Which award search tool is best?

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Airline miles offer us flying experiences we would never dream of paying cash for.  Pictured above is me flying Etihad’s First Class Apartment last year.  While other passengers probably paid around $7,000 for the same flight from Abu Dhabi to London, I paid only 80,000 American Airlines miles (and that included a business class flight from the Seychelles to Abu Dhabi).

We often write about sweet spot awards like the one above.  It’s not hard to find opportunities like these that you’d like to try out.  The hard part is finding saver award availability.  Most airlines have multiple award pricing tiers and only the cheapest awards (often referred to as “saver awards”) are available to book with partner miles.  And that’s key.  The best deals with airline miles often involve using one airline’s miles to book awards on a partner airline.  To take advantage of those opportunities, you have to find saver award availability on the partner airline’s flight.  Often, that’s very hard to do.  Enter award search tools…

Award Search Tools: Quick Compare

Several online tools have been developed over the years to try to make award searches easier.  In this roundup, I’ll cover three popular options: Expert Flyer, Juicy Miles, and SeatSpyDisclosure: Frequent Miler will earn a commission if you sign up for one of these tools through our links.  I had intended to also include a free tool called award.flights (a Chrome plug-in), but I couldn’t get it to work on any of the searches I ran (despite having had success in the past), so I’ll leave that one for another day.

Expert Flyer Juicy Miles SeatSpy
Cost $9.99 per month* or $99.99 per year $9.99 for 5 days, or $29.99 per month Starts at $3.99 per month
Search Date Range 7 Days 3 Days 365 Days
Number of Airlines/Programs Supported 89 27 6
Award Alerts Yes Yes Yes
Multi-Leg Awards? Yes Yes No
Display Award Prices? No Yes Yes
Search Across Carriers at Once? No Yes No

* Expert Flyer also offers a $4.99 per month option, but that option doesn’t include multi-day searches or award alerts.

Each of the above tools approaches award searches in different ways.  The two most similar (but still very different!) are Expert Flyer and SeatSpy.  Both require you to know which airline you want to fly.  And both simply show whether awards are available, not which miles are best for booking those awards.

Where the two other tools require you to start with the airline you want to fly, Juicy Miles simply asks when and where you want to go.  Results are then organized by the types of points you may have.  For example, the tool will show you the best options for booking with transferable points (Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, etc.) or with specific airline miles.

Each of the tools in this round-up have pros and cons…

Expert Flyer

Expert Flyer searches require entering origin, destination, departure date, and airline.  You can choose up to 3 days on either side of your dates in order to get 7 total days worth of results. You can also choose to search for one or more classes of service at once.
Expert Flyer’s search results show both nonstop and connecting routes, along with detailed information about each segment.

Pros

  • Supports a huge list of airlines (89 at the time of this writing)
  • Identifies multi-leg awards, not just non-stop
  • Provides many other flight features besides award searches

Cons

  • Requires you to know which airline you want to fly
  • Doesn’t display award prices
  • Doesn’t help identify best points or miles to use to book a given award
  • Setting alerts can be a painstaking process: You need to setup a separate alert for each and every flight + date of interest.  For example, if there are three flights per day that would work for you and you’re open to flying on any of 4 different days, then you would need to setup 12 different alerts.

Juicy Miles

Unlike other award search tools, Juicy Miles doesn’t ask you to first pick an airline.  Instead, you enter your desired travel destination and dates and then Juicy Miles searches across a huge number of loyalty programs to find the best award deals.
On the left side of Juicy Miles’ results screen you’ll see each of the award programs that can be used to book the available awards that matched your criteria.  Once you select one of the programs (Membership Rewards is selected above), the middle column is populated with each of the itineraries that can be booked with that program, along with route information and the number of points required. Once you select a particular itinerary, the rightmost column shows detailed flight information.  When you click “Select this Flight”, Juicy Miles pops up details about how to book that flight.  In the example shown, it tells you to enroll in Avianca Lifemiles, transfer points from Amex to Lifemiles, and then to book the flight via Lifemiles.

