Sunday, January 22, 2006

Tracking frequent flyer miles

This isn't precisely a finance topic, but it plays into my general information-organization strategy. I fly often, but I tend to go for the cheapest ticket -- which means I have memberships in more than a dozen frequent flyer and hotel rewards programs. I badly needed a centralized way of viewing my points in various programs.

It seems like a simple task: a quick-and-dirty programming job should be able to code up an application to pull data from assorted airline sites. Unfortunately, most of what I found when I started searching were programs that charge for their tracking services, like MileageManager and MaxMiles. I wasn't interested in fancy premium services -- I just wanted a centralized tally of my miles. But free sites did a lousy job of it. Yahoo's Awards Tracker could only hold a small number of programs (it's since been closed down -- I think the limit when I tried it was six programs), and sites like Points, which includes a balance tracker, cover only a handful of programs from their partners.

I grudgingly signed up with MileageManager and used that for a few months, until I happened across my current solution: a desktop app. USA Today's MileTracker is completely free, supports more than a hundred frequent flyer programs (including all of the ones I use), and works quite well. It's not a Web program, so you'll only be able to access the information from the PC on which the application is installed, but for me that's an acceptable trade-off.

Having my miles centralized does end up saving me money, since I've finally started cashing them in, now that it's easier to see how many I have with each program. I've snagged two free roundtrip Denver -> NYC tickets so far this year. Yay.