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Travel hacking can be a lucrative hobby, potentially saving you hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of dollars on your travel expenses, while also providing you with travel opportunities and experiences that might be otherwise out of your reach.
One popular and useful tool in the travel hacker’s tool belt is AwardHacker, a website that can help you crack the travel rewards code and get the absolute best value possible out of your credit card points and airline miles.
In our ultimate beginner’s guide to travel hacking, we dive deep into the ins and outs of earning and redeeming rewards for travel and show you exactly how to go about booking your first free trip.
In this AwardHacker review, we’ll explain how this free service can play an integral role in that process, walking you through everything you need to know about using the site effectively.
What is AwardHacker?
AwardHacker is a free website that allows you to compare options for rewards travel. It aggregates information from various sources, including rewards programs (like Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points) and airline-based programs (such as Air France’s Flying Blue, American Airlines’ AAdvantage and Delta’s SkyMiles), with the goal of showing you the best deal for your desired itinerary.
If you’re new to rewards travel, it might not be immediately clear how that information is helpful. After all, if you have American Airlines miles, what good does it do you to know about the cost in points to fly on Delta?
Well, that’s one of the reasons why this hobby is called travel hacking — the default option for using your points often doesn’t return the highest points-to-dollar value.
There are a few different strategies that veteran travel hackers use for squeezing the most out of every point, but at a very basic level, you need to understand that points and miles are frequently transferable between programs and providers.
That means you might be able to get a bonus by transferring your points from Program A to Program B, or you might be able to save points by booking your flight one of your program’s partnered airlines.
The point of AwardHacker is to make it as easy as possible for you to see the various options at any given moment, so that you can make an informed decision about how to proceed.
The AwardHacker Website
You might be surprised by the sparseness of AwardHacker’s main page. The site is surprisingly simple, with a very clean, straightforward interface. It’s easier to navigate than the sites we typically use to book travel, like Expedia and Travelocity.
In fact, as per the screenshot above, you’ll just see just a handful of input fields for specifying:
- Your desired departure and arrival airports.
- The route type (round trip or one way).
- Your desired class of service (i.e., economy, first-class, etc.).
- The allowable number of stops (e.g., non-stop flights only).
- The rewards programs you want to include in the search.
Once you enter these parameters, you’ll see an easy-to-browse listing of the available options.
Below is what we found at the time this article was written for a round-trip flight from Chicago to Rome in business class.
The results list shows the most important travel hacking info for each flight. Of particular importance are the “Operated by” and “Transferable from” fields, because these give you insight into whether or not you might have access to each route. We’ll explain more about that later in the article.
Clicking on the white downward-facing arrow — it’s the one inside the blue circle — for any of the flights opens up specific information related to that trip.
For the screenshot below, we zoomed out so that you can see all four of the available information sections fully expanded. They tell you how to search for available award tickets, what the transfer rates between programs are, how to actually redeem your points for a ticket, and details about the route in question.
Note that we say “available” because airlines only make a portion of the seats on a plane open to rewards travel. AwardHacker shows you the price in points for a given trip, but it doesn’t tell you whether there are any rewards seats left on the plane you want to board. For that information, you’ll have to search on the airline’s website or in your rewards portal.
If you want to see how many cents each mile is worth, you can click “Show ¢/mile” on the main results page and enter some additional information that’s required for AwardHacker to make that calculation. When you click the link, you’re prompted to enter your desired travel dates, and then to click through to Google Flights to find the ticket price (see the input box below).
However, in our testing for this review, we were never able to get that information to populate properly and had to manually search for the dates and airline on Google Flights.
How to Use AwardHacker to Find the Best Rewards Deals
Let’s dive into a couple of specific examples that illustrate how to use the site to your advantage.
Example #1: Using Rewards Transfer Partners
If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve credit cards, you can rack up a lot of Chase Ultimate Rewards points fairly quickly. But you still may not have quite enough to book the free flight you’re looking for. AwardHacker makes solving that problem easy.
When you enter your search parameters, you can choose Chase Ultimate Rewards as your rewards program. The site will then show you which programs allow you to transfer points into your Ultimate Rewards account in order to book the fight in question.
Some programs allow you to purchase points, which could make sense depending on how many you need, how much that number of points will cost, and how much you’ll be saving if you book the flight with points. But more often than not, this information provides an opportunity for you to acquire those points in some other manner — typically through a credit card sign-up bonus.
Credit card sign-up bonuses are one of the keys to travel hacking, as they’re usually the fastest way to score a lump sum of points. Applying for cards doesn’t have to hurt your credit score, and it can actually raise it if you manage your credit profile and applications correctly. We talk about that in detail in our beginner’s guide to travel hacking, and you can refer to this list of the best travel credit cards (which highlights some of the options that often have great welcome offers).
