Get the most mileage out of your travel miles

Some travelers now hiring companies to help redeem rewards

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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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. I didn't want to be frustrated trying to do tickets," she said.

So she turned to a professional instead. She used an award travel booker who took her points and did some mileage magic, finding 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," she said.

Airline mergers and complicated frequent flyer and credit card reward programs have spawned a brand new type of business - travel agents who specialize solely in maximizing your miles and points.  

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

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 - saving you thousands of miles or points on your destination. 

"They know what's going on, it's all that they do and they really can help you find value," Petersen said. "Most people don't really understand all the various partners. And even today some programs have peak and off-season awards."

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

"We have more business than we can handle. We're doing over a dozen requests a day easily," he added.

These services range in price from about $100 to $200 per ticket. And most will offer a guarantee.

"If we find an award that doesn't work for you, we don't charge anything," said Schlappig.

But Petersen says not all award travel bookers are created equal.

"You don't have to be certified to actually be an award planner," he said. "Anybody can say that they can help you find an award. Beware out there."

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

"Points bookers can really make it all happen. To me it's a no-brainer," she said.

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 the most.

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