Frequent Flier Redemption Engines Have a Ways to Go

Two new websites have popped up with the specific purpose of trying to make frequent flier mile redemption easier: PointHub and MileWise. That sounds like a good plan to me, but I thought I’d put them to the test. The verdict? Not a bad start, but neither is ready to seriously tackle this challenge.

The idea is a great one. You can enter all your reward program info into the systems, and they’ll take note of how many points you have. Then when you do a search, they will tell you what flights are available with the points you have and compare them to the prices you could pay with cash. The recommendation engines will tell you which way to go, and then theoretically, you’re all set. But they’re not as robust as they need to be by a longshot.

I decided to put them both through the paces. We had a concierge client heading to Asia, and for the flight out, I found a great option for 32,500 miles one way by doing my own research with a single stop that required using two different airlines within the same alliance. It’s a perfectly good itinerary and should be relatively easy to find as well.

Neither of these sites found it.

I left my rewards programs out of the system on purpose, so that I would get the full range of flight options, not just those which my balances could afford. MileWise showed the cheapest option was $674 and then promptly sent me to Orbitz where the fare was actually $681.29. PointHub showed me the same flight option but with the right price. This isn’t a surprise since the data seems to be coming from similar places.

MileWise

According to MileWise, this particular flight got a 92 out of 100 ranking. What the heck does that mean? Well, it says that you pay $674 but earn 8,524 miles and that’s worth $121. I guess they’re using 1.4 cents per mile in their calculation. So you’re really, in their eyes, only paying $553, assuming you value miles the same way. What does the “92” score mean? It means “you should consider it.”

PointHub doesn’t try to rank the options for you but instead gives them to you and then lets you know how much it would cost in points. It then tells if you’re better off using points or cash when you find the flight you like.

PointHub

When it came to redemption options on PointHub, I got confused quickly. I sorted by Points Price and it showed me a delightful flight on Aeroflot using 74,184 WorldPoints, which is one of those credit card point programs. It said it was better to just buy it, however. Why? Because the points are worth more than the cash using the PointHub valuation.

Below that it showed 50,000 Aeroplan points (Air Canada) for some flights or 65,000 Mileage Plus points. None of those were good options, and PointHub knew it.

MileWise was also quite confusing.

It gave me a few more palatable options using miles but then it told me to buy a ticket. It offered 32,500 points using miles on Continental via Europe. Not too bad on the surface, and MileWise gives it a 100/100 score saying it should definitely be considered. Then you look at the details. Apparently MileWise looks solely at the price of miles compared with the price of paying cash and ignores that you’d have two overnight flights and an 8 hour layover in Frankfurt. That’s definitely not worthy of a 100/100 score. But if it’s 100/100, then why should I have paid cash for the 92/100 option instead? I don’t get it.

The flight I found on my own had a 2 hour layover in Tokyo with excellent times. This was nowhere to be found on either site. And that’s the problem with these kind of sites. There still isn’t good enough technology out there to truly search for all available options. It takes good ole’ fashioned know-how or something like that.

Does that mean I wouldn’t use these sites? Nah, it just means they might be a first stop along the way. They can still be good for giving a lay of the land, I suppose, but the search engines need to get a lot better at finding more creative options before they become serious options. They also need to give more personalization so that you can say what’s important to you and what isn’t.

Keep an eye on these kinds of sites, because eventually someone will be able to get it right.


9 Responses to Frequent Flier Redemption Engines Have a Ways to Go

  1. tivoboy says:

    Realize, the algo’s are going to get much better over time. What I DO like is the fact that across many programs the systems DO quickly show where there is say a saver, or 25K or lower priced award in a particular market, which is a nice central facility. I’d like to personally be able to VALUE miles my way, and have the system then show that comparison. The customer specific and unique pricing (think, short haul one way for 1K at 10K as an example) most likely will not be implemented too easily or quickly.

    On a side note, I DO like the fact that one does NOT have to put all their info, logins and passwords into the system to get value out of it, I don’t want my info out there anywhere just yet

  2. A says:

    I see these as good tools for large corporations that don’t let their employees “keep” their miles (I know a few). They use the employee miles to offset business travel costs and thus could make good use of something like this.

    For people like myself I rack up miles on business trips and use them for “free” leisure travel. I don’t really look at the miles having a monetary value, I just want an award flight no matter if the fare is $200 or $2000 for the same amount of miles because for this flight it’s my money.

  3. Here’s my problem with these sites. Do they tell you whether you can actually finagle a mileage ticked out of the airline for that route?

    Case in point: Last year my S.O. and I tried to grab two business class mileage tickets on Singapore with our miles on United using both of our miles accounts. We were unsuccessful at getting two mileage tickets and we were trying to book at least six months out and tried a bunch of dates over a two month period. The best we could do is one business class mileage ticket, not two.

    Remembering the story a couple years back of United deliberately restricting rewards redemption for Star Alliance carriers…EVEN IF THE CARRIER HAD RELEASED ITS FULL INVENTORY INTO THE SYSTEM…I wondered if our failure to book two mileage tickets on Singapore was United’s fault. On the other hand, three years ago we did manage to book to business class miles tickets on Air New Zealand to Tonga so maybe Singapore was restricting miles inventory.

    Point being: Having a website tell you what you theoretically can do with mileage tickets does little good if they don’t also tell you whether you have a snowball’s chance in hell of actually successfully booking it.

    • Sanjeev M says:

      Both SQ and UA are really stingy with Award miles. This is one of the reason SQ hates alliances (just to be clear, I’m not in the camp that believes SQ will leave *A). SQ and other Asian carriers like ANA charge decent fares but don’t give out upgrades and award tickets like candy. UA, on the other hand, exists in a US market where automatic or cheap upgrades are expected.

      Regarding the two programs above, I’m sure they’re useful but it’s best to do your own research as well.

  4. Michael says:

    I’d really like one of these sites to NOT require me to input my program info. Suffice it to say, I’ve pretty much got miles in every major program, as do many others. I just want to run the search. Further, if I don’t have miles in a program and it has a good option, I’ve got Amex MR and Chase Sapphire points that might be able to get me there.

    Usingmiles.com was trying to do the same thing – these both sound better.

  5. My head is spinning more now then it was before I read the post…..lol

    Maybe I’m still in the 20th century with this, but why can’t an airlines website let you just type in what cities you want to fly between, and then show you what days are available for the miles you have or your miles plus $$$$ to pay if an airline offers that option?

    • David M says:

      Delta’s is like that. I didn’t log in to my SkyMiles account, but I just tried it out and the calendar shows low/medium/high mileage ratings for each day.

    • CF says:

      The biggest problem is airline-specific mileage redemptions but ones that extend to partners and beyond. In my mind, that’s where there’s a lot of progress that needs to be made.

  6. Arcanum says:

    I sure hope the ‘algos’ will improve. For instance, if you’re searching for a ticket from NA to Australia in business, it shouldn’t return results where one short domestic leg is in business while everything else is in economy.

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