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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.

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