Travel Tools and Applications

12 November, 2011

While earning miles and points is great, there comes a time when you eventually will want to use them.  Or in the process of earning them, you will be travelling.  As we all know, the act of travelling is not exactly seamless.  All sorts of things can go wrong and even if everything goes right, there are little conveniences which can make everything easier for the person travelling.  Today, I will go over two of the applications I use and what I like or do not like about them.  I use more than just two but I am trying to keep the posts somewhat short so I will be reviewing them two at a time.  Keep in mind, I use a Blackberry so my reviews are centred on the Blackberry versions of the applications.  I also have an iPod Touch which I will use to outline any differences between the iPhone and Blackberry versions.  While I do not think the differences are huge, I will mention them when appropriate.  Also, I am deliberately excluding applications from specific airlines or hotels, I will review them at a later time.

Blackberry Travel – This one is obviously only available on a Blackberry but for those with iPhone and Android devices, there are similar applications designed for those systems as well.  Essentially the programme will organise your itinerary for you.  You can either add the itinerary manually, forward the confirmation emails from the reservations to Blackberry Travel or you can set it up to automatically scan your inbox for the confirmations.  After the confirmations are added by whichever method you choose, the programme will then organise everything into one seamless schedule.  It will even tell you if you have anything missing like hotel accommodation on certain days of the trip.  If this happens, there is a built in search function to find and book hotel rooms.

In addition to the booking and itinerary management features, Blackberry Travel also includes a currency converter, weather reports for your destinations, world clocks, flight status lookup and local search powered by Yelp.  Another feature included which seems rather innovative for the technology behind (but for which I have no use for) is that you can link your Blackberry Travel account to Linkedin and see if any of your linkedin contacts are travelling when you are.

Similar apps for iPhone and Android include TripIt and WorldMate both of which are also available for Blackberry users.

Rewards Network Dining – This has been a handy little tool.  For a very long time it did not include AAdvantage dining spots but it seems to have been added recently.  The app comes for Blackberry, iPhone and Android.  You must pick which dining programme you are a member of (you can switch them so don’t worry if you are in more than one), and while it does not track miles earned it allows you to find the restaurants and if you sign in, it tells you how many miles per dollar you can earn.  While they all work pretty much the same, the iPhone does have one additional feature.  In addition to searching for restaurants by city, or postcode, you can also search by current location.  For some reason the Blackberry and Android versions do not do this. 

Advertisements

Best Buy Reward Zone Audience Rewards

27 October, 2011

Here are the latest:

  • How many shows has Constantine Maroulis been in? 2
  • What is the name of Spiderman’s love interest? Mary Jane
  • What is the central sport in Lysistrata Jones? Basketball
  • The song “The Circle of Life” is the opening number of what show? The Lion King
  • True or False? In the London production of Billy Elliot, all 3 Billy actors appeared in one performance for one night. True
  • The chorus of The Addams Family play what characters throughout the show? Addams Family ancestors

Mileage Tracker Sites in the News

19 October, 2011

I recently wrote about different mileage trackers a few days ago.  Now, these services (or to be more accurate, the service they provide) are in the news.  The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Southwest and American Airlines have sent cease and desist letters to some tracking websites.  The airlines assert that it is they not the frequent flyer member who owns the miles and the passwords to access those miles.

The way these tracker services work is that they “scrape” the data from the airline website in order to present it to you in the tracker.  The airlines say that this is a security issue.  Others who are familiar with the story say that while the airlines are probably concerned about security, it is only a minor concern.  The major issue for the airline is revenue.  If you go to AwardWallet or GoMiles to check your mileage balance, you do not see the ads, fare sales and other products that the airlines are pushing on their sites in order to up sell people to other products.  Instead you will see the ads from the tracking service.  Of course if you are running a web browser with ad blocking installed, you may not see any ads on either site.

This debate brings up some interesting issues though.  First… who owns the miles?  Second, if the airlines own them, how much can they assert this ownership and control before a backlash from customers occurs?


Mileage Running in the News

18 October, 2011

Well it seems that the idea of mileage running has gotten some attention.  While I have never actually done it myself, I have checked out how some people do it.  Maybe I will do it someday but not any time soon.  I would encourage you all to check out the story though because it is rather interesting and they explain much of the rationale behind it.


Audience Rewards and Best Buy Reward Zone

16 October, 2011

So, Delta, USAir and SPG are not the only ones getting in on the points through theatre trivia game.  Best Buy is also a participant.  Okay, okay, it isn’t travel related but it is points related for free stuff (although I would point out that if this is your only means of acquiring Best Buy points, it will take a very long time indeed before you will be redeeming them for anything).

