Redeeming travel rewards? Hire an expert

Airline miles and credit card points are piling up, but it's not always easy to get the most out of those rewards.

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.," Hitchcock said. "I didn't want to be frustrated trying to do tickets."

So, she turned to a professional, an award travel booker, who took her points and found 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, complicated frequent flyer miles and credit card reward programs have spawned a brand new type of business where travel agents specialize solely in maximizing miles and points.

"You think it's difficult to earn your miles? The more difficult thing is to figure out how to redeem your miles," editor and publisher of Inside Flyer Magazine Randy Peterson said. "So award planners have really become one of the hot buttons out there."

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. This helps you save thousands of miles or points on your destination.

The agents solely look for the best options to get you the best value, Petersen also explained. Most people don't really understand different partners as well as peak and off-season awards.

Ben Schlappig founded PointsPros, one of about a dozen award booking companies in the U.S. He says the service has exploded in popularity in the past few years.

"We have more business than we can handle" Schlappig said. "We're handling over a dozen requests a day easily."

These services range in price from about $100 to $200 per ticket. Most services guarantee if they don't find an award that works for the customer, they won't charge anything.

Not all award travel bookers are created equal, according to Petersen. He warns that anybody can say that they are an award planner even without certification.

As for Hitchcock, she had an amazing trip and can't wait to save up her miles for her next adventure.

"Point bookers cab really make it all happen," Hitchcock said. "For me it's a no-brainer."

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.

Schappig 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 most.

You can find an award planner below (Courtesy of InsideFlyer.com magazine:

www.awardbookingservice.com

$100 per passenger

www.awardconcierge.com

$250 for two passengers

www.awardplanners.com

$99 one way, $149 round-trip, $199 multi-city

www.awardtravelconsulting.com

$100 per passenger

www.bookyouraward.com

$150 per passenger

www.crankyconcierge.com

$150 per passenger

www.firstclassandbeyond.com

Varies according to itinerary

www.milevalue.com/award-booking-service

$125 per passenger

www.pointmetothemiles.com

$100 for two passengers

www.pointspros.com

$200 per passenger

www.weflyfree.com

Between $69-149 per passenger depending on flight class

www.worldclassperks.com

Between $150-250 per passenger


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