Pros

  • This is the only tool that walks you through not just finding awards, but also how to book them.
  • Supports almost all relevant points & miles currencies
  • Each search spans all supported mileage and points programs. The tool doesn’t require picking a single airline to search at a time.
  • Displays number of miles required for each award
  • Displays estimated taxes and fees for each award
  • Supports transferable points programs
  • Includes Southwest Airlines (that’s rare even for paid flight searches)
  • Results include itineraries that involve multiple airlines.  For example, a Star Alliance award may include a segment flown on United Airlines, followed by a segment flown on Turkish Airlines.

Cons

  • Can only search 3 days at a time
  • Alerts are set manually: you must email or online chat with Juicy Miles to setup an alert
  • Can only search a single class of service at a time
  • Much more expensive than the other tools

SeatSpy

SeatSpy offers a unique display that cleanly shows a year’s worth of results at once.  Different colors indicate different classes of service that are available on each day.  When hovering over a single day, you can see the number of seats available for each class of service, along with the number of points required by that airline’s loyalty program to book the award (note: you may be able to get better award prices by booking through a partner program, but SeatSpy isn’t designed to give you that kind of information).

Pros

  • Displays an entire year of results at a time
  • Very fast results
  • Displays award prices when you click on a date
  • Alerts are easy to set up and can be set for an almost unlimited date range
  • Inexpensive compared to the other tools

Cons

  • Relatively few airlines supported so far: Air France, American Airlines, British Airways, KLM, United Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic
  • Searches only for non-stop flights

Which is Best?

In my opinion, Juicy Miles is the best overall tool by a wide margin.  That said, it’s not best for all purposes.  Its biggest limitation right now is the fact that you can only search 3 days at a time and for one class of service at a time.  Consider the situation where you’re open to flying anytime within a 3 week period and you’ll happily fly business class or first class.  Even if you only have a single destination in mind, you would still have to run 20 different searches through Juicy Miles to cover all possibilities.  If you were only interested in a single airline, though, Expert Flyer could support your needs with just three separate searches, and Seatspy could do it with one search (in the relatively rare case that they support your airline of interest).  So, this brings me to my recommendations of the best tool based on needs:

Juicy Miles is best if you know when you want to travel (within a day or two)

This is the only tool I know of where running an award search is as simple as running a paid flight search on a tool like Kayak or Google Flights.  Of course, this tool does cost a lot more than the others, but when planning a specific trip it should be possible to sign up for just 5 days at a time for $9.99 until you find the flights you want.  Alternatively, you could sign up for monthly service for $29.99 per month and cancel once you’ve booked your dream trip.

You can read more about Juicy Miles here: Juicy Miles – Finally, a Kayak-like tool for flight awards!

SeatSpy is best if you want to fly a specific non-stop route on a specific airline

Of course, SeatSpy is only best for this if it happens to support the specific airline you want.  As an example of how to make the most of SeatSpy, I recently showed how SeatSpy could be used to find lie-flat United awards to Hawaii.

If you’re interested in finding non-stop awards on any of the supported airlines (Air France, American Airlines, British Airways, KLM, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic) then SeatSpy is an incredible tool for that purpose.

You can read more about SeatSpy here: SeatSpy -An awesome tool for finding non-stop awards.

Expert Flyer is best if you want to fly a specific airline

Expert Flyer supports far more airlines than SeatSpy, and it’s great for finding both non-stop and connecting awards.  One great thing about Expert Flyer is that you can try out a premium subscription for free for 5 days without inputting a credit card number.  So, unlike most free trials, there’s no fear that forgetting to cancel in time will result in getting charged.  Expert Flyer also offers a free service for seat alerts.  This free service is not for finding awards, but rather for finding availability of a specific seat of interest on a flight that you are booked on.

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