Who sings the song “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English” in Avenue Q? Princeton
When does the song “Brotherhood of Man” take place in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying? Just before the finale
The understudy for Samuel L Jackson in The Mountaintop, Billy Eugene Jones, has been in all but which of the following shows on Broadway? The Motherf**ker with the Hat
Which of the following is NOT a character in the first of three short plays in Relatively Speaking? Father
Elaine Paige sings what show stopper in the revival of Follies? I’m Still Here
Who wrote a rather scathing letter to the editor of the NY Times in 2011 about the revival of Porgy and Bess? Stephen Sondheim


Keeping Track of Miles and Points

14 October, 2011

So you are a member of about 30 different airline, hotel, car rental, store loyalty, brand loyalty and other point type programmes… how do you keep track of them all?  Well there is of course the old fashioned way which is to keep a spreadsheet of them all or to keep the statements (if they still send them in the mail) or sign into the account online every so often to see what you have there.  As I wrote about last year in the (woefully incomplete) entry about mileage trackers, there are services which will do this for you.  Since there are quite a few of these services I will attempt to go through them one by one, so this post may be a bit longer than most so I am able to get through them all.  These are not offered in any particular order other than possibly the order in which I either used them or knew about them.

Points.com – I do not know if they were the first to offer this type of service but they were the first one I had ever heard of and the only reason I knew about them was because Air Canada had some promotion where if you signed up you would get 100 bonus miles.  When they started they did not support many programmes but they did have an interesting little feature where you could exchange points or miles between programmes.  For example, if you had some USAir miles you were never going to use you might exchange them for Air Canada miles.  This feature still exists today and while I am not sure if the exchange rates have changed over time, they do seem just as extortionate today as they did when they started.  Granted, I cannot blame Points.com for this because they do offer the service to consumers for free and there is definitely a cost to running the website and processing the exchange transactions but unless you absolutely had to and could find no other way to use the miles, I cannot suggest it as a good option for your miles.

About a year or so ago, Points.com changed their layout and they support many more programmes than they did before (not all of them support the exchange feature however).  Unfortunately, the layout of the new design is not exactly easy to navigate or use.  Yes it does serve the purpose of keeping track of the miles but it seems rather cramped and it still does not follow as many programmes as some others do.

MileTracker  – This is a service offered by USA Today.  At one time it even had a desktop application so you did not need to always go to the website.  I am not certain but this may be even older than Points.com but I really do not know about that for certain.  This service essentially allows you to enter in your loyalty programme information and it will retrieve the balances for you.  No frills or extras just a central place for keeping track of everything.  In the past few years though, it seems the service has not been maintained so many programmes do not actually retrieve the balances anymore.  This is likely due to the airline changing its website and MileTracker was never updated to account for this change.

There is another version of this same tracker called MilePort offered by FrequentFlyer.com.

MileageManager – I have never actually really used this one very much except for the free trial offered through Forbes.  This one is more comprehensive than the first two trackers because it not only tracks the miles or points but also tracks elite status and expiry of miles.  Unlike the others though, it does not update in real time, it updates at set intervals so you cannot always know the exact number of miles you have at any specific time, only from the last update interval.  Unlike the other services, this one is not free.  It costs $14.95 per year.

GoMiles.com – This is one of the newer entries into the miles tracking arena.  I must admit my bias here and say that I like them.  Afterall, I did give them a bit of a shout out last year when I posted about them originally.  GoMiles includes what we might call the “standard” feature of a mile tracking service which is tracking balances for multiple programmes.  In addition to this though, they allow you to track the balances of your friends or family as well.  GoMiles includes most airlines and hotel chains (keeping in mind, this is in beta at the moment so some carriers like GOL or Azul in Brazil for instance, are not included although they may be in the future).  They also have an interesting feature which I find to be unique.  Instead of viewing your mileage balance in terms of how many miles you have, you can also view it by how many award tickets you have.  Hotel points can be viewed as room awards too.

GoMiles also has quite a nice graphical presentation to its service and for airlines at least, it will group them by alliance.  For programmes you have attained some level of elite status in, there is a red tag after the number of points listed for that programme.  If you would like to see the status you have attained, or in some cases the expiry date of the points you can place the mouse pointer over the programme entry and the information will pop up.  If you would like more detailed information about the programme such as how far along you are to elite qualification and such, you can click on the programme entry and a new window will pop up to tell you all of this information.

