I often see questions about whether award booking services are worth the investment. The short answer is ‘it depends’ and it truly does — are you too busy to research an award or are you just too inexperienced? If either or both of these scenarios apply to you, I would say yes, an award booking service is worth the money.
If you have the experience, have done your research, but simply cannot find any award space for your trip I would say hold off on the award booking service. The reason is that if you have experience with booking award tickets and can’t find any space, it’s often the case that an award consultant won’t be able to either. I will caveat this by saying if you can find a service that will perform an exploratory search for you without an upfront deposit, go ahead and ask.
I used to operate Award Bandit, a little-known award booking service that primarily operated through word of mouth on FlyerTalk. My operation was myself and a contractor (a moderator from Reddit’s /r/AwardTravel sub) and we only had about a dozen clients, but were able to find them fantastic options for flights.
There were some failures, however, and we were sure to be upfront with the client. Award consultants are not miracle workers. They use a set of tools both free and subscription-based to search award availability a number of different ways. What you mainly pay for is the expertise and knowledge of the consultant. Even after all of this, sometimes there just is no award space available.
If you’ve decided you would like to use an award booking service, here are some things you should know before inquiring:
- Be as flexible as possible — if you are willing to leave a day or three early and are willing to take multiple stops or low cost carriers, make sure you note that on the inquiry form.
- Let the award booker know every avenue you’ve tried (if you have) — this will allow for the most efficient searches, often cutting out unnecessary time spent.
- Be realistic — many award consultants I know do the job full time and need to make a living. If you aren’t willing to abide by their pricing structure, look elsewhere. Many, if not all serious award consultants want serious clients. If you’ve unsuccessfully tried every which way to book a round-trip around the world in first class for under $100 and the consultant can’t do it either, the reason is because it just does not exist — do not get upset with the consultant…they are not miracle workers.
- Be aware of reputation — this FlyerTalk thread has a directory of award booking services and should be the starting point for your search. Take a read through the comments and become familiar with who’s who. Ask a ton of questions and know what you want, but also have an open mind for new ideas and a fresh perspective.
Fees and Costs
Costs for award booking services are fairly standard with the highest variations seen at consultancies run by high-profile bloggers. Generally you can expect to pay an initial fee of $150-200 for the first ticket and $50-100 for each additional passenger. Many serious award booking services charge an upfront, non-refundable fee (similar to an attorney’s retainer) of around $25-50 prior to commencing the award search. The FlyerTalk thread I mentioned previously does a nice job of listing most of the fees charged by services so at least you will have a general idea before inquiring.
Lastly, here some free tools you should take advantage of in your award search:
- ExpertFlyer – useful for researching award space, fare information, flight timetables, seat maps, alerts, etc. (Free basic service, Premium service for a monthly subscription)
- Award Nexus – my favorite award searching tool. Credit based. Free 100 credits if you have a FlyerTalk account. After that, subscriptions start at 500 credits and $59.
- FlyerMiler – nice site for researching award options with a given loyalty program currency (AA miles, Aeroplan, etc).
Are you an award booking pro? If so, share your tips in the comments. I’m sure readers would love the free advice!