One of the trickiest things about redeeming miles is accurately searching award space. You have to know where to search for it, the foibles of each search engine, and that’s before you even get into the thick of what partners each airline has and the corresponding routing rules.
It can be a lot.
Of course, we all build that knowledge up over time, or can research for a particular trip, but even when you’re knowledgeable about all that stuff — the reality is that actually searching inventory can be incredibly time-consuming.
Many different people have tried to solve this problem over the years. There have been sites that scraped award space, but for the most part they have been very expensive to run (and thus to use). Other sites have built tools to cross-reference award charts so you can find the “cheapest” price, but they weren’t able to fully integrate routing rules and other limitations. I’ve been approached by probably five dozen different developers in the past ten years about building something to make it easier for people to use miles, but there was never a model that really made sense to invest in.
So when my friend Adam (who runs Juicy Miles, and writes Point Me to the Plane) mentioned a few years ago that he was starting work on an award search tool I was very intrigued. I absolutely trust Adam and his team when it comes to using miles and points (they have taken great care of our PointsPros clients when we’ve had folks on vacation or out sick), so I felt from the outset that it would have a lot of the functionality that was hard for people who didn’t have that knowledge to wrap their heads around.
What’s awesome about it is that he hasn’t built this as just a “helping” tool for his booking service, which he absolutely could have done. Speeding up his own operation would certainly be valuable, and I’m sure his team would have appreciated spending less time searching. Instead, the Juicy Miles award search tool is publicly available as a subscription service — users pay a flat fee, which gives them unlimited searches across unlimited programs.
The impressive thing about the Juicy Miles tool to me is not just that it searches space (which I of course love), but that it will also show you a variety of practical options for using your miles. The interface is simple, so you can quickly compare itineraries, and I think it will also help people get a better idea as to the possibilities with mileage redemptions, even if they aren’t researching for a particular trip.
If this is something that sounds interesting to you, you’ll want to consider getting in on the introductory pricing of $29.99 a month, but let’s go through the features first so you can see what you’d be getting.
Using the Juicy Miles award tool
One of the things that I like about this is that it’s very intuitive to use, so I think once you jump in you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly. But I figure it’s helpful to go through it regardless, especially for those who aren’t sure if they’d really use something like this.
Let’s say you’re looking to go to Hong Kong — you can search for round-trips, one-ways, or basic multi-city options. I’m going to use one-way, because that’s how I search 99% of the time anyway.
Once you hit “Search” the results will start loading. You’ll see some things immediately, but depending on the airline or partner program others may trickle in. But you can click around and refine your search without impeding the search process.
You can filter your search to only include certain options — like if you don’t have Amex points you can choose to not show those redemption possibilities.
But I’m going to keep everything unfiltered for now, and suggest that if you’re using this tool to determine what might be possible that you do as well. After all, the best mileage currency for a future trip might be one you aren’t earning yet!
Please don’t book this.
The cheapest Citi ThankYou option for a fully business class itinerary is 104,000 points — again on China Eastern, and again booked through Qantas.
That seems like a better option if you only have Citi points, but if you click up on the Membership Rewards panel, you can see that the same flight is available using 85,000 Delta SkyMiles.
Or, if you’re needing to pool points from multiple programs, 115,000 FlyingBlue points might make sense:
The FlyingBlue option for 115k would of course be available through Chase Ultimate Rewards as well, or the next-highest price option would be using Singapore KrisFlyer:
If you do decide to splurge on that Singapore KrisFlyer option, select the flight, and a tile will open up with some basic booking instructions, including points transfer options:
And that’s pretty much it!
An example to Europe
Let’s look at another example, this time from Seattle to Amsterdam, since West Coast to Europe awards are always annoying to search for.
A few results pop up right away, and this time the Juicy Miles tool shows a 55k mile option through Air Canada Aeroplan, which is tempting until you see that the long-haul segment is in economy.
An alternative shows using Ultimate Rewards points — a mixed cabin itinerary on United and LOT, though at least the long segment is in business this time.
It is worth noting that this is one of the limitations of the Juicy Miles tool. The above itinerary with United and LOT should also be bookable through Aeroplan if you call. But with the long layover and the airport change this doesn’t populate on the Aeroplan site, and they have historically had issues confirming LOT space (though it’s bookable at present).
So there is still an element of “knowing the tricks” involved to make this most successful, but it absolutely can make searching easier.
Anyway, if you don’t want to consider a mixed cabin itinerary, the lowest price on that date seems to be booking directly through FlyingBlue:
Again, selecting this flight would give you some general instructions as to how to book the award, and I appreciate that the Juicy Miles team has added lots of language about double-checking with the airline, putting awards on hold when possible, and exercising general caution.
Basic multi-city search
While you can’t enter complex itinerary strings (and there’s really no need to, honestly), you can still give the computer a bit of help. Let’s say for example that you’re returning from South Africa to New York.
There’s an easy option on Swiss available through United (again, this should also be available through Aeroplan if you were to call them), but maybe you’re really hoping to fly Etihad and stopover in Abu Dhabi.
You can enter up to two flights in the multi-city fields, so if I wanted an overnight in Abu Dhabi, I might structure it like this:
And then I would refine my results to only show the non-stop flights:
If Etihad has “Guest” award space it can be booked at the lowest level with Etihad miles, or can be booked through American. Juicy Miles will actually show you the pricing using AAdvantage miles too, which is nice!
In this case I chose to book one flight using Etihad miles, and the second using American miles, just so you could see how it looks when it’s all put together.
So hopefully that gives you an idea of how it works.
What I like about the Juicy Miles award search tool
Fundamentally, I appreciate how much easier it is to compare options.
I think OMAAT readers will benefit from this as a time-saving option for searching — you do still need to know a fair amount about redeeming miles to get the maximum benefit when it comes time to put itineraries together. But less-advanced players will enjoy the extra handholding, and can still make solid redemption choices without having to shell out for a full-service booking option, or spending hours and hours basically researching how to start researching!
This is something that I know is often frustrating to people, because they might have looked for revenue fares and seen flight options, or heard about a particular award sweet spot that they want to try, but then the realities of award space don’t match up with those expectations.
So I like how having everything in one spot makes it easier to see what the tradeoffs are when redeeming your miles.
Sure, you can get from New York to the Maldives on your exact date for 67,500 ThankYou points and very low fees —
But is a three (secretly four) stop routing on Air China, and the hassle of going to a Turkish ticketing office, worth the price savings compared to a one-stop routing on Air France booked instantly online through Delta?
Everyone has to decide that for themselves, but I think it’s nice to be able to compare so quickly.
Other cool features
Adam has put a lot of time into trying to ensure that this tool would have the functionality that he’d like it to have in order to be useful. Which, that’s probably true of anyone who builds anything, but when you factor in that this is someone who has in-the-trenches experience redeeming miles it has led to some useful stuff that even the program websites don’t offer, like:
- Virgin Atlantic will display as an option for booking ANA flights
- Etihad awards will show both the Etihad and American prices
- Fuel surcharges can be easily compared on one screen
- Various Marriott partners (even/especially the ones you might not have thought of) are easily considered
As an example of that, if you’re looking for flights to Tokyo, and Korean Air has an option, you’ll see that in the SPG/Marriott results. You also get the price in terms of the number of Marriott points required, not just partner miles, which is useful.
And then there’s what I think is the biggest benefit of the tool. Because Juicy Miles is pulling data directly from the airline reservation systems (when possible), they are sometimes going to be less impacted by airline website shenanigans.
So all this nonsense happening with FlyingBlue lately? That’s a website issue, not a reservations system issue, and you can accurately search for FlyingBlue space through Juicy Miles still.
There are other cases where everyone will be equally impacted by an airline error (more on this in a bit), but having that potential buffer is interesting to me.
Areas for improvement
As impressive as the Juicy Miles tool is, it is still very much a work-in-progress. And I think regardless it’s important to acknowledge a couple of aspects that maybe aren’t quite there yet.
Displayed Award Pricing
One of the cool things about the approach Adam and his development team have taken here is that they’ve integrated so many different data sources into one search engine. The fact that you’re getting the price of Etihad awards using American miles, or ANA results for Virgin Atlantic awards requires layers and layers of coding and cross referencing.
Despite that (or more realistically, because of that complexity), the pricing isn’t always 100% accurate. I know this is something they’re working on, but I think it’s helpful to know why it happens, as there are a few reasons:
- A program (and thus its pricing) might be temporarily down for maintenance or testing — for example British Airways Avios pricing doesn’t show in the system at the time of writing, as they implement some technical fixes
- The information they’re getting from the airline might be glitchy — like for a bit last week the Qantas system was convinced that economy LATAM flights between Lima and Cuzco were Premium Economy, so everything showed in the JuicyMiles system at the higher price; or how Aeroplan just cannot handle co-terminals online, but will happily book them if you call
- If the tool offers transferring Marriott points as an option, the number of points to be transferred correctly factors in the 25% transfer bonus and tells you the right number of points to transfer for one person; for multiple passengers it sometimes tells you to transfer too many points (they’re fixing this, but in the meantime I’d recommend doing your own math)
The first problem is a symptom of a tool that’s actively being worked on and adjusted, so I don’t think it’s a big deal. I do wish there were better messaging so that users were aware that they might be able to book an Iberia flight with other miles than the programs listed, but that BA pricing was temporarily not displaying for whatever reason.