Along the right hand side of the screen it will include many bonus offers for miles and points for the programmes you are enrolled in.  Another handy little feature is that they have live help through a chat function.  I have never needed to use it myself but if you have a problem I would think live help is much better than e-mailing for help.  Lastly, just like last year when I wrote about them, there is a certain appeal to helping a new venture get off the ground.

AwardWallet – A very popular choice for those who want to track more than just travel loyalty programmes is AwardWallet.  Unlike all of the other services I have mentioned thus far, AwardWallet is able to track much more than just your miles and hotel points.  It tracks 118 airlines, 55 hotel chains, 31 credit card reward programmes, 108 retail loyalty programmes, 14 car rental, 25 dining rewards (this includes both the programmes run by the restaurants and ones like rewards network), 8 train, 26 survey sites and 52 other (this includes things like Amazon affiliates, Park N’ Fly, TopGuest and other programmes which did not fit into the other categories); all together it is about 437 programmes.  I say “about” because the number is actually a bit higher than 437 because some programmes are listed only once in the list to pick from but have multiple programmes within it, such as rewards network which has various airline, hotel and other reward options.  AwardWallet will track all of these separately if have more than one programme you use Rewards Network for.

Just like GoMiles, AwardWallet will allow you to track accounts for family and friends.  Unlike GoMiles though, you have two options in how you would like to do this.  You can add their programme accounts to be tracked under your sign in name to AwardWallet; or you can link your AwardWallet sign in to their sign in.  The second option allows each person to control what the other one can see and what control they have over each other’s log in names.  For example, you can add as read only, or you can add as being able to update each other’s accounts.  This allows each person to retain their own log in so they can see their balances as they like but if there is someone who manages it for them, this person can also keep track of them at the same time.  In the event you are tracking miles for multiple people you have the option of updating the balances for everyone at the same time or only updating yours.  When adding programmes you have the option of storing the information with AwardWallet on its server or storing it locally on your computer.

While I must say GoMiles has the most visually pleasing graphic format, AwardWallet would take the title of the most functional layout.  Instead of having various pop up windows to tell you the information you are looking for, AwardWallet favours having columns after the name of the programme and before the number of points.  These columns give information such as, account number for the programme, elite status, expiry date and also the change in the balance since the last time it was updated.  If you need more details about the programme account you can click on it for the pop up version.

Another feature AwardWallet has is that it has mobile access through applications for iPhone and Android users.  If you use a Blackberry or other mobile device you can use their mobile website (not as good as the dedicated application but not bad by any means).

Signing up for AwardWallet is free but they also offer what they call a “plus” subscription.  If you sign up for it, it will provide you with more information about the programmes.  For example, it will give the expiry for every programme in the main screen instead of needing to click into the details for it.  It also gives the option to see the account history for the programmes.  This essentially shows you the balance over time.  If you do not want to pay for it, you are able to earn it by referring people to the service (full disclosure, if you sign up from the link I provided, you will get 6 months of the plus service for free and I will also get credit towards this).  In order to make the deal a little better for those signing up, AwardWallet also gives 6 months of free plus membership to those who sign up from the referrals.

Others – There are other services out there such as SuperFly, UsingMiles and MileWise which do track miles but their main focus is on other things such as valuing the miles and finding rewards with the miles.  Since they are not primarily mileage tracking services I have not included them here.  This is not to say that I will not include them in the future though.


Travelling Tools

23 August, 2011

Something I generally use quite a bit while travelling is a service called DropBox.  I have this installed on my computer, my blackberry and even my itouch (even though I rarely use it there).  Essentially, it is a file storage system which syncs across every machine you install it on.

After you sign up for the service you receive 2 gb for free and there are also paid accounts which offer 50 gb and 100 gb.  I am sure if you need even more than this, they probably have some sort of paid arrangement.

In my case I just signed up for the free version.  I find the service useful for accessing files I do not want to store on my blackberry but which I might potentially use from time to time.  Also it is good for students because it is a space which can be used to store copies of passports, visas, tickets, etc… so that they can be replaced more easily if a problem ever arises.

After signing up for the service, you can earn additional space by referring people to the service (full disclosure, if you use the link to Dropbox on my site, I will receive the referral credit).  You can earn 256 mb for each referral up to a maximum of 8 gb.  If you are a student you can earn 500 mb per referral up to 16 gb extra.


%d bloggers like this: