Below are some tools, tips, and tricks to help you navigate the complexities of planning and booking air travel. Let’s move about the cabin and discuss how we got here.

Award Tickets

Using points and miles can be a fantastic way to leverage the costs of travel. By using credit cards which earn transferable points or airline miles, you’ll be well on your way to nearly free travel.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on dining. These Ultimate Rewards can be transferred to 10 different airline programs. Or the United Explorer credit card earns United MileagePlus miles while offering benefits including a $100 Global Entry or $85 TSA Pre✓ credit.

Tool #1: Credit card to airline transfer partner map via Reddit

In order to best use our credit card points, we must first know which airlines they can be transferred to. One of our favorite tools to visualize this is a beautiful map made by a Reddit contributor:

You can click on a credit card program (e.g. Chase UR) to filter its partners. Likewise you can click on a particular airline to see which credit card program or programs it partners with.

The folks at Well Traveled Mile have a similar tool which is well organized and color coded. To see a list of airline transfer partners for each credit card program, scroll down to the FAQ section. Click on an airline to bring up information including the transfer partners and typical transfer times:

Tool #2: AwardHacker

To familiarize yourself with which miles and points can be used on a chosen route, you can use a tool such as AwardHacker. Plug in the information and you can also specify the credit card program(s) or airline program(s) you wish to use under the “Frequent Flyer Programs” field:

Image from AwardHacker

Note that the results will show you the theoretical lowest cost and availability. In other words, although the results may show that Atlanta to Paris is available on Air France for 29k miles one way in economy, not all dates may have availability and not all dates may have that price. As we mentioned in our article on Air France’s Flying Blue mileage program, their dynamic pricing means that prices can fluctuate.

Tool #3: FlightConnections.com

Whether doing award or cash bookings we also like to use FlightConnections.com, a tool to see which airlines operate to, from, or between cities. You can filter by airline, airline alliance, or even cabin class:

By inputting just one city into either the “From” or “To” search box, like in the image above, you can see all the cities with direct flights. This can be very useful when putting together a multi-city itinerary. You’ll know which cities have direct flights in order to maximize your time at your destinations.

When searching between two cities, FlightConnections will tell you which airlines serve that particular route along with the approximate flight time and distance:

Image via FlightConnections

Sometimes the service frequency noted by the days of the week can be off. We usually confirm which days of the week an airline operates the route by searching on Google Flights or going to the airline’s website.  

Cash Tickets

While there are a few tools for planning award tickets, there is one main tool for planning cash tickets – Google Flights.

Tool #4: Google Flights

Gilbert at God Save The Points has been reporting on Google Flights for some time and how it just keeps getting better and more powerful. We love it and use it daily too. Here are a few of the key search functions to keep at your fingertips.

Explore the world

By putting in a departure city and clicking “Explore Destinations,” you can navigate around the world to see the lowest price for the defined time range:

Image via Google Flights

By clicking on the calendar icon in the upper left, you can define a more narrow time range or specific dates. Move the map around and zoom in and out to explore. Click on any city to bring up more information. Note the filters at the top of the map to filter by number of stops, airlines, carry-on bags, and flight duration.

Kayak.com also has this function. We find Google Flights to be more robust with the exception that Kayak’s search can search dates up to 11 months out, whereas Google currently allows up to 6 months out.

Low-cost carriers included

Google Flights does a solid job of including low cost airlines in the search results. For example, flights on Spirit in the United States, Wizz Air in Europe, and AirAsia in Asia will be show in results:

Google Flights includes low-cost carriers

One notable exclusion is Southwest, though that is because Southwest has fought to keep their fares off all third party sites. So do keep in mind that you should compare fares on Southwest.com when searching for flights in the United States, the Caribbean, and Central America.

Track Prices

Be sure to track prices in order to get email updates on price changes. While signed in to your Google/Gmail account, hit the switch for “Track prices” on the results page:

The switch will appear blue when tracking is turned on

Google Flights lets you track up to 100 searches. You can navigate to a list of your tracked prices by clicking on the three bars in the upper left corner next to the “Google” icon and then selecting “Tracked flight prices.” With email notifications enabled, Google Flights will periodically email you with price changes.

On the tracked prices page, you also have access to a price history graph. In some cases you may see the price history going back 150 days or more. Other times, it will show you the price history since you started tracking.

Price history available on Google Flights “Tracked flight prices” page

Due diligence in searching

Do note we would not recommend you solely rely on the email notifications. We have seen plenty of price drops occur without receiving a subsequent email alert.

Therefore, we have the tracked prices page set to open in a new tab every time we launch Google Chrome. To do so, navigate in Chrome to chrome://settings/ and scroll down to “On startup.” There you can define “Open a specific page or set of pages” and add the tracked prices page.

Additionally, we would recommend clicking through to the airline’s site once in a while to ensure the price is accurately reflected on Google Flights. We’ve found discrepancies occasionally.

When should I buy?

The million dollar question of every airfare search can be aided by a price feature on Google Flights. On the results page, you may see a little green, yellow, and red slider next to an indication if the current price is low, typical, or high. This is based on the history of fares over the last twelve months. Click that box to reveal information to help guide your decision on when to buy:

Google Flights price feature

Is This Real Life?

Reading about these tools and tips is great, but let’s apply this knowledge to the real world. As an example, we’ll use our trip from last summer which saw us fly 24,269 miles (39,056 kilometers):

This included longer stays in the Netherlands, Serbia, the Republic of Georgia, and Kazakhstan in addition to daytime layovers en route to explore the cities of Minsk, Belarus and Riga, Latvia.

We used the sign up bonus from one credit card to get our return flights from Europe. The Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite MasterCard still has this fantastic offer running of 60,000 AA miles for making just one purchase and paying the $99 annual fee. The card also comes with perks including priority boarding on AA operated flights and access to American Airlines Reduced Mileage Awards.

Top Tip: Unlike with United co-branded credit cards, AA co-branded cards do not require you to use the card to purchase the tickets in order to receive the card benefits such as free checked bags and priority boarding. Just make sure the card is linked with your AA account number, which it asks for on the credit card application.

All the rest of the airfares came from tracking prices on Google Flights and researching possible routes on FlightConnections.

For example, TAP Airlines can have some great airfare deals. We used FlightConnections to identify which U.S. cities TAP services and then used Google Flight’s “Track prices” to keep an eye on several cities and dates. This strategy led us to snagging Miami to Amsterdam for $132.25 per person. We even could have chosen a stopover in Lisbon for up to five days via TAP’s stopover program.

From there, we used Google Flight’s “Explore Destinations” tool to identify that Belgrade had cheap flights from Amsterdam on our desired date for $63.70 per person on Air Serbia.

Using the filters on Google Flights, we found a 10 hour daytime layover in Riga, Latvia for around the same price as the cheapest flight. This gave us plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful city, including the stunning Riga Cathedral dating from the 13th century:

Riga Cathedral – Photo by K2

In total, 24,000+ miles of flying cost us $1,303.76 and 30k American Airlines miles per person thanks to using the tools, tips, and tricks discussed in this article.

Do you have any flight planning tools and tips? Let us know in the comments below. Cheers and travel on!

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