What Do Award Booking Services Provide & Who Should Use Them?

by joeheg

When it comes to airline frequent flyer programs, earning points is the easy part. Redeeming those points for free travel (or mostly free travel) is the difficult part. Not only do you have to find award space, but you also have to use the right program to book your travel or risk paying more than you have to.

Eventually, people who lived and breathed the ins and outs of booking award tickets figured out that other people would gladly pay someone to do all the work of finding and booking award tickets. The award booking service business model was born.

What do these booking services do? Who should think about using them? How do you pick which one to use?

I’ve used these services before and referred others to them, as well. I’ve also spent the time and effort to book several complicated award tickets myself. Here’s my take on the value-added to booking award tickets that these services provide…

What Do Award Booking Services Do?

The basic service is the same as from most sites. After an initial review of what type of travel you want to take, and an account of all the points you have, they’ll try to find the best itinerary possible while also getting the best value for your miles. How they go about this process and how much you’ll need to pay is what differentiates the services.

Should You Consider Using An Award Booking Service?

There are several types of people who can benefit greatly from using an award booking service. They fall into the following categories:

  • Those who have been earning points but know nothing about using them.  These people have a rewards card but have never made any redemptions because they feel it’s too complicated. They’ve heard that booking an award ticket is difficult, and none of their friends have ever been able to use miles for a ticket without paying a large number of miles.
  • People who only have one type of award currency. This was my dad and his wife on their first big trip together. They exclusively were using a Delta American Express card for all their spending and had a bunch of SkyMiles. They needed someone who knew the ins and outs of that particular program to find flights that suited their itinerary in Southeast Asia.
  • The opposite problem is someone who has many different types of points. If you’ve been collecting points from American Express, Chase, Citi, Marriott Bonvoy and Capital One, you need to know which programs will let you combine points for your trip.
  • The final type of person who can benefit from using a booking service is someone who’s looking to take a complex, or around the world trip. These trips have many parts and some programs offer a better value for these types of itineraries.

Some people probably shouldn’t use an award booking service. They include:

  • People who only have points in fixed value programs like JetBlue or Southwest. The award price is tied to the cash price of the ticket so the service can provide no benefit over just searching the airline website.
  • If you’re making a simple domestic redemption, it’s doubtful that you’ll save enough money or points to make using a service worthwhile.
  • There’s a group of people who love to spend countless hours searching through airline websites to find the best value for their points. For those of us like this, we don’t want to use a service. We’ll even volunteer to do searches for our friends without them asking (Note from Sharon: And yes, he has).

What Can Award Booking Services Do That I Can’t Do Myself?

Quite honestly, nothing.

Let’s use this analogy. Your kitchen sink breaks and water is going all over the floor. You shut off the water, but what now? You can go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and buy a bunch of plumbing tools, spend days of research online trying to figure out how to replace the sink and hook up the plumbing. When you finally turn everything back on, it may work or it may not and if that happens, you’ll need to start over.

Or you could call a plumber who already has all the tools and knows how to use them. If some problem arises, they’ve already had experience on how to deal with it and if anything goes wrong, they’re the ones who’ll have to re-do the work. Of course, you’ll have to pay them but if you’ve hired a good one, their work will almost surely be better than what you could do yourself on the first try.

If you get a good award booking service, they have several things that you don’t:

  • The right tools for the job – Yes, there are tools that can help you book award flights. However, the most powerful ones aren’t free and while it would be expensive for you to pay for a subscription just to book one award ticket, for a booking service it’s just a cost of doing business.
  • Knowing how to use these tools – I’ve looked at some of these websites, such as ExpertFlyer, and even learned a bit about how to use them to make our own award reservations. I’m able to do what I want to but I’m sure it takes me longer to accomplish tasks than it does for someone who works with these tools daily.
  • There’s real value in having experience. That’s the knowledge of knowing what works and what doesn’t. You can spend hours putting together a trip using a certain type of miles, just to find out the award you’re looking at is hardly ever bookable. An experienced award booking agent will already know this and not waste their time searching for impossible-to-book awards. They’ll also know about tricks of booking awards that aren’t available on websites and when you can call airlines to make these award reservations missed by those who only search the airline website.
  • Knowing the different programs – Were you aware that just booking an award ticket with one airline over another can save you hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees? It’s true. Award booking services know which programs have the lowest taxes and fees on awards and will try to use those first to save you money.
  • First-hand experience – When booking a flight, all you see is the airline and plane type. What if you have a choice of two airlines or flights on different planes from the same airline? Your booking agent should know the difference between the products and if you have a choice, try to book you on which one is better. They may have actually flown on the same route you’re looking for.

