Part of being a good travel hacker is keeping all the details strait in your head. Once you get beyond three or four loyalty programs, that becomes impossible to do without computerized assistance, and only the most obsessive are going to create a personalized spreadsheet that they update weekly with their points, miles, and coupon codes. For the rest of us, there’s AwardWallet.
I’ve been a casual user of AwardWallet for a while now, but in the last six months it’s become much more important to me as a way to organize all of the loyalty programs I join. Sometimes it’s just 500 points for watching a video, and I don’t even remember they’re there. Other times I have a couple hundred thousand points in each account, and I need an easy way to evaluate my options when an opportunity arises for an award trip.
Most of all, I find AwardWallet useful because it keeps me apprised of when those miles or points expire and holds all the login details in one place. I have a half dozen user names and another half dozen passwords because each site is finicky. This one wants only four numbers. That one wants eight or more characters including capitals, symbols, letters, and numbers. And then there are the awful accounts that prompt you for a “username” but don’t tell you that the username is actually your email address. Just ask for an email address!
Miles and Points
Obviously most people know about AwardWallet’s tools for managing frequent traveler accounts. These include airlines, hotel programs, and car rental agencies. The sign-up process for each new account is pretty simple. Click on the green “plus” symbol next to “Balances,” start typing in the name of the program (try either the company name or the program name), enter your username and password, and click a checkbox next to a liability waiver.
You have the option of saving your log-in details with AwardWallet so that they’re accessible on any computer or saving them locally so they’re accessible only on that one computer, but I prefer saving with AwardWallet. That’s part of the convenience. AwardWallet can even redirect you to the program’s website and log you in automatically. On the AwardWallet homepage, however, you can see most of the details you need, like account number, elite status, upgrade certificates available, number of miles or points, and expiration date (if any).
There are a few minor bugs, but these are largely the fault of the loyalty programs. American Airlines, for example, has made big headlines for blocking access through AwardWallet, presumably on privacy and security grounds, although AwardWallet has been very proactive in attempting to respond to American’s concerns. Despite setting up workarounds that avoid storing any user data on AwardWallet’s servers, there hasn’t been much progress in this area and American Airlines is currently not accessible through AwardWallet.
I also had trouble with Hyatt since only one of my two free night awards is displayed, but it’s hard to tell that there are two even when I log onto Hyatt’s site. The second night is hidden for some reason on a separate page. In the process of writing this review, I contacted AwardWallet, and the problem was resolved within 48 hours. Even if it had not been fixed, you can get around such issues by entering your own coupon codes or awards manually, which is what I’ve done with my United Type B vouchers for taking a bump on an oversold flight. They don’t show up in my United MileagePlus account, so there’s no way for AwardWallet to automatically track them.
Sharing Account Access
One of the very useful features of AwardWallet is that you can grant others access to your information. I have access to Megan’s frequent flyer programs, for example, after setting up her own AwardWallet account and granting me access. I know her usernames and passwords anyway, but this makes it a lot easier for me to see exactly what she has available when it’s not possible to just merge the points directly. Sometimes we’ll have pretty set plans, for example, and it’s a better idea to use her miles to book an award flight than to use my own miles. I have higher elite status and get the fees waived, so I like to save them for flexible trips where plans might change.
AwardWallet Plus and OneCard
Keeping all that information in one place online is helpful, but what if you’re not at a computer? AwardWallet now provides a product called OneCard with all your program account numbers and phone numbers printed on the back and a magnetic stripe that stores some personal information so you can check in at airport kiosks. Donation amounts are optional when you upgrade to a Plus membership with AwardWallet, but if you give $10 or more you get a free OneCard and additional cards for donations higher than that.
Plus membership gives you all the same features of Basic membership as well as the ability to view historical information, export data to Excel, and get some extra information about your accounts. Given the low suggested price of $10 per six-month period, and the fact you can pick any price you want if you’d rather give more or less, it’s a great deal. But even Basic membership is pretty useful if you want to give it a try first. I’m giving away a few free Plus memberships and OneCards at the end of this post.
Granting access to your frequent flyer accounts obviously gives AwardWallet a lot more information than just your points balance. It also gives them information on your upcoming itineraries. With a hotel, it just shows an arbitrary picture, but for a flight it will also give you a map of the route courtesy of GCMap.com. Here’s an example of an upcoming mileage run to Kansas City. Below the basic details are individual flight numbers, departure times, aircraft models, and meal options.
I’m not entirely sure how useful this feature is since I already get email alerts from the airlines and hotels directly, but it’s a nice touch for those who need it. Like I said, AwardWallet has the access, so they might as well take advantage of the opportunity to be as helpful as possible. Breaking down the trips by flight number, departure times, etc. is certainly helpful and a little cleaner than the way most airlines or hotels do it.
Did you know AwardWallet links up with more than just airlines, hotels, and car agencies? I sure didn’t. But it turns out there are LOTS of programs out there that you can keep track of with AwardWallet. For example, I now have my Groupon account included since I so often forget about the coupons I’ve purchased, and a few credit card programs like Citibank’s ThankYou Rewards will share both ThankYou points and FlightPoints balances. Chase Ultimate Rewards is also there, but sometimes it doesn’t work quite right. I had trouble the first time I attempted to register it a couple months ago, but my more recent attempt last week worked fine. It does request a security code sent to your email address; I would guess that code has to be entered within a certain window of time. Those of you with an e-Miles, OpenTable, or Starbucks Rewards account can sign those up, too. You should definitely spend some time searching through all the options available.
Other Useful Features
While poking around the site for this review, I started learning more about AwardWallet’s capabilities that really surprised me. For example, you can now integrate AwardWallet as a widget on your iGoogle homepage, making the information more easily accessible without having to log in. There is also a mobile version you can access on your smartphone.
Back on the normal website, if you click on the “Promos” tab at the top, AwardWallet will share all the current promotions it knows about for the different programs in which you’re enrolled. Some of these are credit card offers, but others are tips on ways to earn free bonus points through purchases or travel that you’ll be making anyway. It’s a good place to check now and then.
AwardWallet will also contact award travel booking services on your behalf, collecting the information about your trip and the miles you have available, then forwarding this to its affiliates. Those people can then contact you with a proposal and a price for their services.
Free AwardWallet Plus Membership and OneCard Giveaway
This is going to be an easy contest to win. All you have to do is write a post about one thing you like about AwardWallet, one thing you think it could do better, or, if you’ve never used the service, one thing you’re looking for in a program that can manage your loyalty accounts in one place. Basically, write any kind of comment that can be interpreted as useful feedback for the guys who run the site. You can enter multiple times as long as you have multiple suggestions. I will pick the winners at random.
When I contacted AwardWallet to let them know I was writing this story, they generously provided 20 coupons for a free six-month upgrade to AwardWallet Plus, at least a $10 value. Most members can get a free trial after signing up, but you only get one. This coupon, however, is good for ANYONE, even if you have tried Plus membership in the past, and are very rare. AwardWallet has also donated 10 OneCards. These are usually $10 each and are very useful to anyone with lots of accounts. (Like me!)
Please post your comments by the end of Sunday at 11:59 PST, and I’ll announce the winners on Monday. There are 30 prizes to be had, so your odds are pretty good. Don’t forget to spread the word!