Example #2: Booking an International Trip from Chicago to Rome in Business Class
What if we’re in the mood for an international trip and only business class will do? Is it realistic to accumulate enough points to make that happen when you’re starting from zero?
Going back to the example we used at the beginning of the article, AwardHacker shows us that we have quite a few options for flying from Chicago to Rome in Business Class — starting at 80,000 points.
But then again, what do we do with this information?
Let’s start by reviewing a couple of aspects of what we’re looking at when we view the results page, because this is where it can get a little bit confusing until you get the hang of it:
- The full-color logo at the far left of each row is the logo of the specific airline program you would be booking the flight through (e.g., British Airways’ Executive Club, Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer, etc.).
- If you click on “XY Miles,” it will tell you the name of that awards program. In the example above, clicking “OZ miles” reveals that the offer is via Asiana Airlines’ (OZ) Asiana Club.
- The “Operated by” column shows you which airlines are actually flying airplanes from your point of departure to your destination.
Understanding what “Operated by” means is crucial to understanding how the site — and travel hacking in general — really works.
What most casual travelers don’t realize is that airlines have partnerships, which are usually called “teams” or “alliances.” In most cases, points earned from any of these airlines can be used for flights on any member of the partnership.
So, if you have 80,000 Korean Airlines miles (see the third row in the screenshot above), you can use those miles to book a flight on any flight operated by SkyTeam — which currently includes 19 airlines from around the world.
So just for the sake of this example, let’s say we’ve flown on SkyTeam routes in the past, and we like the service. As such, we’re going to choose the third option on the list and try to book our trip using 80,000 Korean Air miles.
Clicking on that option and then clicking “show routes” reveals all the different flights that are operated by our chosen airline or alliance. In this case, because SkyTeam has so many members, there are a number of options:
That top line is our best bet — it’s a nonstop flight from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Rome on Alitalia, a major Italian airline.
Bingo. That’s it, right?
As it turns out, Korean Airlines miles are quite difficult to earn. Unlike other airlines, Korean isn’t exactly known for offering a large sign-up bonus. At the time of writing, the highest I could find was 30,000 points.
And while Marriott Bonvoy does allow you to transfer points to Korean Air’s SKYPASS program (note the full-color “MB” icon in the “Transferable from” column), it’s at a 3:1 ratio. As such, we’d need to accumulate 240,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.
So, in this case, I’d look further into the programs that allow transfer options from American Express Membership Rewards, such as ANA Mileage Club Miles (starting at 88K) or Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program (starting at 90K) — these are the next-to-last and last options shown in our screenshot, respectively.
American Express tends to consistently have welcome bonuses available. And, in most cases, points transfer at a 1:1 ratio (but always check to make sure).
But here’s what else is important to understand about AwardHacker — it’s necessary to verify any information you find on the site with the loyalty programs themselves. For example, when you see a flight that’s listed for a certain amount of points, log in to that airline’s loyalty program to check the information.
I’ll say that in most cases, AwardHacker is off. Loyalty programs often have complex rules about how they price award flights, and the site doesn’t always pull from the most up-to-date award charts and routing rules.
In a sense, AwardHacker is best viewed as a starting point to find potential airlines that can offer a lot of value for your points. Before you commit to signing up for a credit card, however, double check that the information is accurate.
AwardHacker Review: Final Thoughts
AwardHacker.com is a great tool. Travel rewards points are a legitimate way to score free flights — and hotel stays in some cases, although AwardHacker hasn’t ventured into that realm yet. (Check out Hotel Hustle, which is a similar service for rewards lodging.)
Because of the great opportunities travel hacking affords, a lot of people get really excited about the prospect of it; they sign up for lots of new credit card offers and airline frequent flyer programs, and they do accumulate some points.
But the process of turning those points into award travel can be opaque and confusing, so many people just give up — and the points end up sitting unused in an account. Or even worse, they can disappear after a set amount of time, depending on the rules of the credit card issuer/program in question.
AwardHacker can help you avoid those outcomes and actually use your points the way they’re intended: to book free or heavily-discounted airline tickets. (Keep in mind that in most cases, you’ll still be responsible for taxes and fuel charges.)
But its real value is as a planning tool: you’ll be a more successful travel hacker by setting a specific goal upfront and then finding the opportunities that can get you to that goal the fastest, and that’s where AwardHacker shines — it empowers you to seize the offers that best-align with where you want to go, rather than just going after the most points you can find without any thought to their applicability.