A while ago the founder of the website Points For Trips reached out to me to advertise on this blog (you can see their ad in the righthand sidebar). I told him I'd not only sell him ad space, I'd review his site, too. Lest my beloved readers doubt my impartiality, I did make him pay me first:
It is challenging to structure information in a useful way
As travel hackers gain experience, they invariably start to build mental models of the travel hacking universe that help them organize everything they've learned. These models can take a wide variety of forms. Some bloggers simply write a single post about every flight they take on every airline as a sort of encyclopedia of award redemptions they can Google later. Others focus on award programs individually, so they can refer to a single post to see all the sweet spots offered by a given airline or hotel loyalty program. You can see my own personal organization in the righthand sidebar, where I break down loyalty currencies into the various chapters of my ebook.
There's no right or wrong way to organize your knowledge of loyalty programs any more than there's a right or wrong way to organize your closet, as long as you know where everything is.
Points For Trips tries to build rewards strategies around specific itineraries
Websites like Points For Trips and AwardAce, which I've reviewed in the past, attempt to organize knowledge about the world of travel rewards programs by taking a user's desired trip and returning the loyalty programs that make it possible on points.
This is a promising approach! As I've been saying for years, the point of travel hacking is to pay as little as possible for the trips you want to take, so taking "the trips you want to take" as input is much better than the backwards logic of planning a trip because an affiliate blogger pitched you on some hotel where you can redeem Hyatt free night certificates.
How Points For Trips is supposed to work
The Points For Trips homepage looks like any travel booking engine, albeit one without any dates. After entering your origin and destination, you select an airline rewards program and hotel loyalty program, or a specific hotel. Points For Trips then spits out a list of credit cards that earn the required points, some or all of which I assume are affiliate links.
This works pretty well! I inputted my trip to Jamaica and Points For Trips accurately identified that Southwest offered nonstop flights and accurately listed both the standard and suite redemption rates at the Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Rose Hall. The list of suggested credit cards is also pretty good. These are more or less the same cards I would recommend to someone planning a Southwest flight and a stay at a Hyatt resort:
An expert is going to find things to quibble about
In a stroke of bad luck for Points For Trips, the very first search I did on the site was for First Class seats between the US and Europe, and since I've got Korean Air SKYPASS on the brain lately, I selected that program to redeem points:
100,000 miles is, indeed, the cost of a First Class redemption to Europe according to the Korean Air SKYPASS award chart.
The problem is, you cannot redeem 100,000 SKYPASS miles for First Class between the US and Europe. The only SkyTeam partner that offers First Class across the Atlantic is Flying Blue, and you can't book La Première with SKYPASS miles.
Is that a minor quibble? You betcha! But the point of these tools is supposed to be to make the experience and wisdom of experts accessible to beginners. If the tool returns a mistake that no expert would make, the tool isn't doing its job.
Likewise, I don't know how the credit card suggestions are sorted, but this is what Points For Trips returns for a trip with a Korean Air redemption and Starwood Preferred Guest stay:
Now, to be fair, it is technically true that Membership Rewards points can be transferred to Starwood Preferred Guest. Consulting my own flexible points page, I see that the transfer ratio is 1000 Membership Rewards points to 333 Starpoints. That means Points For Trips is ranking a $550 card with a 20,000-Starpoint signup bonus above a $95 card with a 25,000-Starpoint bonus.
The founder seems like a nice guy so I'm perfectly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that this is just an oversight. But, again, it's the kind of oversight no human travel hacker would make, which means the site's not doing its job in delivering high-quality advice to beginners.
Much like computer-assisted chess players perform better than both computer chess players and human chess players, I think Points For Trips could be a useful tool for knowledgable travel hackers to source ideas for strategic redemption opportunities. In its current form, however, I wouldn't rely on it to be the first or last word when planning a redemption or round of credit card applications.