Welcome to the Travel Hacking from Scratch Series – a series dedicated to getting those new into Travel Hacking up the curve as quickly as possible. Below is the layout of the series with links back to already published articles.

Today our topic is Alternatives to DIY– understanding how you can use your miles and points without dedicating a bunch of time into learning the nuances of each program.

The Benefits of Travel Hacking
Earning Points
Credit Cards – Which Card and Why
Category Bonuses
Churning Credit Cards
US Credit Cards (ITIN)
Referral Bonuses
Manufactured Spending
Using Your Points
Alternatives to DIY
Understanding the Power of Partners
Weighing Convenience vs Cost
How to Avoid High Taxes and Charges
Sweet Spots
How to Travel Better
Why You Need Status
Leveraging Status
Understanding Your Rights
Beyond Travel – Financial Freedom

The Hardest Part of Travel Hacking

Let’s face it, earning points is almost comically easy if you know what you are doing. There are many ways for Canadians to earn points very quickly and very easily. With Canada trailing only the United States in lucrative sign-up offers and Manufactured Spend opportunities, it’s no wonder why there are so many Canadians walking around with millions of points.

When someone approaches me to learn about Travel Hacking they always want to know how to earn miles and points but I steer the conversation to Understanding Credit Basics, followed closely with the discussion around how difficult it can be to learn how to effectively use your points.

In the equation of Earning Points vs Burning Points, Burning Points is easily more challenging to understand.

I’ll be clear here – anyone can burn points … not everyone can EFFECTIVELY burn points.

It’s simple to plug in Vancouver to London in the Aeroplan search engine and come back with an Economy Class ticket with one connection and $800+ in taxes, fees, and surcharges.

It’s a completely different ball of wax when it comes to understanding how to fly in First and Business Class, build in stopovers, a revenue flight, and pay less in taxes, fees, and surcharges than the Vancouver to London flight above.

The Journey

Much like they teach kids how to do math the long way instead of handing them a calculator, I personally think that everyone that gets into this hobby should do their best to learn the nuances of the programs they are participating in. That being said, I can completely understand that not everyone can invest the time to learn about all the programs they have points/miles in.

You can devour blogs like mine and learn a good chunk of what I know and you can supplement that knowledge by attending conferences and meetups but I’m not going to lie to you, it’s definitely an investment in time.

The Alternative

Rather than learn everything you need to know about a particular program, you can just hire someone to do the heavy lifting for you. There are plenty of experts that can help you out and save you countless hours of frustration and it’s quite easy to engage them to help you plan your perfect trip.

All you need to do is have a good understanding of what you are looking for and an Award Booking service can do the rest.

In most cases, you let the Award Booker know what you are after, the number of miles/points you have access to and the dates of travel (including how much flexibility you have). If you have a solid understanding of what each airline offers in terms of hard and soft product, you can request specific airlines and even aircraft, though requesting aircraft can be a bit of a hit or miss proposition.

The Award Booker then takes your constraints and finds available award flights that would work with your request. If you can agree to the proposed itinerary, the Award Booker can then call on your behalf and book the flight or give you all the details you need to book it yourself. Your mileage may vary with each service but if they offer the ability to book the travel on your behalf, I would take them up on the offer.

The Services

There are tons of Award Booking services that are based out of the United States. These services are great but largely understand US-based Frequent Flyer Programs such as United, American, or Delta.

If possible, I would suggest that you use Award Booking services based out of Canada because they understand the programs available to Canadians, as well as the best routings for Canadians.

Unfortunately, the list of Award Booking Services that are targeted at Canadians is pretty short but they all provide solid service.

Awarding.ca – started by Avery Campbell of Don’t Call the Airlines, Awarding.ca is the original booking service based out of Canada. Their fees are very reasonable (see below) and while I have never used their services, I have heard testimonials that suggest they provide a solid service.

Pricing is current as of the date of this article but I would encourage you to check Awarding’s website for the most current pricing.

Prince of Travel – Ricky of Prince of Travel runs a Points Consulting service that includes award bookings. If you have read Ricky’s blog, you’ll know that he’s a maniac when it comes to extracting value out of award bookings and he can do the same for you. The rate for Award Bookings falls under his consulting service so it attracts the same price at $200 CAD per hour. Your total price will largely depend on the level of effort required to source your itinerary but you can rest assured that Ricky will treat your itinerary as he would his own – expect great value.

Award Magic – run by Ari Charlestein, Award Magic is based out of the US but has a firm understanding of the needs of Canadian customers. Once upon a time, I worked with Ari on a specialty award booking service so I have a good understanding of his business model, his understanding of Canadian programs, and his desire to provide the best service possible for his clients.

The only downer for Award Magic is they charge in USD buy their fees are reasonable at $179 USD per passenger for standard awards and $279 USD for complicated itineraries.

Why It’s Worth The Money

If you have had any experience trying to find award tickets, you’ll know that it can be extremely easy or incredibly difficult. If you are a single traveler and you live in a hub city, it can be very easy to find an award. If you have a family and you live near a secondary airport, it can be a nightmare.

I have personally found awards in as little as five minutes but on the other extreme, I worked on a particular itinerary for over 2 months … granted, I was trying to piece together many pieces in the itinerary but regardless, it took a LOT of time.

If you are able to farm out that work to someone that has more time to tackle the problem than you, it’s well worth the money given how much time and headache you’ll save.

But I Want to Learn

If you want to learn how to do this yourself, just follow along in this series as I will cover off most of what you need to know and point you in the right direction for things that aren’t covered in my posts.

Feel free to leave comments as I do my very best to respond to questions and comments in a timely manner.

Jayce is the founder of PointsNerd, and avid traveller and a teacher by nature. He prides himself on flattening the learning curve through step-by-step guides because everyone needs to start somewhere.


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