Travel Organization: Tracking Award Accounts & Travel Plans
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With dozens of loyalty programs, credit cards, and itineraries in play at any given time, I need a system to keep track of all my points, miles, and travel plans. Today, TPG Contributor Jason Steele offers strategies for staying organized to help you keep your travel house in order.
I’m old enough to remember using a travel agent who would neatly package my flights, hotels, car rentals, and other aspects of my business trips. Although some companies still use brick and mortar travel agencies, their services seem more and more obsolete in the online era. These days, most travelers perform their own bookings, which means they’re also responsible for keeping track of their own trips, as well as their loyalty programs.
From an overnight business trip to a two-week long family vacation, travelers need to be organized to ensure things go smoothly. In this post I’ll explain my own strategies for staying organized, and describe some services you can use to help you do the same.
Choreographing a trip: my own strategies
When I’m traveling, I start my organization process the day before departure, when I print out airline ticket receipts and boarding passes, hotel confirmations, rental car reservations, and any other tour or transfer information. I also print out any necessary maps, including airport diagrams that show me how to get to a lounge or my favorite restaurant.
I then sort the printouts in chronological order of when I’ll need them, and staple it all together. That way, I can rip each page off and recycle it once it’s unneeded.
This tried and true approach offers several advantages:
- Paper is failure proof. While I can get most boarding passes on my mobile phone, I’d be in trouble if my phone was lost, stolen, damaged, runs out of batteries, or simply doesn’t have (reasonably priced) data coverage. If I lose my stack of papers, then I can still use my phone as a backup until I have a chance to use a computer and print it all out again.
- Paper solves problems. When an airline, hotel, or rental car agency messes up your reservation, you don’t want to have to hold up your phone as proof. Even worse, you really don’t want to hand your phone to a representative who then disappears with it to speak with a supervisor. Handing someone a print-out of your reservation or receipt is much better, and print-outs seem to carry a greater authority than a smartphone display.
- Paper is faster during boarding. Boarding a plane with my family of four, it can take a long time to recall and scan each boarding pass, which is frustrating for us and everyone in line behind. Handing over four boarding passes is a lot faster and easier, especially while trying to corral my kids.
- It’s not like we’re going completely paperless anytime soon. For a former computer systems administrator, I can be kind of a Luddite, but even the most technology-crazed people are still going to be carrying driver’s licenses and passports for some time to come. Furthermore, airlines have a habit of reprinting your boarding pass when you check in, and car rental companies always hand you some paperwork.
Loyalty program organizational tools: top options
Anyone who belongs to multiple loyalty programs should use some sort of management program to keep track of their account numbers, logins and passwords, and balances. Here are some of the sites that offer this service:
This 10 year old site supports over 600 loyalty programs and is perhaps the most popular loyalty account management tool. It’s regular account is free and tracks an unlimited number of reward programs for you and all your family members. An AwardWallet Plus account includes the ability to display expiration notices, view a historical chart of your balances, and export the information to an Excel spreadsheet. AwardWallet Plus requires a donation that is at the discretion of the user. I’ve been using AwardWallet for several years now with no complaints, and I now use it to keep track of accounts for half a dozen family members.
This site goes beyond basic loyalty program management by offering services such as a hotel savings app, best value flight search, and the ability to scan your inbox to find lost miles. Other services include calculating the value of points and miles, and sharing status updates with Facebook. For business users, Superfly has the ability to let admins manage accounts. There is no charge for this service.
This company is best known for the services it provides to loyalty programs, such as facilitating the purchase of miles, but it also offers a free consumer service that allows you to track your points and miles. Members can redeem, trade, and exchange their balances, though this often incurs a fee and the exchange rates are poor.
TripIt tracks points and miles, but that’s just the beginning. It organizes your travel itineraries, kind of like my paper method, but in a consistent format that you can share with family, friends, and co-workers. The basic service is free, but TripIt Pro ($49/year) also looks for flight discounts that are eligible for refunds. It warns you of delays and suggests alternative flights. The TripIt App gets good reviews, and there’s also a TripIt service for teams that helps admins with corporate or group travel.
Other organizational tools:
This site features the ability to track about 250 companies, including non-travel programs such as Starbucks, Living Social, and Best Buy. Its basic program offers tips to help you use, earn, and keep your miles, as well as flight and hotel price notifications. Upgrading to the Premier version for $29.95 offers some award flight and hotel award availability data as well as mile expiration alerts.
This mileage tracking site is listed as being in Beta (testing) status, and works in conjunction with Traxo.com, a trip management site. Traxo allows users to share past and future travel plans with other. This is a free services that is supported by advertising.
USA Today MileTracker
This service seems somewhat basic and claims to offer support for “more than 100” frequent flier and loyalty programs. There is no charge, but the site appears to still be under development.
This service was created by the founders of FlyerTalk and has been in operation since 2000. It costs $14.95 per year to join, but also claims to help you find award ticket availability. It lists fewer than 100 programs that it supports, but the list appears to be somewhat outdated.
How do you keep your travel plans and loyalty accounts organized? What are your experiences with the services discussed above? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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