How Much Do They Charge?

Every service does its pricing a bit differently. Some will charge you a deposit to start working on your trip, while others don’t. Almost everyone will charge you if they find a trip that meets your requirements, regardless if you actually book the trip or not.

The average price for a normal award booking is about $200 per person. There are additional charges if you want to make a change to your ticket later on or if you want to cancel your ticket. Some services will offer you a chance to upgrade your ticket for free while others will constantly monitor your booking for better options for a fee.

Which service should you use?

Let me start by saying I have no dog in this hunt. I get no credit if you use these links and use their services.

I will share the services I’ve used in the past and others that I feel comfortable referring people to. For me, I’d be looking for a service with a known track record. But I’m a chicken. I like to stick with known quantities. The well-known services may charge more, but you know what you’re getting. Some of the newer websites may charge less because they need to incentivize people to use them over the big guys. If you’re comfortable with that, then that’s up to you.

On a side note, my very first use of an award booking service was back in 2005. I found a website that helped Sharon and I book business class tickets to Japan on United using 90,000 US Airways miles we transferred from American Express (wow, that was a while ago) (Note from Sharon: Yes it was. And he kept all the notes on it. I won’t complain though…they’re all electronic, not on paper). The website I found was the very same one that now hosts our travel blog on Boarding Area, so I guess I owe it to them for getting us started in this hobby.


Flying to Japan, April 2005 (Note from Sharon: OMG, I remember that air purifier thing! I think I got it from Brookstone. It was eventually deemed an electronic device and I wasn’t allowed to wear it anymore)

In 2010, I contacted BookYourAward because of an article I read in my doctor’s office waiting room. They helped me book a trip from Orlando to Ireland for an Adventures By Disney trip using my Delta Skymiles, flying a combination of Air France and Delta miles.

After that, I was getting good at booking my own tickets. In fact, when I got stuck with finding award space, the booking websites replied that I did almost all of the work and pointed me in a direction I didn’t know about instead of charging me to book award tickets.

What’s New?

In the past year, the award booking services space had a major change when the people behind the Juicy Miles and PointsPros websites formed a new company called Point.me.  It has a reasonably priced self-service option that lets you search award inventory with the major airlines and programs. I used this to find a cheap flight using Aeroplan points. They also have a concierge service which is based on the award booking service model.

While I haven’t used their concierge service, I feel comfortable recommending it as I used PointPros for my dad’s flight to Thailand, and Juicy Miles was a very popular service.

Final Thoughts

I probably used award booking services much longer than I had to. It took several of the people from these services to tell me that I knew enough to book tickets on my own for me to have the confidence to try and make my own award bookings.

As I listed above, there are people for whom these websites provide a valuable service. When PointsPros found award flights for my dad and his wife, their travel agent was amazed and commented that none of her other clients had ever been able to find business class award tickets to fit their itineraries. My reply was “That’s because none of those people knew the people that I know.” 🙂

Paying $200 to $300 to use points to book a business class ticket that would have otherwise cost thousands of dollars is worth the expense if you don’t have the tools, knowledge, experience or time to book the ticket for yourself.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