The second issue is somewhat just the nature of the game — airlines aren’t highly invested in making award inventory accurate and easy, so if you’re getting your data from airline systems, sometimes it’s just going to show ridiculous things. The Juicy Miles team has some ideas as to how to triangulate across programs and reject bad data, and it certainly helps that they know what they’re doing with miles and points and thus can catch things, but there’s some element of this that’s always going to be reliant upon the airlines.
Single date search
The best thing you can do to improve your mileage redemption is to be willing to be a little flexible with your dates or routing. Juicy Miles addresses the routing option, as they show lots of flights across a variety of carriers, but I wish it was a bit easier to search a day on either side, or to easily replicate a search on a new date.
Maybe a future premium feature?
Update — I woke up to a message from Adam saying ” +/- 1 day search will be live next week and +/- 3 day is anticipated to be live on Feb 8″, so there’s that 🙂
These aren’t necessarily my concerns, but I do think they’re things that are going to come up, so might as well address them.
“Wait, if it’s easier for people to search award space doesn’t that mean I won’t be able to get the flights I want?”
Not really? I mean, sure, there’s a potential element of that, but I don’t think that’s the biggest variable when it comes to redeeming miles these days. Better algorithms, full flights, and more aggressive inventory management are all much bigger factors — award space isn’t getting manually loaded at midnight on Tuesdays — and the game will continue to constantly evolve regardless.
The more interesting award space is also often one of those things that “can’t be found except by those who know where it is,” and the Juicy Miles tool doesn’t change that. It makes the searching more efficient, but you still need to know where to search, or how to think through airline award routing rules to piece an award together if you want to find the tricky stuff. And that almost “institutional knowledge” isn’t impacted by a different search interface.
What this does do however is equalize the economics a bit more. In order for it to be cost-effective to manually search award space, communicate back and forth, and help clients individually, award consulting services have had to charge a high premium — and in our case at least that came with an understanding that the price point was unfortunately not realistic for many people. Especially those who just need a little help, or have an idea as to what they are doing, but don’t have the time for extensive searching of multiple sites.
I believe that knowing how to redeem miles is much more important than knowing how to earn them (the earning is easy in comparison). If having a more visual tool at a moderate price point helps people understand their potential options, and results in them being able to make the mileage acquisition choices that are best for their situation, I think that’s great for everyone.
And again, all this data (well, with the current and maddening exception of FlyingBlue) is still available for free from other sources.
“Isn’t this going to hurt your business?”
I don’t think so.
We’ve intentionally kept PointsPros as a boutique firm, and the bulk of our client base consists of previous clients or referrals who want a specific experience with using their miles. We have a handful of mileage enthusiasts and blog readers who we help (Hi! We appreciate you!), but 90-95% have never heard of One Mile at a Time, and aren’t necessarily trying to maximize their miles in the same ways y’all do. So it’s just a different market.
I’ve also been very vocal over the years that if you are reading the blog, and are interested in miles and points, that you are best served by learning how to redeem miles on your own (if you’ve ever heard me speak at an event you hopefully heard me emphasize how important that is to me). I see the Juicy Miles tool as another pathway to building that knowledge more than anything that competes with what we’re doing on our consulting side.
Besides, while the “Booking Instructions” provided by Juicy Miles give a solid high-level overview of the process, it’s not quite the same as knowing all the quirks and foibles of a program, so I think there will always be room in the space for specialized expertise. 😉
The new Juicy Miles award search tool is cool, and I think it is going to be a big time saver. This is absolutely something I would recommend to those family friends and neighbors who think they want help using their miles, but don’t really want to use miles the way that we do. So a “check out this tool to compare your options, decide what itinerary you want, and then I’ll help you book it” might make things easier on everyone in those cases.
I appreciate that everything is being done “above board” so that the data is as accurate as possible, and that those inputs are being filtered and collated by a team that actually understands how to redeem miles and points. I also like that there’s a monetization component already built in, so the Juicy Miles team can afford to continuously improve the auto-search tool, and I don’t expect this to be something that folds in a few months — unlike apps that try to find VC money for the thing they’ve built and then have to close up shop when they don’t.
The searching functionality is good, and the pricing layers are accurate for the most part. I like that Adam has found a way to offer this to more people at a reasonable price, and think it’s well worth trying it out to see how it can help you with redeeming your miles.
Have you used the Juicy Miles (or other) award search tool? What was your experience?