefits (such as lounge access).  This page shows the top perks for each listed credit card.  Look for the “noteworthy perks” section for each card.
  • Best Big Spend Bonuses: Many credit cards offer elite status with high spend. This page lists the best options for earning status with big spend.
  • Lounge Buddy: Lounge Buddy is an app that details lounge options at airports. You can set up Lounge Buddy with information about the credit cards you have that offer lounge access and any elite status you may have with airlines.  Lounge Buddy will automatically use this information to tell you which lounges you should have free access to.
  •  One of the best ways to get elite status is by asking for a match from another program.  StatusMatcher is a useful site for finding out what status matches work and don’t work before trying yourself.

What should beginners do?

I imagine that this post must be overwhelming to those just starting out in this hobby.  If that’s you, I recommend starting with these free tools for points and miles enthusiasts:

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