FabinhoBP August 12, 2019 - 9:14 pm

I have tried to use Award Booking Services for a couple of times with 2 of the most known companies and both times I had disappointing experiences.
Both times I wanted 2 seats First Class One-Way from Asia to the US using American Advantage miles and both times I was told by the 2 Award Service Companies that my wish was too difficult to be accomplished.
Both companies tried to persuade me to accept Business Class Award Bookings and once I declined they dropped my request.
Unfortunately “for them” both times I was able to book the desired awards (Japan and Cathay Pacific First Class).
I didn’t care about paying them for their services but it seemed they were only up to easy jobs.
At the end, I was the Lucky One 🍀

Mike Saint August 13, 2019 - 12:57 am

I consider myself fairly good with miles/points but honestly people almost never put a value on their time. You can burn a LOT of time figuring the best routing/etc. But these experts just know much better and can find much quicker. I’ve used James Lee at Juicy Miles several times this year and he is really amazing. Could I book them on my own? Sure, I could but I put a value on my time. Time that I can either spend billing clients or spending with my family.

On my last ticket, James over at Juicy Miles even offered to call in the airline for me and handle putting the ticket on hold. (I was out of the country flying on a 13 hour flight when he booked it and that’s why he offered to call for me). I think they usually charge more for that but he didn’t charge me any extra.

I tried signing up for the subscription service on Juicy Miles but I didn’t find it to be nearly as good as an actual person. The thing you MUST do is put a value on your time.

For people that have tons of time and don’t care about the hours and hours it might take then no problem at all doing it all yourself. But also I’ve found in the past that if I probably used an award booking service I could have snagged awards and in that time it took me to search they already got booked.

swoopest June 21, 2021 - 8:09 pm

I used an award booking service once, and was very pleased with the outcome. The booker was able to stitch together an around-the-world in Business, with a side trip to Ulaanbataar and multi-day stopover in Zurich, for just 85K miles plus about $400. I believe he took advantage of a no-longer-working trick involving telephone agents who were a bit weak on geography. During that trip I flew on 7 different airlines.

Since then I’ve done a lot of award flights but never needed a complex itinerary, but if I do in the future I’ll certainly consider using a booker again.

Jay Ess December 13, 2021 - 6:35 pm

I used JuicyMiles engine and Booking Service/Concierge back before the pandemic and loved both aspects. Used concierge for my more complicated multi-stop internationals, and the engine for basic trips. Now planning first int’l trip post-covid and decided check into this and read that this new engine was written ground-up specifically by the point/net team, vs a licensed version they used as JuicyMiles.

So I decided to use the point.me engine to do some initial research on 2 upcoming simple itineraries, and also use the Concierge service for my multi-stop trip in June and July ’22. The engine seems to do a great job of displaying all the flight options available and you can sort results by ‘Quickest Flights’ / “Points low to high’ / and ‘Best Value’ (not sure how this is calculated but probably based on Retail Value vs number of points required. And you can filter all the results by Operating Airline (metal), Loyalty Program (for capturing good partner awards), Max Stops, and time of day for the flights.

I’m slammed with end of year work and since this is for a very special 25th wedding anniversary trip I didn’t mind paying the $200pp for the concierge service again to get it right and have them do all the points transfers and booking.

James again was excellent. He was prompt in responding by email and always included at least 2 or 3 flight options when available, and offered opinions on what he thought was the best fit/schedule or the best value, and why.

I ended up with a great itinerary for IAD-VENICE-NAPLES-ROME-IAD this coming June 2022 and will absolutely give a great recommendation to the new search engine and also to the point.me Concierge award booking service.

Christian January 8, 2023 - 9:08 pm

Award booking services can be great for two reasons: tools and expertise.

That said, they can still be tough to work with. For example, I contacted a prominent booking service one weekend a few months ago. I had an itinerary but it frankly wasn’t very good. Going into details on what I had (to avoid repetition) and what I was looking for took up a few paragraphs. A short consultation would have made things vastly easier but the site didn’t offer that as an option. Anyway, I didn’t hear back for days and finally just lucked into something myself and cancelled after no response for almost a week. I’d hoped that the people could utilize some tricks or methods unknown to me; instead I was ignored. My lesson was to tread with caution.


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