Dear Cashing In,
I just discovered some reward points and bought myself a $100 pair of shoes for $1.36. Around the same time, I discovered a bunch of miles expired because I went too long without using them. I got the email notice, just never acted on it. With two kids and a job, I have enough on my hands without having to track points. But a boost like free shoes would go a long way now and then. Do you have any tips for easy tracking on a budget?
-Overwhelmed in Ohio
There are a couple of tools you can put in place to help with this. Until recently, I would have suggested installing a shopping toolbar to make it easy to earn credit for frequent flier miles. In the past, airlines have offered bonuses and miles credits for installing toolbars that would automatically track rewards-worthy purchases. Points then accrued automatically through that particular rewards program and your account stayed active.
In December, however, American Airlines discontinued its AAdvantage shopping toolbar and in January, United and Delta followed suit. Suddenly, instead of getting incentives to install these things, we're getting requests to uninstall them. You can still earn miles through these programs' shopping portals when you shop online, but that doesn't help with your tracking problem.
Third-party websites and apps are a better way to go if you're looking to streamline. AwardWallet is one of the best tools for tracking points and miles over several different programs. It partners with more than 500 airline, hotel, retail, car rental and credit card loyalty programs. Register and enter your login for any of its partner loyalty programs, and your points -- and those of family members, if you so choose -- will be automatically tracked. Each time you log in to AwardWallet, you'll see the current balance of each program. You can also enter and share travel plans.
However, if your primary interest is in tracking frequent flier miles, there's a limitation worth noting. Several major airlines began denying AwardWallet and other points trackers access to their sites in 2012, including the big three: American Airlines, Delta and United. To date, you can still track miles on US Airways, Alaska, Frontier, JetBlue and Virgin in AwardWallet -- but with US Airways merging with American Airlines, that option won't last long.
You can set up a mailbox on AwardWallet and automatically forward email statements from United, Delta and Southwest (not American) in order to track your miles. In the future, AwardWallet may have to pay the airlines for access privileges in order to bring back their frequent flier programs. In the meantime, you still get free tracking for 500+ reward programs, including those from credit cards that offer cash back.
Registering gets you three free months of AwardWallet Plus membership. You're then downgraded to limited access, unless you pay for another six months -- but codes for free upgrades are constantly posted on this FlyerTalk thread. Paid membership gets you OneCard, a plastic card with a magnetic stripe listing up to 30 loyalty programs that you can swipe at airport kiosks to check in for flights. It also allows access to extra reward account properties, lets you export reward balances to Excel and chart the history of your account balances.
If you don't travel often, but have award points scattered around, help with organization may be all you need -- and that part is free. If you have many points in many programs, it may be worth $10 every six months to get unlimited alerts that program points are about to expire (the free version only allows three).
If you're tracking miles on United, you may be better off with MileBlaster. This site tracks fewer programs overall but United is still among them, as are US Airways, Virgin America, Alaska, Frontier and JetBlue. It also includes several major hotel programs (such as Marriott, Hilton and Starwood), rental car programs (Hertz and National), and Amtrak awards. But its ability to track credit card points is lacking, despite the fact that its website says it supports several credit card programs.
Tripit's Point Tracker tracks points for 130 programs including airlines such as JetBlue, Virgin America, US Airways, British Airways and Alaska, as well as hotel chains (Hilton, Marriott, Wyndham, Hyatt) and rental car companies (Hertz, Avis). Point Tracker also offers itineraries and maps. But for tracking points specific to credit cards, AwardWallet is still the best tool I've found.